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.

I Love @greenflashbrew Rayon Vert and Recipes For Good Saisons and Session IPA

Hi brewing brothers and sisters!

I’m writing this with 2 whistling airlocks serenading me, which I’d bet most of you agree is a beautiful thing. Anyway, I was working on a (still incomplete) piece for Hooked On Hops the other day about the coming wave of Brett beers and couldn’t quite remember the exact beer that got me interested in Brettanomyces. Today it hit me. Meet Rayon Vert!

Today I found Green Flash Rayon Vert had made its way to town and that gorgeous little 4 pack of goodness jogged my memory. Rayon Vert appears to be Green Flash doing its version of Orval: a fairly straightforward Belgian Pale bottled with Brett. Of course I prefer Rayon Vert because it was my first love, but also because its hopping is a little fruitier & base probably just a touch lighter. Rest assured Orval, your (fairly thick) bowling pin bottle will always be my first choice in a bar fight.

All of that segues (amazingly I knew how to spell that) into yesterday’s double brew day. After a strong 2 hours of post SNAFU meeting sleep I arose and brewed the second coming of my first beer on the White Labs 670 American Farmhouse strain (Hay Gurl) to bring the world Hay Gurl 2: My Boyfriend Brett Is Back. Labeling someday will be a nightmare.

Besides that, anybody that follows my brewing at all knows re-brewing any batch is almost unheard of. I’m too busy bouncing around from one Platinum strain to the next with the latest hops etc etc. I’m a big ball of brewing creativity which results in the occasional amazing beer, a lot of mediocre beer, & a fair amount of back-to-the-drawing-board beer.

But what can I say? I’m a sucker for fruity hops, saison yeast with Brett, & people enjoying my creations. That sums up Hay Gurl. RECIPE HERE. Also, yes…I do wish I’d have given the beer a slightly less ridiculous name that didn’t involve a Ryan Gosling reference.

But beyond that, getting to taste Rayon Vert nearly a year after my first encounter makes it clear that I’m striving to brew a fruitier hoppier version of my first love. While my beer knowledge & brewing abilities have probably quadrupled, I realize I’m unconsciously trying to tweak an ‘old’ favorite. The less romantic version of that story is that I love hoppy Belgians, fairly clean malt bills, & Brett. Of course I’m trying to combine all of the above.

At any rate, I shot for more sessionable (OG 1.052) with a bigger hop addition at flameout for Hay Gurl Deuce. (You may recall that Hay Gurl aka the 48% efficiency batch was originally going to be more on the sessionable side, but a broken hydrometer made me think it was less than banging.) Anyway, the aroma of my last 4oz of Citra wasn’t as killer as usual, but the Simcoe is still holding its shooting arm in the air on account of how baller it is. So yep yep, Hay Gurl 2 is off and running. It’s actually trying to blow off its lid 2 feet away from me. Good times.

My second batch of the doubleheader was the brainchild of myself, Aaron from The HopHead Report & Luis from Hooked On Hops. Everybody seemed interested in a lighter bodied Double IPA using my newly acquired pile of 21% AA Polaris hops, so I went ahead and whipped something up (using Jamil’s DIPA base recipe). Hopefully it’s yummy and we all agree it should be proudly poured at the Montelago Beerfest on 11/10. At 284 IBU with a hop that big and danky, I’m just excited to try it period. Worst case I’ll age half the batch on Brett and throw the other half at passing motorists in Ziplock bags. 🙂

Besides Hay Gurl, I have 10 other entries in this Saturday’s SNAFU competition. I have 2 others that have enough promise to share the recipes for. The Saison De Starter side of my 585 experiment (recipe here) turned out to be fairly popular and my Purring Kitten Session IPA #1 (recipe here) on White Labs 006 Bedford has earned high praise so far as well.

Wish me luck in the big competition this weekend! I’ll be judging Friday & Saturday and since I failed to enter a beer in EVERY single category, they’ll likely put me to good use. As always, feel free to ask for any help or guidance on the Cicerone test.

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.

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