The Session #111: Succumbing to a Beer Midlife Crisis

The Session is a monthly group writing prompt for beer bloggers to share their thoughts on topics. Oliver J. Gray of Literature and Libation put forward the topic this month, Surviving a beer midlife crisis. He prompted us with a simple question:

Do you find it hard to muster the same zeal for beer as you did a few years ago? Are you suffering through a beer-life crisis like I am? If so, how do you deal with it?

My answer to the first question is a clear yes, the second question requires contemplation, and the third question requires explanation.

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Learning About Beer: Hop Contracts

Hop Contracts are a relatively unknown facet of pro-brewing that I knew a little of, but became well educated on after interviewing MadTree’s Matt Rowe. What started off as a question for Matt developed into the following blog post.

Ohio Valley Hops farm Hop Contracts
Dave Volkman on his farm at Ohio Valley Hops.

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MadTree PSA: The Little Homebrew That Could

Nearly every homebrewer dreams of going pro and bringing their favorite recipe to the main stage. Last week we heard from MadTree’s Matt Rowe about going pro, this week we’ll hear from him about how he turned his homebrew session pale ale into MadTree PSA.

MadTree PSA Proper Session Ale

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So You Wanna Be A Brewer? One Man’s Path

What homebrewer, or even just a beer enthusiast, hasn’t thought I want to be a brewer? Two years ago Matt Rowe, @LooseScrewbeers, started tweeting real facts about being a brewer with the hashtag #SoYouWannaBeABrewer. He was kind enough to let me compile the first 20 into a blog post you can read here. Ever since then I’ve wanted to sit down with him and get more in-depth about his path to be a brewer.

So You Wanna be a brewer

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Adding Wood Flavor To Your Homebrew

Get you chuckles out of the way as I’m gonna say wood a lot in this one… heh, wood. Now that we’ve got that out of the way let’s get down to business!

wood

Wood aging beer has occurred for thousands of years, from casks to massive oak vats, as long as beer has flown so has wood encased it. There are nearly as many ways to get these flavors into a beer as there are woods to choose from. Within this article, I will cover the types of wood I’ve both heard of and used, plus a few new ones.

Formats

Let us first begin with covering the ways of getting wood flavor into your beer.

more wood

Powder

I’m not going to sugar coat things here folks. Powder is a cheap, fast and dirty way to get wood flavor into your brew. I’m not saying it’s sawdust… but it’s sawdust.  If you don’t have time to let a batch sit and absorb the flavor then, by all means, go for it.

Shavings

Not quite as down and dirty as it’s powdered counterpart. They don’t offer a terribly large amount of character but in a pinch, they will do the trick. They do offer a quick infusing of character, though.

Chips

An old standard, most homebrewers have soaked these in some spirit or potent potable at one time or another. Ideal for a beginner trying to add wood character to a beer. These lack the complexity you get from cubes, spirals, or an actual barrel while still offer a nice wood note.

Cubes

Hungarian wood oak cubesThese lil’ guys are essentially staves from a barrel cut into little bite-sized pieces for easier use. They will have both toasted and untoasted sides. It’s through these that you can get the flavors of the raw wood and the toasted wood.

Spirals

A newer tool, at least in my brewing arsenal. Spirals make adding wood to beer super easy; there’s no weighing, you just plunk in one spiral per three gallons for a good character. The extraction is also pretty quick at six weeks compared to months from other options.

Sticks

No, I’m not telling you to go and grab a tree branch and throw it in your fermenter. Sticks look like little planks of wood that you can throw into your fermenter and let the magic take place. I’m not sure my opinion of these as they just seem to allow the flavor to get into the beer quickly. Some manufacturers say that they cannot over flavor the beer. I have yet to test sticks, but I am doubtful.

An Actual MFin’ Barrel

The OG of getting wood into your beer is getting your beer into wood! I’ve
done most of the previously mentioned methods as well as the actual barrel, and I must saRivertown Wood Barrelsy that the barrel is a huge pain in the ass, and the flavors therein can be imitated pretty easily. While it does look cool and feel awesome to have one. You aren’t any less of a brewer if you’re not stacking barrels 3 high.

Types of Wood

There are many trees on this planet, some tasty, some not, and some that will kill you. So I urge you to please do your research so you don’t get murdered by Mother Nature. Though, you probably deserve it. I know I do.

Offensive wood

American Oak

A staple in American bourbon production, American Oak shows up all over the place in homebrew stores. From vintner to brewer it finds its home in many a carboy. From light to heavy toast its flavors mutate quite nicely. With lighter toastings, American Oak manifests notes of vanilla, cream soda, and coconut. Whereas darker toasts will provide caramel, leather, and light tobacco notes.

Hungarian Oak

A lesser known option but still delicious none the less. Hungarian Oak provides subtle notes of vanilla, roasted coffee, bittersweet chocolate, and black pepper.

French Oak

One of my personal favorites when making wine or doing sour ales. French oak is a genuine delight imparting flavors of cinnamon, allspice, custard, Crème Brule, milk chocolate, and roasted coffee. It also gives a nice amount of aromatics plus sweetness on the mouth feel.

Spanish Cedar

Another lesser used wood, Spanish Cedar is actually a type of Mahogany. I love using this stuff in beer that tends to be sweeter in its finish as the cedar dries out the beer pretty well. Spanish Cedar imparts flavors of grapefruit, sandalwood, white pepper, and hints of clove… as well as cedar.

Special Mentions

Cherry, Hard Maple, Hickory, Red Oak, Sassafras, Soft Maple, White Ash, and Yellow Birch. I’ve not played with these, but I just found a place, Black Swan Barrels, that carries “honeycombs” made out of them as an alternative to barrel aging.

Using Wood

Amount and Time

I don’t think I’ve found any perfect amount for adding wood to a beer/wine; I find each type takes to different beers in different ways. I usually follow the old cooking motto: you can always add more, but you can’t take any out. With most wood, though, it will fall out in time, but I must say its character gets into things much faster than it gets out.

When to Wood

The best brewers don’t make a beer to add wood too; they add it to a beer that calls for it. Use your judgment when it comes to deciding to add wood to something. Don’t just do it because the recipe says to. At times, simplicity is your strongest ally.

I hope I’ve managed to cover any questions you may have about the addition of wood to your brewing. If you have any additional questions or would like to submit a topic for me to cover in one of these articles, contact me at Johnathon.a.campbell@gmail.com and as always keep the beer flowing and your knowledge growing.

Learning About Beer: The 4-Vessel Brewhouse

If homebrewing is a bike, then a 2-vessel brewhouse is your average car, and a 4-vessel brewhouse is a Tesla Roadster. Everyone learns to ride a bike and does so for many years. Many people graduate to cars, usually some cheap or used ride to get them around. Then, finally, a very few get something as profoundly bad ass as a Tesla.

I’ve lost count of all the breweries I’ve visited in the past 11 years, from folks as small as DogBerry to as big as Sierra Nevada. What I can still count, on my hands, is the number of breweries I’ve been to with a 4-vessel brewhouse. To learn more about what a 4-vessel brewhouse is, and their difference from 2-vessel systems, I headed down to Rhinegeist to talk to Head Brewer Jim Matt.

Rhinegeist Brewery

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Christian Moerlein’s Third Wave: More That Just A New IPA

Christian Moerlein is getting ready to debut cans of their new Third Wave IPA and Purity Pils. These cans feature new branding designs for Moerlein in new package formats. But this is more than just a new IPA and a new look for Moerlein. I recently sat down with Marketing & Events Director Jesse Folk and Vice-President of Brewing Operations Eric Baumann to discuss these changes.

Third Wave IPA

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