14 batches of home brew later I’m a fiend for fresh beer

In the last 11 months I’ve brewed 14 batches of my own beer.  It’s been a great adventure that started with a MrBeer kit I received as a Christmas gift and has grown into revisiting topics from some of the biochemistry and engineering classes taken years ago at UMASS Amherst. In a short period of time I’ve gone from being an experienced taster to an advanced beginner brewer. Though the true complexity of the brewing process may be challenging and infinitely complex, I’ve come to believe that creativity shares equally in the science along with procedural precision. It’s with much pride and also a bit of nostalgia I attest I’ve left the MrBeer keg fermenter behind and evolved into a partial masher, with custom grain bill tendencies and a serious hop addiction.

Batch 1 – Mr Beer Diablo IPA: A fairly tasty, though very basic Amber IPA extract kit. I didn’t add or change the recipe much except for dry hopping with Cascade. I’m pretty sure I’ve dry hopped every batch of home brew since excusing one stout. Although I consider this beer to be a success, I’ve since written a two-part diatribe on how to make better beer with a MrBeer kit. The short version is fairly simple, wait a heck of a lot longer than they tell you for each stage of brewing. Based on my current understanding, because I bottled the beer far too early, got the beer too warm, and failed to properly seal the bottles, the window of proper flavor was narrow and plagued by excessive ‘green’ flavors early and oxidation later.

Batch 2 – St Pattys ChocoBacon Express: I am slightly religious about the St Patrick’s Day parade. Feeling brave after the Diablo experiment, I decided to get creative and make an Irish Stout with chocolate, bacon, and espresso. The perfect pre-noon beer! I again started with a Mr Beer extract kit, this time focussing on adjuncts and not hops. Through no fault of the beers, I mistook dry measure for dry volume when adding the powdered cocoa. Despite my best efforts at dilution and sweetening with lactose, this was never drinkable. I decided to forgo adding the bacon once i realized my mistake. My plan had been to drybacon, as in dry hopping, but with bacon and then add shots of espresso when bottling. I have yet to reattempt this recipe, but there is no doubt I’ll be brewing something special for next parade day.

Batch 3 – Northwest Pale Hop: The last of the MrBeer extract kit batches, this has evolved into on of my favorite recipes. I quadrupled and varied the hops during the flavor addition, creating a mildly bitter, vaguely malty Pale Ale with a huge hop flavor profile. To any future MrBeer brewers, the Northwest Pale Ale kit is one of their best.

Batch 4 – Citrus Flag: Specialty grains! Having located a local brewing supply shop, I gave up ordering kits online and set out to attempt cloning Slumbrew’s Flagraiser. I came fairly close, although I intentionally outpaced their use of Galaxy hops. This was a complete success, and absolutely delicious. If you develop the clone fever as I have, basic IPA kits are a good place to start. Customizing with specific hops and steeping grains will impart most of the target flavor you’re seeking. Revising and mentally tasting recipes is one of my favorite things to do.

Batch 5 – ResinX: My second attempt at cloning, unfortunately this batch fell victim to gravity. I had finished the brewing process up to the point of adding yeast and capping the fermenter, in this case(and for the last time) the MrBeer keg. For whatever reason, in the span of the single step I had to take from the stove top to the cabinet I had planned to use for fermentation, I dropped the keg. It was a sad thing, shattering, spewing never-to-ferment wort and an abundance of just submerged hops all over me and the kitchen.  So it went, and so I went to the brewing supply shop for a bigger and better fermenter.

Batch 6 – Simcoe: My first minimash batch. Still on the clone kick, this time I was aiming for Weyerbacher Double Simcoe. After only a few days of fermenting, it became clear this batch was infected. This is my only infection to date, although I’ve since switch from PBW to using Star San religiously. Don’t fear the foam!

Batch 7 – Bitter Mudder: Having just finished a whole lot of reading on colloidal stability, enzymes, and pH, I wanted to up my game. I attempted another clone, but this time configuring the entire grain and hop bill from scratch rather than using a store-bought kit. I didn’t quite regress to the point of using pencil and paper, but I did use online tools to calculate various elements of the brew with the goal being none other that Sierra Nevada’s crown jewel Celebration. It didn’t quite work out. I overshot a small addition of dark malt and added far too much Chinook hops. The end product, nevertheless, was quite good. Poured out, it strongly resembled mud. Brewed Mother’s day weekend, the name just had to be. I’ve since discovered I enjoy naming a beer nearly as much as working on the recipe.

Batch 8 – Northwest Pale Hop II: Hands down the best tasting beer I’ve made. A spin-off of Batch 3, I remade the recipe to include specialty grains and a complete lack of bittering hops. I’ve made variations of this beer three times so far and have four additional working recipes to try.

Batch 9 – Fat Orange Banana: With the warm summer temperatures came Belgian yeast brewing. This beer and batch 10, Fat Apollo were fermented and conditioned with Ardennes yeast(fairly neutral tasting and not as gamey as some Belgian strains). Summer brewing is not my strong suit to date, but this experimental beer did change my thinking on fruit adjuncts and Shandys. I flavored with banana and used pure banana as my only source of sugar during bottling. The aroma and mouthfeel really added to the banana flavor appeal. Friends and family who are not typically fans of some of my hop forward recipes really enjoyed this change of pace.

Batch 10 – Fat Apollo: This started as a basic Belgian White IPA. I used Apollo and Galaxy hops to excess during the hop flavor addition of the boil. I also used sweet orange peel. In future batches I plan to use fresh peels from Valencia oranges. Another success, this tasted vaguely like a hopped up Blue Moon and was again very popular amongst non-hopheads.

Batches 11,12,13 – July, Red Hot July, August: Saisons… possibly my bane or just a serious test of patience. I guess I could blame mother nature for our extremely short and abnormally cool summer, but either way this beer started fermentation, happily, around 90° F in mid August. A week before bottling ambient outside temperatures dropped to the mid 70’s. At this point, it’s been roughly 3 months of conditioning and they are still very green. I’ve considered building a warm water bath using an aquarium heater and rousing the yeast to help these reach completion. Aside from secondary/tertiary fermentation woes this tastes really nice. There are technically three versions of this beer in one 5 gallon batch. The first and to date best tasting was bottled with the originally pitched yeast strain and Mirasol chile peppers. Just a little heat and a bit of pepper flavor really brings similar subtle flavor notes out of the Hallertau hops added to the boil. The second version was bottled without the peppers using just the originally pitched yeast strain for conditioning. The third portion was allowed to sit in secondary for an additional week with a second, more temperature tolerant strain before bottling. A minor flavor difference can be noted between these last two as well as a noticeably more complete fermentation in the bottles with the second strain.

Batch 14 – Belgian Pale Hop: The third and Belgian version of my hop flavor forward Pale Ale, this one gets mixed reviews. The cooler temps of late August allowed me to return to the Ardennes yeast. Unfortunately, I made a rookie mistake early in the brewing process. I forgot to add water crystals to the wort. This had an impact on both the pH of the wort and consequent efficiency of the hop and grain extractions, and on the overall saltiness of the flavor profile. I attempted to partially compensate for this by increasing the dry hop addition and adding water crystals to the bottling bucket. I had limited success with both. I suspect the salts did not evenly distribute as easily as the corn sugar during siphoning to the bottling bucket. As a result, some bottles are just a touch too salty. These bottles, however are preferable to any shy on salt as the entire hop aspect of the flavor profile is muted. I’ve had luck improving the taste of those bottles by adding hop teas to the poured beer.

Batch 15 – ?: What’s up next? As the temperatures drop and American Ale brewing season returns, I have a few recipes I’m excitedly tweaking. First and foremost is a big DIPA with a ton of Galaxy hops similar to batch 4, Citrus Flag. I’ve been thinking about this one since I shared out my last bottle. Another option is a version of Fat Tire I’m calling Red Bread. I’ve exaggerated both the biscuit and amber malt aspects of the flavor and removed all the white wheat. Should be interesting, and much hoppier than New Belgium’s version. I’ve also got a reworked Celebration clone recipe and one for a pumpkin wheat beer I’m dying to try. As most New Englanders curse the cooler weather and impending winter, I am excited! There are some tasty Ales in my future.


About mrhopsbeertalk
Avid homebrewer and craft beer taster. I love all the hops I can get. #hops #ipa #iipa #ipl #porter #dipa #specialtyale #saison #craftbeer western mass · mrhopsbeertalk.wordpress.com

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