My First Week @BigDogsBrewing and Other Homebrewing Fun

Hello brewing friends! I thought it might be nice to post an update on how my first 3 days of working at Big Dogs have been, not to mention my other brewing misadventures.

First I must include that today’s liquid inspiration is Sierra Nevada & Russian River’s Brux. This is my 3rd time having it and the last 2 times this ‘domesticated wild ale’ has been pretty nice. I was driven to try it again by comments made on the most recent Brewing Network Sunday Session. While they were answering a listener’s question I found out the primary yeast is Wyeast 3711 French Saison (also known as one of my absolute favorites) and it’s bottled with Brett B & Safbrew T58 (a spicy Belgian-style dry yeast). Not only did knowing all of the above warrant another crack at it, but I’d imagine it’s not the worst beer in the world to harvest dregs from. At any rate, it’s a lovely beer and worth the $16 to give it a try.

This week I worked roughly three 7 hour days in the brewery at Big Dogs and let me say that so far it has been a pleasure. Everybody has been very friendly and willing to help. Sam, the Packaging Director, gets a special shout out for having infinite patience with me as I get my bearings.

Monday was all out keg cleaning day. Thankfully, Big Dogs has a wonderful automated machine so the real trick is just listening for the cleaning cycle to be done while you’re cleaning other things (like the tops of kegs). This task can be slightly more difficult when your head brewer decides he’s going to jam out on his drum set for 20 minutes, but it’s all good in the hood. You can’t have a keg parade without a band.

I didn’t count the number of kegs I ran through, but I pretty much hit it hard from 9am to 3pm without stopping for lunch. We did blow a hose off and shoot caustic cleaning solution everywhere before I got started, which I thought was a fitting introduction to the brewing world. I’ve found that we use some pretty nasty chemicals on the professional side and caution is the name of the game.

On Tuesday morning I tried to assist Sam with filtering the Leglifter Light, which mostly involved peppering him with questions and occasionally closing a valve or two. Below are our various filters.

The rest of the day was filled with odds and ends things like cleaning out the mill room, moving some kegs in cold storage, other random cleaning, etc.

Wednesday was when the powers that be decided to sick me on cleaning the bar’s draught lines. Not only did I unhook serving tanks and push cleaning & sanitizing solution through all the lines, but they also had me break down all the Perlick faucets and scrub the gunk out of them. Breaking down & scrubbing the faucets made me laugh because that was the filmed demonstration on the Cicerone exam. Needless to say, I could up my score on that portion of the test considerably now.

I managed to get through cleaning the lines on 3 of the 8 serving tanks and then it was time to ‘grain out’, also known as the special bonding (and back building) rendezvous between Assistant Brewer and mash tun. I’ve found Big Dogs to have the most enjoyable mash tun for graining out (of the 3 I’ve done) because it doesn’t have any rakes in the way. They also have the nicest tools for getting the job done. I wouldn’t trade their hoe for the world.

Anyway, the batch I was graining out was Balls Of Holly which I’m told is a local favorite in the way of holiday seasonals. All the dates that went into the mash (by way of the open grant) weren’t nearly as bad to get out as I expected them to be. All in all, it was a good day. Oh, and I got insta-trained on the forklift (AKA The Hop Dog 500). The Hop Dog can be a little temperamental about how its wheels are pointed and its steering can get a little loose, but I could tell that we’ll be friends. We’ll quite likely cause some minor damage together from time to time, but no sense crying over unspilled milk.

As for my homebrewing, I’ve decided to launch 2 R&D projects that will hopefully someday be on tap at Big Dogs. I mentioned Dank Dog – the heavy Columbus Saison in my last post, but I’ve also decided to develop Clean Dog IPA (a lighter fruity answer to Big Dogs Dirty Dog IPA). The rough draft recipe for Dank Dog has been drawn up (50% 2-row, 25% pilsner, 12.5% vienna, 8.3% rye, 4.2% honey malt) and now I’m just waiting for the hops (Liberty & Columbus) to show up from Yakima Valley Hops. I also need to figure out how I’m going to ferment the beer warm enough.

Clean Dog IPA, on the other hand, got brewed today in its first iteration. The grain bill is 73% 2-row, 17.4% Vienna, 4.4% Carapils, 3.5% Crystal 15, and 1.7% Crystal 40. The hops are US Magnum for bittering, Liberty & Bravo for flavor and Bravo & Centennial at flameout. Given that the color came out rather dark & my efficiency was supposedly 58%, I’m wondering if the mill at the homebrew store wasn’t set quite right. I’ll have to investigate in the coming days.

My other recent brewing endeavor was a Pumpkin Saison at Clyde’s place on his badass Sabco.

He gets the lion’s share of the credit if the beer turns out incredible, but we did use my huge surplus of UK Pearl malt as the base. I believe he got the recipe and tips for dealing with the pumpkin on this Brewing Network Sunday Session. Putting the roasted pumpkin in a bag seemed to be the way to go.

Well, that’s all for now. Be well and prosper and of course come by and say hi if you find yourself in the Big Dogs neighborhood.

Proost y’all.

1st Attempt at Gumballhead Clone and Other Beerdonkulousness

I like to think of myself as a man of the masses. A people pleaser if you will. My blog post that gets the most views and by far the most search engine hits is the one on throwing together a 3 Floyds Gumballhead clone. Guard De Gumball has been bottled for 5 days now (and is plenty well carbed), so I thought I would share my impressions (and recipe).

First of all, I ran this beer on WLP072 French Ale yeast. I believe the clone called for WLP002 English Ale, or something similar. The wisdom of that choice is debatable. Interestingly enough, part of the reason I ended up using French Ale yeast was my friends at UBottleIt (my local homebrew store) have trouble getting rid of the Platinum aka seasonal yeast strains AND I like all things farmhouse related.

With all that said, I have a drinkable little beer on my hands here. It came in at 6.17% ABV (1.064-1.017). The original version is 5.6% ABV. The pleasant little grapefruity note of Amarillo is definitely in the mix, but not dominant. I suspect a cleaner yeast like WLP001 Cali Ale would allow the hops to shine considerably more.

It’s tough for me to put my finger on exactly how I feel about it otherwise. It feels a little bit like a beer torn between being an easy drinking late hopped pale & a pleasantly maltier style. I suspect it will meld together a little better once it’s been bottled for a couple weeks. Right now I’d give Guard De Gumball a 3 out of 5 bottle caps on Untappd (and I just did).

So far, I think my next attempt will be on WLP002 or 007 and I’ll dry hop a little bigger & longer. At any rate, here’s the recipe (and as you can see I’m more of a ‘convey the message’ guy than a ‘present things nicely’ guy):

Since we’re sampling 5 day old beer, I thought I’d update everyone on how the session IPAs were progressing as well. Session IPA 1 aka Purring Kitten is very promising. It has a gorgeous tangy grapefruity aroma, good body, & an interesting malty/bready taste with a lingering satay sauce finish (which I enjoy).

Session IPA 2 aka Snoozing Kitten is the same beer but with a blend of Munich malts in place of the Vienna in version 1, different hops at the same times & IBU levels, and WLP009 Australian Ale yeast in place of WLP006 Bedford British. So far Session 2 is not quite as good as the first attempt. The Vienna malt appears crucial. Session IPA 3 on WLP540 Abbey IV got bottled a couple days ago, so I’m waiting to sample it.

My other news to report is that I left the limes in too long for the Lime Saison. The samples taste like Mr. Clean’s fruity genitals now. Heather at UBottleIt was kind enough to give me an expired package of Wyeast 3278 Lambic Blend, so in that went! We’ll check back with Lime Saison in 6-12 months.

Speaking of wild things, the Belgian Dubbel wildin’ out with Jolly Pumpkin dregs smells great and looks wilder every time I check on it. I’ll probably bottle it up for the next competition, since I can’t sneak it in for the 10/20 SNAFU Memorial at this point.

I’m also working on putting together a collaborative hoppy beer with my fellow Las Vegas blogging Cicerones for the Montelago Beerfest on 11/10. Regardless of the results, Luis from Hooked On Hops & Aaron from The HopHead Report are good dudes, and you’ll probably enjoy their stuff as well. On that note, I’ll also be contributing for Hooked On Hops from time to time so go ahead and bookmark that shizzle!

Also, my most recent order from Amazon (using thebrewingnetwork.com affiliate link) was the new IPA book from Mitch Steele and a scale that measures grams much more accurately for my brewing salt additions. The IPA book was somewhat useful for some recipes and recipe formulation perspective, but unless you want to geek out on the history of the style, I wouldn’t bother. The scale should prove quite useful.

Finally, please feel free to shoot me an email or leave a message if you’d like any help/tips for preparing to take the Cicerone test. I’d be happy to oblige. Alright, time to enjoy my Avery Hog Heaven Barleywine over by the pool.

Proost y’all!

I’m a Certified Cicerone®!

If you’ve been following along you know that I came up a little short on my first attempt at becoming a Certified Cicerone. It is my great pleasure to announce that my second try was much more successful! I improved my scores in every area & just generally rock at ‘Ingredients & Process’. 😀

Overall Score: 86%

Tasting Exam: 86%

Keeping & Serving Beer: 85%

Beer Styles: 81%

Beer Flav & Eval: 89%

Ingredients & Process: 96%

Beer & Food Pairing: 80%

In other news, on 9/21 & 9/22 I brewed up 3 versions of my Session IPA. I’ll share the recipe details, results, etc sometime in the near future. Right now I’m just having a beer and enjoying life.

Proost y’all.

My First Homebrewing Award!

Good news on a number of fronts my brewing friends! I got my first homebrewing award in the 25th Annual Southern California Regional Homebrew Championship! I took 2nd in Belgian & French Ales for my Lazy But Belgian, an American Pale Ale on White Labs 560 Classic Saison Blend yeast. Not bad for an experimental beer and my first brew in Vegas on top of that!

It’s slightly unfortunate that category 16 was the first to go since I’m such a passionate Saison guy and they’re in the same category. I can guarantee this won’t be my last category 16 award. It’s too much fun to stay away.

It’s also unfortunate that I can only get that yeast from Austin Homebrew because right now it’s about 112 degrees everyday and I don’t want to have my yeast pals shipped cross country in these conditions.

At any rate, you can find the recipe here and you can be sure I’ll brew that up again at some point in the near future.

My other news is that my Cicerone test yesterday went pretty well. I’m 90-95% sure I’m now a Certified Cicerone, although I’ll have to wait a while to know for sure. There is debate in the beer community here about whether or not being a Cicerone makes me that much more employable, but it’s nice to have something beer-related on my resume. Next up is becoming a BJCP judge!

I should be doing some brewing and bottling this weekend and early next week. I’m finally going to get around to the English IPAs I was planning when I started the blog & hopefully I’ll get my Gumballhead-esque beer thrown together as well.

I’m headed to Aces & Ales tonight for the SNAFU homebrewers meeting and it just happens to coincide with their Strong Ale Fest, so it should be a lovely disaster of beerliciousness.

I leave you with my Beehive Brewoff competition entries soaking in PBW (to get their labels off). The last 3 bottles of Lazy But Belgian & I Am Nelson Extra Extra Pale Ale.

Proost y’all.

Off Flavor Fun, Herbal Brew on #IPADay, and Beer Celebrity

Tuesday night I went to Tenaya Creek to do an off flavor kit with Luis from Hooked On Hops, the Tenaya brew crew, & my homeboy Ben (a fellow SNAFUer). It was a lot of fun and it left me feeling pretty confident for the tasting portion of my Cicerone re-take next week.

BIG thanks to everyone involved for putting that together. The Tenaya guys were marvelous hosts & I need to find excuses to go drink beer with them in their brewery more often.

I’m still not confident that my palette is sharp enough to be an accomplished BJCP judge, but I can tell I’m getting much better at tasting beer in general. All my practice is paying off! 😛

In other news, I can now say I’ve brewed with herbs. I’ve actually been looking into spices & herbs a little lately, but I was not quite fully prepared for last night’s brew. My buddy Reggie showed up with a ton of herbs. Well, a pound. Far too much for a 5 gallon batch. I could immediately tell I was going to need to try to be the voice of reason in this endeavor.

First off, I threw together a relatively mellow grain bill earlier in the day with the hopes of having a little malty backbone to stand up to whatever lunacy may come its way: 40% 2row, 23% white wheat, 13% Maris Otter (leftovers from another batch), 10% organic Munich, 7% rye, 7% honey. The rye was there for a little body in case we added Brett. The honey was added by the mad herber.

The recipe was originally designed to be around 6.5% and I was planning on using more of the White Labs 585 Belgian Saison III. Instead we ended up with a starting gravity of 1.074 which will likely put us in the 8% range, not factoring in the other pound of honey Reggie wants to add in secondary. Our yeast choice morphed to a combo of a starter-less vial of White Labs 570 Belgian Golden Ale & a twice stepped up batch of White Labs 645 Brett C.

In general, I’m quite curious to see how Brett acts in situations like this. There are certain expectations for Brett when it’s the primary or secondary yeast involved, but it’s going in with a (likely) bigger army than its faster acting competitor. Obviously we will not get a remotely clean look at this interaction because of all the other donkeyness going on.

The donkeyness started when we made tea out of each of the herbs in coffee cups. I was aware of wormwood‘s presence in absinthe but didn’t really give tasting the tea much thought. I’m a brewer. I taste my ingredients and try to figure out how they’ll work in my beer.

After tasting each of the herbal teas I went out to hit the next temperature level in our step mash. That was when I noticed I wasn’t quite right. I’d only had one beer. What the hell?

It wasn’t terribly serious, but I was definitely feeling a little blurry. Great. I’m sure John Palmer recommends psychotropic herb sampling while brewing. That’ll be the new chapter in the updated version of How To Brew.

So anyway, the rest of the brewing went fine. I suppose. We got 6 gallons of likely disaster. We dumped in a pound of honey. We added strange herbal tea. We went and drank IPAs for IPA Day. We’re hoping for the best. 🙂

To add to the fun, I did not decant the Brett C starter because there was still a pellicle & truthfully I wasn’t sure a little starter wort was going to matter. Anyway, in goes the Brett & then I smell the flask. I was expecting slightly funky with maybe a little fruit. Instead it smelled like sweaty sloppy joes. Really really meaty. I don’t know Brett C well enough to know if something was wrong. Oh well. I guess we can always throw more herbs in.

Haha. I just read the herb skullcap can be used to treat alcoholism. What a wonderful ingredient for a beer!

In other news, I made a $19 fermentation chamber/swamp cooler for my upcoming English IPAs. 

It’s a 50gal container from Walmart and will fit 2 buckets & a 5gal glass carboy. It’s not the prettiest, but I think it should work fairly well. I’ll report back on its effectiveness.

I’ll leave you good people with my celebrity appearance in a Tenaya Creek Facebook ad:

Cicerone results, brewing & 1lb cheeseburgers

A day late and 3 percent short. I took the Certified Cicerone (aka beer sommelier) exam in May and just finally got my results today:

Overall Score: 77%

Tasting Exam: 76%

Keeping & Serving Beer: 71%

Beer Styles: 77%

Beer Flav & Eval: 77%

Ingredients & Process: 93%

Beer & Food Pairing: 73%

Frustratingly, I needed an overall score of 80% (& at least 70% on the tasting) to pass, so I’ll be taking another crack at it at Caesars in a few weeks. At least I know my ingredients and process pretty well! I’ll study up and be fine for my re-take. I still can’t believe the graders at Cicerone could fail a poor little homebrewer who flew all the way to Iowa to take the test on his 30th birthday, but they did.

In other news, Friday’s brew session went pretty well. We did a single infusion mash & only a 60 minute boil so it was a pretty painless exercise. Joseph was a wonderful co-brewer. I’m slightly nervous about a mishap involving a discarded large metal spoon being taken from the sink and used to stir the cooling wort, but the Brett was stepped up so hopefully it out-competes anything we may have picked up. Regardless, this beer may be named Sink Spoon Brett Rye IPA.

Image

Pic above is Joe about to add one of the Citra & Nelson Sauvin hop additions. The WLP644 Brett starter tasted delicious. Tiny bit of funk and fruit. Really nice. I have high hopes.

Also, Joe & I now have our pictures on the wall at Cheeburger Cheeburger for finishing their 1lb burger. We even had shakes with it. Thanks to my usual silly impulses, I’ll now be known as “The Jackhammer” in local competitive eating circles.

I have 3 entries headed to the 25th Annual Southern Cali Regional Homebrew Championship & I’ll be sure to update on how they do. It’s my first real competition, so I’m excited! My entries are:

Lazy But Belgian – A big citrusy dry hopped American pale ale on White Labs 560 Saison yeast. Tastes like a spicy overripe pineapple. Entered in Belgian Specialty – category 16E.

Lake Water For Chocolate – My attempt at a chocolate pale ale with a big pile of orangey hops. Entered in American Amber Ale – category 10B.

Hops Ate My Homework – An accidental double IPA that ended up using 1.5lbs of awesome citrusy hops. Aroma is wonderful.  Entered as an Imperial IPA – category 14C.

Alright, time to throw together a saison recipe or two to brew tomorrow and/or Wednesday! Just got Belgian Saison III WLP585 from U Bottle It and it’s already stirring away. Also, I’ll be working on a way to integrate my recipes into the blog but feel free to ask in the meantime.

Love,

The Jackhammer