My first homebrew contest is in the books. And while I didn’t win (or even place in my categories), I’d have to say, I’m pretty pleased with the results.

I entered my Summit Winter Ale clone into the Upper Mississippi Mashout with the sole intention of gaining some real honest feedback from trained BJCP judges. Brewing beer is an ongoing journey of refinement and process improvement. And I feel that objective feedback is going to play an important role in my education and ability to maximize the quality of my beers in the long run. So from that perspective, while I didn’t get any recognition (and didn’t anticipate getting any), I feel like I came out with some very valuable insight and knowledge I probably wouldn’t get otherwise.

I placed my beer in both the “New Entrant” and “Scotch Ale” categories, and across the board, received scorings that put my beer in the “Very Good” spectrum. Which is great, and frankly better than I expected given this was the first contest I’d entered. Some general comments included: 

  • “Balanced with a dry finish, malt forward but not caramel or butterscotch.”
  • “Good body, warming, dry finish.”
  • “Dark brown in color with good clarity, moderate tan head that persists. Creamy texture.”
  • “This is a good example of a Scottish 80. Nice malt complexity.”

Very kind remarks. But what really impressed me most was how consistent the ratings and comments were, both good and not so good, across all four judges. More impressive considering these tastings were done independently of each other. It wasn’t like they were sitting around a table conferring notes. This indicated to me these folks really knew what they were doing, strengthening the credibility of the judging and giving me a very fair and objective indication of areas I may need to improve on.

The main stylistic flaw they all saw was that the beer was a little on the boozy side, which I would absolutely agree with. This one came in at about 7% ABV, which in the Scottish Ale category is certainly on the high end. I attribute this to the high fermentation temperature (this one hovered just above 70 degrees in the primary), causing the yeast to be a little more active and efficient than usual. Also, while the beer presented some mild to moderate caramel notes, a few of the judges felt I may have used a bit too much chocolate malt or black patent in the grain bill as it came off to some as “scorched”. Fair enough, and looking back at the grain bill I can already see areas where I might back off a little on the darker malt next time I brew to help give it more of that copper coloring as opposed to dark chocolate.

So now that I know what the judges thought, what was my take?

I think as a winter warmer (which Summit Winter Ale technically is) this beer is pretty darn good. As a Scotch Ale, I think it falls down a little stylistically, but it was the only category I felt the beer reasonably fit into. Pours a very dark chocolately brown with a big tan head, providing a moderate roasty aroma with little to no hops. Pretty inviting. Good clarity overall, even with the darker coloring. Taste is nice and smooth. I definitely get some of the Crystal malt I used, which lends a mild sweetness combined with a decent roasted flavor from the black patent. Not too strong like coffee, but maybe dark and bitter chocolate. Dry finish.

Rating: B+


dsc01586Dear readers, I sit before you a very grateful man.

Since I’ve gotten interested in craft beer and familiarized myself with the more hard-to-find offerings out there, one name has consistently popped up amongst the beer geek circles as the most desirable and treasured of them all. I’m talking Westvleteren.

Well, through a stroke of luck and good timing, I am now the proud owner of Westvleteren 12 (quadrupel) and 8 (dubbel). Two of the most rare and sought after beers in the world, thanks in large part to its extraordinarily limited distribution…as in you can’t get it unless you literally call the monks at St. Sixtus ahead of time to make an appointment, drive to their monastery in rural West Flanders, Belgium, and after the proper credentials have been verified humbly take your ration of two cases allotted to each person only once per month.

As you may have guessed, “Westy” has earned a mystique and lore arguably unmatched by any other beer on the face of the Earth. It’s been the #1 ranked beer in the world according to Beer Advocate for countless years running. The Wall Street Journal did a piece on the monastery in 2007, noting that the monks of St. Sixtus still use the same recipe they’ve kept quietly to themselves since the 1830’s. St. Sixtus is the smallest of the seven Trappist beer-producing monasteries, and unlike the others, all of the brewing is solely managed by the monks themselves. They do have a handful of secular employees, but only for bottling and other manual labor. And they don’t look to turn a profit, either. From our friend Wikipedia:

“Whilst the brewery is a business by definition (its purpose is to make money), it does not exist for pure profit motives, and they do no advertising except for a small sign outside the abbey which indicates the daily availability of each beer. The monks have repeatedly stated that they only brew enough beer to run the monastery, and will make no more than they need to sell, regardless of demand. During World War II, the brewery stopped supplying wholesalers and since then they only sell to individual buyers in person at the brewery or the visitor’s centre opposite. These methods all go against modern business methods, however as stated by the Father Abbott on the opening of the new brewery, ‘We are no brewers. We are monks. We brew beer to be able to afford being monks.'”

Frankly, I can’t think of a higher calling than that.

So how did I come by said beers? Well, a very generous local Twin Cities beer afficionado agreed to a nice little trade for a handful of hard-to-find offerings that I had in my cellar. While my stock was noticeably depleted from the transaction, I think we both walked away feeling like we got a pretty fair deal. He even threw in a bottle of Troeg’s Nugget Nectar and their Scratch Beer 16. Incredibly nice. 

Not sure when I’ll review these. I may just stare at them in awe for the next couple years while they mature.

Huge thanks to Mr. Biniek.

Big day on the homebrewing front.

First, I bottled my Dubbel Deuce and managed to squeak out close to 2 cases, 46 bottles to dsc01553be exact. I’m dealing with a pretty nasty head cold at the moment, so I couldn’t smell a hell of a lot. But the small sample that I could smell and taste from the bottling bucket seemed pretty nice. Classically Belgian with a hint of dark fruits and candi sugar. I pasted on labels for this one as well, which are admittedly amateurish and ridiculous (much like my similarly juvenile barleywine labels). I’ll need to invest in some decent label making software. Microsoft Clip Art isn’t cutting it.

After the dubbel was complete, I sanitized my keg and a case of bottles for the long awaited raspberry imperial stout. Smelled absolutely dsc015551fantastic coming out of the secondary. Roasted coffee, dark chocolate, toffee, and of course balanced by the sweet aroma of raspberries. Color was also great, dark milk chocolate. I’m really looking forward to this one. I made up 24 bottles for longer term storage, and kegged the remaining 3 gallons for immediate enjoyment. I’m hoping to give it a shot later tonight once it has a few hours to force carbonate.

That brings my current total of available homebrew to just over six cases between the dubbel, raspberry stout, barleywine and Summit Winter Ale clone. Combined with my commercial stuff, I have entirely too much beer on hand for one man to handle alone. Good thing Super Bowl Sunday is just around the corner.    


Don’t let anyone tell you homebrewing isn’t alot of work.

I got up relatively early this morning and started setting up my equipment and getting the ingredients together to brew the barleywine. Two separate mashes to get the original gravity as high as possible, somewhere in the 1.10 range, which would equate to between 10-12% ABV. I took a few videos of the day, embedded below, for your homebrewing edification.

Once the main event was complete, I also bottled the DFH 60 clone, and managed to squeeze out almost two full cases worth. Smelled extremely hoppy, but the small flat sample I tasted was extra smooth. I thank Sam Calagione for the innovation of continuous hopping. However, I may have overshot the mark and accidentally made a DFH 90 clone, given the hop levels in there.

Once that was complete, I didn’t have enough bottles to package up the Summit Winter clone. So I’ll have to save that for later in the week. However, I did rack my Saison into secondary, and I gotta say, it smelled EXACTLY like Ommegang Hennepin. Just a bit of pepper, fragrant (yet light) citrus and orange, and distinctive Belgian candi sugar and yeast. I’m really looking forward to that one.

All said and done, about 9 hours of homebrewing. I’m ready for a vacation.

Barleywine Grain Bill

Hop Schedule




dsc00863So today didn’t quite go as I’d expected, but still productive nonetheless.

I did make it to the homebrew supply store, and purchased my ingredients for the barleywine, but that’s as far as I got on the brewing front. The weather around here turned a little cold and windy, so I put the brewing on hold until tomorrow. Instead, I spent most of the day running around town to Home Depot and several other places trying to take care of some long neglected projects around the house, including cleaning up my beer/workshop room. 

Most of my homebrew equipment is typically strewn about the floor, loosely organized in some state of controlled chaos. I usually know where everything is located, but it also gets old jumping over carboys and immersion chillers when I actually need to go in there for something other than beer. So I bought an inexpensive steel shelving system and put it together, hoping to get my stuff off the floor and neatly arranged in the corner. Kind of nice to have it clean in there for once.

But tomorrow, I’m for sure putting everything to good use and brewing that barleywine. Looking forward to it. I’m also planning to bottle the DFH 60 Minute IPA and Summit Winter Ale clones that have been sitting in secondary for at least a couple weeks, and rack the Saison I brewed over a week ago to the secondary. I’m guessing it’ll take me the entire day. But if I didn’t enjoy it, it wouldn’t be a hobby. When it’s all said and done, I’ll have another 15 gallons of homebrew to go with my already stocked beer fridge. Good thing I have friends.  


dsc00800I spent most of the morning racking my three different beers that have been fermenting or conditioning over the past few weeks.

First, I sanitized one of my carboys and cracked the lid on the Dogfish Head 60 Minute clone. It smelled pretty good and hoppy. Racked the beer into the carboy, and dry hopped with 2 ounces of Cascade and Willamette. I’d originally planned on Cascade and Simcoe, but I decided I didn’t want that super piney, grapefruit thing going on with this one. It’s also the first time I’ve just dropped the hops right into the carboy, as opposed to using a nylon bag, so we’ll see how it affects the clarity of the final product. It’s kind of cool seeing about two beautiful inches of thick, bursting hops soaking in your beer. I’ll give it at least a couple weeks to marinate until I bottle.



Next, I sanitized my corny keg and transferred my Spiced Pumpkin Ale that’s been in secondary for a couple weeks. Smelled great. Pretty sweet, which I’m sure is from the brown sugar. But hopefully doesn’t taste too sweet. Once I filled the corny, I hooked it up to CO2, burped it, and gave it a 20 psi shot for a few minutes before I dropped it down to 7, then refrigerated. I’ll give it a taste later tonight to see how we’re coming along. 

Finally, I racked the recently brewed Summit Winter clone into a sanitized carboy to condition for a bit. Nice toffee brown coloring, which is just about spot on with the real thing.

So, in total, that’s about 15 gallons of good homebrew that I’ll soon be adding to my craft beer rotation. Can’t wait.


DFH 60 Clone with Dry Hop


A successful “Teach A Friend to Homebrew Day” had by all.

After shaking out the cobwebs from a long Friday night at a Halloween party (reviews to come from that), my brother-in-law and I hit the homebrew supply store to get our grains and hops for the Summit Winter clone. Here’s what we used:

10 lbs. 2-row
1.25 lbs. crystal 60
.5 lb black patent
1 oz. Willamette (in boil at 60)
0.5 oz UK Fuggles (in boil at 15)
0.5 oz Tettnanger (in boil at 15)
Wyeast 1099

Summit Winter is a very sweet, caramely winter ale with just a hint of English hops. A “winter warmer” as its categorized by Beer Advocate. I got most of the recipe from a homebrew magazine, and augmented it with some of my own research, so I’m hopeful it will be pretty close to the real deal. 

As far as homebrewing out in the garage in early November goes, it was an absolutely perfect Fall day. Sun was shining, temps in the high 50’s, and little to no wind to mess with the propane burner. As we started in with the mash, some other friends of mine showed up, including my brother, so we quickly had a small war party of fellow beer lovers to keep sated. Thankfully, I was not in short supply of homebrew, with half a case of my Oatmeal Coffee Stout in bottles, and several gallons of Spider IPA left in the keg. And the beer was definitely flowing between the six of us.

A couple hours later as we mashed out and got our boil going, my buddy DR came out of the house with the terrible news that we’d killed the keg. I was astonished, as I’d only had a handful of glasses of the Spider IPA in the past few weeks. How could this be? Someone had obviously been weezin’ the juice. At least that was DR’s answer. For a moment, I contemplated cracking into my stash of Surly Darkness, but thought it best to offer up some Budweiser American Ale instead. I think it was a good call. Thankfully, I still have a few bottles of the oatmeal coffee stout left, so I need to get a review up soon before it’s all gone. 

Each step of the way, I explained the brewing process to my circle of homebrew newbies (minus DR, who is a very accomplished homebrewer himself). The whole thing went pretty smoothly (no stuck sparges, no boil-overs, etc.) so late afternoon I was happy to rack the wort into the primary and get it fermenting. And ferment it did. This morning when I woke up, the pressure of the CO2 had blown the top off the air lock at some point in the middle of the night. No messy krausen explosions though.

At the end of it all, I think everyone thought it was a pretty cool experience, and maybe a hobby they would pick up themselves. At the very least, it was a fun way to spend an afternoon hanging out with friends and enjoying quality homebrew.