Thursday, May 31, 2012

Lessons Learned From Bottle Caps

Lessons Learned From Bottle Caps

Last night while watching a heart-wrenching Celtics loss in OT to the Heat, I bottled up the third version of Churhyard's Rhönring Hefeweizen. And topping off each 16.9 oz. bottle was a new customized cap!

Using new caps actually makes me a little nervous. I made the mistake some months ago of buying a bunch of colored caps off of amazon. 
do not buy these caps!

Huge mistake. I bought green caps, orange caps, yellow caps, blue caps, red caps, and pine green caps, and each cap (with the exception of the blue caps) did not properly seal the bottle. The result? 25 gallons of uncarbonated beer.

What a loss!! I lost an American Wild Ale that was brewed with apple, an IPA with fresh Rhode Island Hops, and the first version of my Hefeweizen. Thankfully the blue caps did a good job (they capped by Smoked Porter, Sludge), but after the IPA, I stopped using the caps altogether.

After that third ruined batch, I needed to figure out exactly where the problem lay. Was it my capper? The new caps? At the same time I started using colored caps, I also switched to all grain brewing. So was something faulty with my all grain process?

Well, the all grain brewing process was fine, and the capper was fine. But the caps weren't. Needless to say, I went back to buying ordinary gold caps.

But once again, the fancy-cap bug bit. I was shown BottleMark Custom Caps by a friend, and at only 25¢ a cap, I had to give them a try. The fact that BeerAdvocate endorsed them also helped ease my mind.

And boy, do they look nice! The Rhönring caps sport the Churchyard logo, beer name, and ABV. Simple, but elegant. If these work (we'll find out in three weeks), I may start using them pretty frequently.

And what of the third batch of Rhönring? I hit my target FG (1.012) which means the ABV is exactly 5.2%. (which is darned good, because that's what I had printed on the caps!) The color is exactly what I wanted it to be (creamy caramel), and having fermented at a lower temperature (64°), it is certainly full of a spicy clove flavor. I also upped the wheat:pils grain ratio, and it seems as though I eliminated the cereal grain flavor of the 2nd version.

Is it better? I can't know yet, but I'll be sure to do a full review of the beer in three weeks. I will be curious to try a side-by-side vertical comparison.

Are you a brewer? Have any opinions as to the perfect Hefe? Post below! I'd love to hear your input!

a case of Rhönring Hefe



Sunday, May 27, 2012

Churchyard Brewery Hosts 2nd Tasting!

I couldn't have dialed up a better day if I had tried. Perfect weather, skies were blue, air warm. And all gathered around a table full of ten different beers from four local brewers.


Yesterday, Churchyard Brewery hosted it's second tasting event. Unlike the first, however, this tasting featured three other local brewers as well: Michael Duncan Smith (brewmaster of both The Tippling House and Minuteman Brewery), Nicholas Magelhaes, and Patrick Doyle (Doyle Brewery).

It was a mighty lineup of ten beers:

        Churchyard Brewery
  • The Magnificent Mr. Monk Belgian Session Ale (4.4% ABV) 
  • Rhönring Hefeweizen  (5.2%) 
  • Sludge Smoked Porter (4.9%)
  • NocturnALE Coffee Porter (5.9%) 
        The Tippling House
  • Montrose Scotch Ale (8.5%)
        Minuteman Brewing Company 
  • Old North Bridge Amber Ale (4.2%)
  • Buckman Tavern Bitter (3.4%)
        Magelhaes Brewing
  • Citrus Honey IPA (8.6%)
  • Raspberry Heff (6.0%) 
        Doyle Brewery
  • New Year's Porter 
our beer lineup

A highlight for me was being able to do a vertical tasting of three different versions of NocturnALE. This was a beer I had brewed some time ago in collaboration with Sillas from Barismo Coffee in Arlington. I brewed three different versions of the same porter, but altered the coffee infusion methods for each: one was brewed with the coffee steeped in the mash, one with coffee grounds added to secondary, and one with coldbrew coffee added to secondary. The coldbrew NocturnALE was the generally agreed upon winner.

Perhaps my favorite of beer of the ten was the Montrose Scotch Ale. Mike had added a small amount of cherry smoked malt, and that really came through in both the nose and mouth. Unlike a peat smoked malt, this malt lent a light fruity smoke flavor that made it a tremendously compelling beer. And despite the high ABV, there was little hint of booziness; it went down quite well!

Mike Duncan

There were two waves of people: about a dozen or so people came from 4-8, and then a second wave of another half dozen came around 8 until 11. Many thanks to all who came out and brought food and snacks!

I'm already looking forward to the next Churchyard tasting event. If everything goes according to schedule (but does that ever happen?), I'm aiming to have another in October. Check back for details!



Sunday, May 20, 2012

And We're Off!

Well, the Churchyard Brewery blog is now officially up-and-running. If my own professional website is any indication, this probably won't get updated as often as I'd like. But at least my intention is to add a post when I brew and when I have a great beer-related experience.

I've often wanted to chronicle these experiences, and in the past I've tended simply towards reviews on Beer Advocate (user rinhaak if anyone's interested). But my friend and fellow brewer Mike Duncan over at Tippling House got me thinking more about chronicling my positive experiences as opposed to simply reviewing all the beer I've tasted. He reminded me that the majority of one's favorite memories circle more around the scenario and the people, rather than the actual consumed product. Hence this blog.

My other objective is to keep a history of the evolution of my home-brewery. It began with the absolute worst beer I have ever had (it seriously tasted like peanut butter), continued with a beer so high in ginger juice it actually broke my juicer, continued to a Cardamom-infused Belgian blonde that was not only a mistake, but oddly one of my most popular beers, continued through my extract days and into all-grain, continued through two new mash tuns, a temperature controlled fermentation chamber, and about about 120 gallons of beer.

One of the challenges within the past fifteen months of brewing was determining just what my objective was. I began with odd-ball recipes trying to combine unusual flavors that I couldn't find anywhere else. And while it certainly yielded some very good beer (and taught me all of the basic fundamentals), it took a while to nail down a cohesive outline for just what Churchyard Brewery stood for.

About four months ago, it finally occurred to me what I could do. Though much of the country is obsessed with high-gravity, high ABV beers, the Boston area seems to have become a hotbed for great session beers. Blatant, Jack's Abbey, Notch, these are breweries who have polished the art of a great session beer. And as a guy who puts in fourteen hour work days (I'm an artist, what can I say?), I've really grown to appreciate these beers. These are beers that I can enjoy with dinner, yet still remain productive in the evening until I go to bed.

So why not focus on great session beers? 

Over the past few months, I've been working out the kinks of two different recipes. One is a Belgian-style session ale, and the other is a German-style hefeweizen.

Which is what I'm brewing tonight.

Rhönring Hefeweizen (take 3)

I spend about 25%-30% of the year in Germany. As a result, I've really gotten to know a lot of German beer. And honestly, I was rather surprised and disappointed to discover that – albeit with some very notable exceptions – the German beer market was seriously struggling. The weren't struggling with production or consumption (Germany alone produces 26.5% of all the beer in Europe), but rather with creative, unique, and, dare I say it?, good beer.

But there was one area that the Germans still thoroughly beat every American brewer: the Hefeweizen. That hazy, spicy wheat beer with a hint of banana... mmmm! It's amazing. 

And the more I visited Germany, the more I fell in love with this beer style. It was only natural, then, that I'd try to brew one.

The first version brewed is barely worth mentioning. I don't know what went wrong, but I had terrible efficiency, and I wound up with a beer that tasted like stale rice cakes. 

The second version was actually quite good. 

But the wheat:pils ration wasn't quite right, there wasn't enough clove-zest, and I wanted a darker color. Not Dunkelweizen dark, but more like melted caramel dark.

So I went to work on Hefeweizen #3 (simmering away in my brew kettle as I type).

I've darkened it by adding some Carawheat malt. It should darken the hue and add a hint of a caramel flavor. I'm also going to try reducing the banana flavor and up the clove flavor by lowering the fermentation temperature.  I remember being struck by the spicy character of my first hefe, and I'm really trying to recreate that experience. We'll see, and in 34 days I'll know how close I got!

For those who are interested in the gritty details, here's the two recipes:

Oh, and why Rhönring? It's my wife's German street address!