Monday, October 20, 2014

State Comp Prelims & BIG BEER BREWING

Good Afternoon Ladies & Gentlemen,
Saturday morning, Izzy & I headed over to Faction Brewing to help out with the California State Homebrew Competition preliminaries, as hopefully the SF Homebrewers’ Guild will be taking over a major part of that in the years to come. It was a great learning experience to see how homebrew competitions happen behind the scenes, network with BJCP certified judges and experience homebrewers alike, and even gave us some insight into future entries. There were a bunch of great guys (and a few ladies) and it was a pretty damn interesting time. We also happened to help with one of the more interesting categories, Specialty Beers… which from what I can tell is basically the category for all beers that don’t really match with the BJCP guidelines 30+ other beer types. These are where you get a bunch of hybrid beers like “bourbon barreled aged vanilla porter with pumpkin pie spices, lemongrass, curry & caraway seeds” where obviously some of them really just have to many things going on… and can suffer from what I like to call Dr. Pepper Syndrome, where you have so many flavors going on, that you really only get one flavor from it. However, there were a lot of interesting examples submitted and while some weren’t particularly good to my particular unrefined palette, others were pretty interesting & well-made. Again, the whole process was very interesting… but perhaps I should get a little training in the field before I start waxing poetic about it to you. I’d hate to misinform you and have this all just be my opinion… though obviously I’d throw it in from time to time.

After helping out, we grabbed some BBQ@Lux food truck’s Sticky Icky Garlic Ribs (delicious) and decided to try some of Faction Brewing’s selections… ranging from their sampler with their staples like Pilsner, IPA, Belgian, etc. and even their Bourbon Barrel Imperial Porter & award-winning Purdy Porter which actually won 3rd place for a Robust Porter at the Great American Beer Festival these past few weeks (and we actually tried at Elevation 66 last week) and it’s pretty fantastic. I highly recommend checking them out if you’re ever in the Alameda area… and their location has a beautiful view of San Francisco… and the airfield that fans of “Mythbusters” may recognize…

Sunday morning, we brewed our first attempt at a REALLY BIG beer… our first Imperial Stout that we’ve basically already dubbed $teve’s Birthday Cake since because of the extremely high sugar content and the rate that it’ll convert those sugars to alcohol, it won’t be fully ready for about 5-6 months, which puts it right around my birthday… but then it should also be around 11-12% ABV. Okay, so what makes this beer a little different? Well, with the vast majority of our brews thus far, the time involved in turning them from brewpot to ready to drink is about 4-6 weeks. That’s because the amount of sugars & yeast involved can convert enough in that time to produce a beer with about 4-6% ABV. We’ve had a few like the Winter Warmer & Bourbon Barrel Porter that took slightly longer because they had more sugars to convert into alcohol in order to produce about 7-8%. The problem is that for most yeasts, once they reach that high of alcohol content in the wort/beer, they start to die off because it’s too high of a level for them to survive… or it just takes them a lot longer to convert because there’s not as much sugar for them to eat. You may be asking right now, “$teve, exactly how much sugar are we talking about in order to get this kind of alcohol content? Are you making moonshine or something?” Well, for a five gallon batch that we’re making… it’s roughly 13 pounds of pure sugar total, in the form of dark dry malt extract, pure cane sugar, molasses and what is pulled from a few pounds of specialty grains. That works out to roughly a quarter-pound (120 grams) of sugars in every twelve-ounce bottle… that has been converted into alcohol. Mountain Dew & other sodas have about 45 grams in the same amount… but these are just different sugars & have been converted. Just something to think about…

Also, because of the high levels of sugars, you’ll need a lot more yeast than normal & constant aeration the first few weeks to start the conversion process as best you can, so that you can avoid problems with the yeast going stagnant and having to repitch halfway through... similar to our mead that we started last year, which by the way, we should see if it's better now. Less than 24 hours after throwing in the yeast, here's how active it has been already... luckily we started with the blowoff tube this time...

That being said, with the extra ingredients, monitoring for the first few weeks, longer fermentation times & everything else involved with these BIG Beers, they can REALLY be worth it when it comes to flavor. You can probably find some great examples of these kinds of beers at your local brewery… but some of my favorites are North Coast’s Old Rasputin, Heretic’s Imp & Fifty Fifty’s selection of big beer releases.
Anyway, that’ll do it for this weekend… join us next weekend to catch up on another exciting week… and yes, Pumpkin Beer season is almost ready for the full fruition of Halloween Extravaganzas & National Learn to Homebrew Day coming up with plenty of surprises (even to us) along the way. Have a great day everybody!!!

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