Who doesn’t love Pumpkin Beer?

Like an awful lot of people, this is the time of year for all things fall – apple picking, apple pie, fall squashes, raking leaves, having the first fire in that fireplace, and for beer people – pumpkin beer of all colors and types and sizes.  Well, decided to give it a go myself and let me tell you – I do not like it Sam I am.  Ok, that’s incorrect.  I love a good pumpkin beer.  River Horse’s Hipp-O-Lantern is awesome, for instance, but brewing it? Pain in de butt.  That said, it is fermenting like crazy in the brew cave right now.  Why is it a pain?  Because many pounds of mushy pumpkin means that the sparge (the step in the brewing process where we draw the sugary water off of all the grains) takes FOREVER.  It’s almost like making cheese. You hang that stuff in cloth for, like… days to let the liquid drip out.  The pumpkin starts out as 90% water and just holds onto it.  Anywhoooo, my version of it uses a healthy dose of pale malts, a good heap of crystal 45 for a hint of sweetness, some brown malt for that bready, biscuity flavor, and of course, a nice proprietary blend of traditional spices that enhance that crisp, fall air. It only needs one small thing now.  I really stupid, kitschy name to go along with it.

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It’s hot out there. Fermenterator(TM) 1.0 in progress

So, heading towards two weeks ago, the brewery began a-brewin once again.  Everything went great and fermentation kicked off without a hitch.  Well, mostly  - see, temperate is a cruel thing with beer.  You must control the fermentation temp or all manner of bad things can happen to the beer’s flavor.  Yeast is amazing, but it produces great tasting beer from between 34-70 degrees give or take Fahrenheit (depending on the strain and ale or lager yeasts).  It’s been sitting at around 90 degrees for, oh, about 3 months now, which makes for yucky beer.  Also, the fermentation process is exothermic.  When those suckers are feeding, they give off a bunch of heat and can raise the ambient temp close to ten degrees.  The particular yeast strain I used calls for fermentation between 65-68 degrees.  In the winter, this is no big deal.  I got cool places.  Summer presents a problem.  I could cool the entire brewery (aka my house) to 65 degrees (even lower actually – see exothermic comment), but that would be terribly inefficient not to mention uncomfortable.

So the Fermenterator was planned up.  I have a mad laboratory slash bathroom slash sausage closet that I store various odds and ends in including fermenting beer.  It’s small.  It also has a window in which a tiny AC unit fits nicely into.  What if I built a ‘cooler’ of sorts for fermenting beer to sit in and coupled it to this air conditioner?  Oh, it’s been done before.  I’m not blazing new ground.  So I got me a couple sheets of 1.5″ rigid foam insulation from the Homey Despot and scribbled a rough plan down for how I’d cut it up.  I wanted it big enough to hold two 6 gallon carboys and their associated airlock mechanisms.  Some cuts, some snapping, some gorilla tape, cardboard and one black garbage bag and the prototype was up and cookin.  I also have a Johnson temperature controller with a probe that keeps the temperature inside the box to what I set it to by cycling the AC unit on and off.  I’m happy to report that it works extremely well as a prototype and I’m now making the construction much more permanent and efficient using glue, caulk, a vent to allow air to escape when the AC is running and a hinged door.  Pictures when that is said and done are sure to follow.  For now, check out this ugly thing!

PS – Malt-ese Falcon has fully fermented to final gravity of 1.010, which puts it squarely at 7.0% alcohol.  It will now be dry-hopped for two weeks prior to kegging!

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Ramping back up!

Wow – Where has the time gone?  Well, after St. Patty’s Day, things kind of went haywire outside of the brewery.  Life picked up and things got busy.  Also, DWB really started running out of room to put beer!  Well, THATS over kids.  The pipeline is empty and it’s time to brew.  Today the brewery fired up and turned out a simple but hopefully tasty new recipe.

I’m tentatively naming it Malt-ese Falcon.  It’s sort of a recipe based upon the simple SMASH concept.  SMASH stands for Single Malt and Single Hop.  What deviates from this in the recipe is the fact that I’m using and featuring Falconer’s Flight Hops as the only hop additions.  Falconer’s Flight is a blend of several types of hops including some unnamed experimental and proprietary hops.  It’s named for a significantly influential homebrewer turned professional by the name of Glen Hay Falconer who passed away tragically in 2002.  So this beer is not exactly a SMASH, but otherwise follows the principle.  The backbone behind these special hops is the powerful clean malt of Maris Otter.  It’s made in the style of a West coast IPA, with about 65IBUs and roughly 7% ABV.  As in our Four Horsemen Imperial IPA, the bittering hops were added prior to the boil to soften the bite and bring the true hop flavor forward.  I really wanted to showcase this hop for this recipe and I’m excited to taste the results.

In other brewery news, today marked the first boil done with the fancy new 15G kettle and super burner.  Both performed wonderfully.  The extra space allowed for an untouched hot break – no fiddling with a spray bottle or burner power.  Just let it ride.  Also made use of was a remote wireless thermometer system to monitor strike and sparge water heating, allowing for better use of downtime between steps.

Lastly and not so positive, last week marked the tapping of an old favorite redux – Breakfast of Champions.  Unfortunately, the outcome is not a winner. Due to our brewing software not correctly calculating for certain malt attenuations, the beer ended at a rather high gravity, making it just too sweet.  Some odd fusel alcohol flavors or bitter compounds may also be present which tarnish the beer.  Ah well, back to the drawing board with that one.  BoC will be back with a vengeance next time.  No worries. :)

Next brew up!?  Well, fall is looming, so I think I’d like an Octoberfest in my pipeline.  Perhaps a pumpkin ale?  It might also be time to begin to consider that strong, spicy winter brew for Christmas… Yep, ramping up all right.  Till next time.

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day all!  Have a pint or ten of the black stuff today in honor of… well, something.  Snakes on planes or whatever.  I’m right now drinking a mite pint of my new draft, Seamus Stout.  It’s a lovely dry Irish stout, with a slightly tart finish, gentle roasted chocolate notes… kinda like, well yeah, that one.  Only more so.

Seamus Stout

Maybe if you can guess the roots of the name, I’ll send you a sixer.


Play responsibly today!!! Or Sam Jackson might do bad things to you.

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You crack open that nice bottle of craft beer, watch the wisp of gas disappear into the room and then you pour that golden liquid down the side of an ice cold glass.    Once the last drops of liquid awesome leave the bottle and that tight head settles on top of your glass, you put your nose right up near it, close your eyes, and you take a deep, lasting breath – Or at least you should do all this.  If you’re lucky enough to be drinking one of those beers that favors the magical flowers this post is about, that first whiff can be as complex and amazing as a great bottle of wine or scotch.  If not even more powerful.  Hops do a number of things for beer and are absolutely essential in just about every style on the planet.  Even in the maltiest beers like dopplebocks or sweet porters use hops to curtail the sweetness of all that malt.  They also inhibit bacterial growth as they are rich in specific acids that kill off the offending bugs, but don’t harm the yeast in any way.  They’re grown around the world and have been cultivated into literally thousands of varieties each with their own distinct and sometimes very different characteristics.  It’s actually fairly amazing that this glorious symbiosis was found between hops and malt and how long the two have been married.  Well, I suppose its not that amazing.  People will do just about anything for good hooch.  The climbing vines are grown in hop yards that use a system of cord rope for them to grow 30 feet into the air making the growing of hops a very efficient use of land.  It’s equivalent to high-rise buildings and population density.

Hop Yard in Germany


Now let’s get back to that glass of beer, shall we?  If it happens to be DWB’s Four Horsemen (of the Hopocalypse), I think you’re in for a treat.  4H is an Imperial IPA, or Triple IPA, which means it’s ABV is no slouch.  It comes in at about 9.4%.  That’s pretty potent.  The hops used in this recipe aim to mask that alcohol and make the beer taste and drink like a lighter one.  And use them, we do.  There are 10 ounces of hops in each 5 gallon batch of 4H.

Closeup of a single ounce of dried pelletized hops

By example, a typical Hefeweizen or blonde ale might have between 1 and 2 ounces of hops.  They’re extremely powerful and they go a LONG way.  They also act entirely different depending on how they are added.  Generally, the earlier in the boiling process they’re added, the more bitter bite you will get from them.  That bittering is responsible for the ‘crisp’ or ‘sharp’ flavor you get on the finish.  Too much of that can be VERY bad.  So we add hops further along in the process – these are called aroma hops and are usually added with 15 or less remaining in the boil.  These hops will release less bitter compounds and will serve more to enhance the smell and flavor.  4H uses almost 90% of the hop bill in an aroma capacity.  It gets it’s very name from the fact that after fermentation is complete, we ‘dry hop’ it with 4 varieties of hops for 2 weeks.  Dry hopping basically means that hops are tossed into the fermentation chamber at fermentation temperature and left to soak.  It’s entirely the opposite of dry.

After racking to the keg - dry whole hops and oak cubes in the fermenter

I’m sure there is some valid argument for why it is called what it is, but, well… I don’t know where that is.  Also, while dry hopping, we also age 4H with toasted American oak as well to add another interesting layer of flavors.  The hops we use give us great big burst of grapefruit, passionfruit and citrus aromas and flavors.  The bittering is there, but it is still smooth and easy to drink.  It comes in at the finish and wipes the palette clean for the next sip.  The oak adds a touch of vanilla and cinammon and helps with that ‘Hopocalypse’ moniker ;) .  So the next time you drink your favorite beer, try to figure out what flavor notes and aromas those noble flowers add and make a toast ‘To Hops!’ with your drinking buddies.  They might think you strange, but you can educate them.  What’s your favorite hoppy beer?

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Breakfast Of Champions

Brew day today!  Spent the morning today re-firing one of my older recipes.  The very delicious Breakfast Of Champions.  So named as it contains a healthy amount of oatmeal, milk sugar, and coffee – It’s the perfect brunch accompaniment.  A breakfast stout such as this uses oatmeal to add body and creamy mouthfeel as well as a long-lasting head. The milk sugar (lactose) can’t be fermented by the yeast, so it adds a subtle sweetness and silkiness and the coffee?  Well, that’s kind of obvious, isn’t it?  Though most of the coffee flavor comes from the grains, adding coffee after flameout pumps up the aroma factor a bit.  I did retool the recipe a bit this time around.  Bumped up the ABV a little (should come in at ~7%), altered some of the grain components including adding just a little crystal malt to hold a bit more sweetness in the finish.  Here’s a shot of the special grain mix prior to the crush.

Kind of looks like Muesli doesn't it? Fitting.

So yep.  Another dark stout ale.  I definitely tend towards big, bassy beers OR supercharged hop bombs.  My next brew, I’m going to try to leave my comfort zone a little and find something in the middle.  What’s your favorite style of beer?

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What’s in a name?

Spent oak and vanilla

Do you know what this is??  It’s the toasted American oak and madagascar vanilla beans that Muddy Dumptruck was aging on.  The keg is empty and bottles are cellaring to be tasted in 6 months.  On tap in its place is a dry Irish stout.  It has a similar quality to Guinness with the slightly tangy bite, but a touch more chocolate and a bit less bitterness.  It as yet has no name, but it desperately needs one.  This brew may become a full-timer for it’s drinkability and low(ish) ABV.  So I need a name!  Help me to christen it please!

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Costa Rican coffee

At the home of DWB, we also roast up fresh coffee.  I must admit that I’ve been slacking in that department lately, and didn’t have any fresh stuff on hand.  Well, I remedied that this morning and fired up the Behmor and roasted a lb of delicious Costa Rican Villa Sarchi.  I get all my green coffee from Sweet Marias who sources somewhere in the top 2% of the coffee available in the world.  The owner travels the world and has personal relationships with the farmers who grow these amazing cherries (yep, they aren’t beans).  I know.  It sounds expensive.  It isn’t.  A lb of green beans – which will net me between 12-14oz of roasted coffee can cost anywhere from $5 to $8/lb, with most falling in the $6 range.  Ever paid twelve bucks for a 12oz bag of Starbucks?  I thought so.

I use a 1lb drum roaster and it takes about 20 minutes to roast a full lb of beans and another 15 minutes to cool it.  Each bean variety is different and really sings at different roast levels, so a lot of attention must be paid near the end to ensure that the roast is stopped at the proper point.  People get very, very scientific about it with roast curves and temperature sensors and all that.  I just do it by feel.  It all just seems to taste good… well, unless the breaker trips.  Then I get pissed. :) Under-roasted coffee tastes like wet grass.

Here’s that Costa Rican roasted this morning to a perfect FC+ roast (Full City +).  It’s the high end of a medium roast.  I’ll usually only ever go a little darker.

Costa Rican coffee

Notice that there is no oil on these beans?  I’ve overheard people say that the oil is a sign of ‘freshness’ when they see a slick, shiny, black bean.  BZZZZZZZZZZ..  Wildly wrong.  There’s only two ways to get oil to secrete from the beans – 1- roast it very dark, too dark really (Charbucks, I’m looking at you), or let it get old.  If I kept this coffee around for a couple of months or more, some oil will surface.  Of course, some beans work well at darker roasts, and some are oily than others, but in general, if you see coffee in the supermarket that looks like it just got done working a a day at Jiffy Lube, it’s probably old.

Speaking of old – how old is too old?  Coffee ages no matter what.  You can nitro pack it, freeze it (the best method), vacuum, put it in space – no matter what, it gets old.  The freezer is the best bet, but only if you know how old it was when it went in and if you keep oxygen out of it.  The general rule of thumb we use is the rule of 15s.  I want to roast green coffee that is no older than 15 months (easy), I want to use that coffee in no longer than 15 days (also pretty easy), and I want to brew it within 15 minutes of it being ground (the big one).  Ground coffee stales quick and there are a lot of volatile aromas that just go away once its ground and left to sit.  You can even experiment.  Grind coffee for one cup and let it sit overnight (like in your timered drip machine) and then grind the same coffee right before you brew.  Taste them side by side.  You might be amazed.

There’s just one of me drinking coffee in the mornings here, so I use an Aeropress to brew regular ‘drip’ coffee because I can quickly make a cup at a time.  For espresso, of course, the silver beast gets turned on (but that’s another post).

Aeropress in action:

Aeropress a brewin.

Now that’s fresh coffee.  Roasted from green for less than 10 minutes.  Super smooth, and like wine and beer, just a ton of subtle flavors that you just don’t taste when you order from DD or most other mega-coffee-joints

Anyone want to try their hand at roasting?  Let me know and I’ll give you some tips!  If you’ve got a cast iron skillet or a wok, you don’t need anything else! (erm, well, except coffee of course).


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Upgrading the Brew Haus

So currently DWB churns out 5 gallons of beer at a time using a few rudimentary pieces of equipment.  I’m using a 10 gallon Rubbermaid beverage cooler converted into a mash tun, my old 5 gallon cooler holds pre-heated sparge water, and a cheap 7.5 gallon pot barely suffices for my boil kettle.  All this sits atop a glass patio table and a storage bin.  Classy.

Now that I’ve been building a pipeline, refining all the processes post-boil and am consistently creating very above average beers, it seems it is time to make this brew shop look good and work more efficiently.  I’ve already got a brand new 15 gallon kettle and 150,000 btu burner.  The question is all about format.

Single Tier or Multi Tier?

Basically, do I want the layout horizontal or vertical?  If I go horizontal (single tier), I need pumps to move liquids around.  If I go vertical, I can use gravity to accomplish much of this, but I can’t really see very well into/on various tiers.  I’m definitely leaning towards single tier and I want to build it myself out of wood.  Something along the lines of…..

Probably not nearly as ornate.  Instead of all the conduits, I’d just use silicone tubing with disconnects between necessary points.  But I do like how the burners are built in and the backsplash with tool hooks, etc.  I certainly won’t need THREE pumps either!  A lot of brewers even at my level are building themselves E-HERMS systems that are completely computerized as far as temperature control goes.  Call it the Ronco of brewing systems.  Set it and forget it.  I’m not so much a fan of that.  It seems to take all the ‘craft’ out of ‘handcrafted’.  Anyway, DWB will post pics of the new build as it gets designed and construction begins!

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Devil’s Water is now an award winning brewery!!

Yesterday, Muddy Dumptruck VWP (That’s vanilla whiskey porter for all you non beer geeks out there) took home 3rd place in the rather large Specialty Beer category at NYC Homebrew Club’s Homebrew Alley VI.  There were a total of around 650 entries!  People entered from all over the tri-state area and New England.  The final awards party was held in Brooklyn Brewery.


DWB’s other two entries scored very well.  The Darling Hefeweizen moved on to the semi-finals, but fell shy of a medal.  Shockingly, Four Horsemen IIPA did amusingly bad, but it is entirely this guy’s fault.  I entered it in an inappropriate category.  Because the beer is aged on oak, it is no longer an Imperial IPA.  It only scored 18pts (out of 50), yet a judge pronounced on the comment card “I really, really like this beer and I would drink a lot of it!”.  So, that’s still a victory in my head.  Cheers!!

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