When to open @TreeHouseBrewCo cans

I’m pretty sure by now you’ve all heard of Tree House Brewing and that most of you have even tried their beers in both growlers and cans. This is a very good thing. In the world of craft beer, it’s hard to top their amazing recipes and in-house same day sales. This level of freshness is ideal and can make for the ultimate tasting experience. The question for this piece is therefore a touch counter-intuitive… Is there any reason to intentionally age Tree House cans beyond the day of their release? Before your knee jerk reaction of a vehement, “No way!’ forces you to X out of this page, let me be more specific about what I mean. Does the flavor and drinkability of these beers peak the day of release, or very shortly there after? By shortly there after, I mean a couple of days, a week, maybe even a month. Never age more than a month, unless it’s to prove to yourself that you should never do it again. To this end, I undertook a several year-long personal taste experiment with as many of their canned releases as possible. The results, are a bit surprising and vary radically by the beer in question.

Before I go into detail on specific beers, let’s cover a few basics. First, there’s canning shock. The process of putting beer into cans disturbs it and requires a bit of settling time (ideally). However, the amount of time is hotly debated. I find 4-6 hours of fridge time to be more than sufficient. In a pinch, a couple of hours in a cooler would do as well. I’ve heard others argue to wait as long as a week! Don’t wait a week (except for Green! but we’ll get to that later…). Remember, if the beer was canned the day before or earlier in the week, this becomes a non-issue in almost every case. I must personally admit that I open at least one can as soon as I’m legally allowed to. It takes me less than 30 mins to get home from the brewery in Monson. Don’t over think this one. Canning shock is real, but will your beer taste terrible if you don’t wait? Absolutely not. As is true for most of these truly higher order metrics, we’re talking about a mathematical limit you can’t reach… perfection and this only really can take a point or two at most away from the taste. Furthermore, I assume you have a general understanding of how to care for beer and what I mean by aging (letting them sit in your beer fridge). Always have a cooler in your car, avoid putting the beer through heat cycles, store the beer in a fridge, never expose it to direct sunlight or prolonged heat. After 3 weeks in the fridge it should become a priority to drink or share any remaining cans.

Now for some specifics. In every case we are assuming the beers have been transported, stored, etc in a like manner so the only real difference is the amount of time in the fridge and it’s effect on flavor, aroma, hoppiness etc.

Julius – The Dr is in and he’s delicious. Their flagship beer is to me the one with the shortest ideal fridge life. Canning shock aside, drink this as soon as possible. The thick rich and juicy fresh-cut mango aroma and flavors peak around day 2 and start to fall off by day 5. Past day 7 the beer is still phenomenal, but will not reveal such a robust juiciness. Although I’ve done far less testing on King Julius, so far I’ve found the same applies.

Green – Oddly enough, the Queen to King Julius is the beer I recommend storing the longest aside from Ma and Bear. This is consistently my favorite regular Tree House release. I can say with some confidence that at this point I’ve had more Green, in either cans or growlers, than any other beer I’ve drank… ever. It’s a test of patience and will, opening the fridge on day 3 or 4 and seeing the untouched cans. They seem to speak, softly ‘drink me’ lol. Ok, not really but you get it. Who goes and buys their favorite beer and then doesn’t drink it? This guy. Why? Because from day 5ish to day 12 Green goes through the most delectable flavor evolution of any canned beer I’ve ever tried. Passion fruit, peach, apricot and guava lead to larger notes of orange sorbet, pineapple and grapefruit. The flavor is AMAZING! but takes a few days to gel up and evolves constantly.

Sap – Pineapple! It’s weird for me to drink the new Sap. It’s nothing like the original in flavor and worthy of its own name. Days 1-3 the aroma and flavor is loaded with more pineapple than Ballast Point’s Pineapple Sculpin (true story). After that the fruitiness starts to subside and the danker more piney/resiny character of the Chinook hops starts to come through. Two very different beers, the most dichotomous of their releases, so know what you like and drink accordingly.

Alter Ego – This falls somewhere between Julius and Green with a strong tendency to evolve and change while remaining delectable. Days 2-5 there’s a pronounced hint of grape juice and herbal dankness that I’m very fond of. Beyond that, the beer takes on a very nice floral and tropical fruitiness that remains very juicy into week 3.

Eureka – This one is simple. These are the most immediately present and consistently flavored beers over time. Drink them fresh, ship them to friends, have a bunch around.

Haze – Drink this fresh. I know, you’ve been saying to yourself all along, “fool, I have to. It even says so on the can!” Haze fades and falls off more dramatically than any other Tree House beer I’ve tried. 3 or more weeks out, I’m apt to pass it by, my heart filled with regret I waited to drink it.

Ma/Bear – Very different beers, very similar aging profile. Both can do with a solid week to 10 days of mellowing to peak. Both remain solid deep into the second month, continuously mellowing with subtle changes to the flavor. Far and away the most durable of the canned releases.

Sometimes I find I write these pieces to help clarify ideas in my own head. Other times, it’s because it keeps coming up with friends and acquaintances alike. In this case, it’s both. Knowing what the beer is will determine when you want to drink it. Using the basic guide above, you will find a more consistent level of quality from the beer in cans and in my opinion get the most out of each release. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

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Big name, wimpy beer WTF??? A brief tirade on a growing trend in naming craft beer…

Has this happened to you? You walk into your favorite beer store or maybe a new one you’ve just discovered and you see a label on the shelf you don’t recognize or a new beer from a known brewery or really any beer at all… as long as it has a stunning stellar aggressive name that wows your palate into reaching for your wallet. You take a chance, lured in by the promises of bold flavor and excessive whatever’ing only to find out it’s a completely wimpy passable miss?

This is happening more and more lately and I can only blame the successful growth of the craft industry in general. In most cases, a sale on a new product has nothing to do with the quality of what’s in the bottle. No one’s had it or heard of it. We all try new beer, but to intentionally take a very very mild beer and use marketing on your beer label to mislead rather than impress and inform? I can’t condone it and I find myself sitting on a growing pile of beer I won’t drink that’s just aging on the living room floor, waiting for me to either open them and pour them down the sink for the return or to find someone I like little enough to make them a gift.

[I encourage you to berate this point if you disagree and hopefully to add your latest discovery or just any warnings you may come across to the comments section. I am only going to call out a single specific brewer here because I feel they deserve it, and can take the criticism as it’s intended, to be constructive and with love from an adoring fan.]

RE Six Point Beast Mode. I LOVE nearly every beer these guys have made. Resin has been a favorite for years, but I also hunt down 3 Bean and Global Warmer, etc an array or bevy. So when I read they were releasing a Porter I got excited. A big bold flavorful hoppy porter, except that it wasn’t… and still isn’t. As a fan I decided to take the liberty of “busting their stones,” as it were to which I received a totally glossed over marketing friendly cookie cutter response aimed at both tongue in cheek admitting I was right and also declaring… “We want to sell this beer and stand by the name.” Really? You can’t see the risk to your integrity in denying you will occasionally make a very light and mild beer, totally out of character for the brewery and want to sell it? All of which would be fine if you warned the fans. It’s a very light bodied porter with no real standout flavor or aroma character, so maybe Light Brown would have been a better name?

They certainly weren’t the first, the last or even the most recent… sadly. And to be fair, I don’t dislike Beast Mode completely. I do, however think it’s extraordinarily light for such a kickin’ name and brewery. Today I took a chance on a beer I hadn’t heard of and found myself fooled again. I refuse to give up trying beers just because no one’s rated them, so I accept the casualties as they lay and grow in that near forgotten corner of the spot behind the couch. If I have offended Six Point or the folks who make CowPuncher or any of the really nice people at Iron Duke, I say to you only this… it’s always about the beer. To all brewers across the world, save your money and fire any junior marketing execs you’re paying to ‘grow your product’ and focus on maintaining legitimacy.

 

Mastering 3724 – Brewing with the Dupont Saison yeast round 4

I’m not afraid to admit that last Summer Wyeast’s 3724 Dupont Saison yeast got the better of me. A constant battle with stalled fermentations and bottles that refused to carbonate and condition, I came very close to swearing off the beast and its kindred strains for all-time. So it was with determined trepidation that I approached what I consider an extensive research project into any and all conditions that afford at least a fighting chance at smooth sailing with this yeast. To date what I’ve derived from innumerable sources, debates and forums has allowed me be much more successful. I’m just finishing up this year’s 2nd 5 gallon batch, and although I may describe each style-defying over-hopped recipe in greater detail in a later post,  the aim of this article is to attempt to explain why this summer’s results are such a stark improvement over last year’s attempts. So far I’ve decided at least through my own reasearch, reasoning and experimentation that the following three factors are in fact the key to mastering 3724.

Fresh healthy yeast – This seems like a no-brainer, right. But I do not mean fresh smackpacks or vials.  I have begun to collect, wash and repitch yeast from a starter or previous batch rather than work straight from a manufacturer’s sample. I feel this yields greater cell count reliability and viability, less stress on the yeast having had the chance to successfully reproduce healthy cells after shipment, and a level of craftsmanship not possible in a bulk lab. This is surprisingly simple and reusing yeast is both cost-effective and prone to reduce the chance of infection and underpitching. It’s a practice I’ve begun to use across all strains, but most relevant is that I was able to do this for both batches where I pitched the Saison yeast. In each case I had rapid airlock bubbling within 2-3 hours and reached a close to Final Gravity of 1.004 within 3 days. The bottles have all carbonated within 2-3 days with absolutely no off-flavors. If you have not had serious and regular infections in your beer I suspect your sanitizing skills are sufficient to try washing your yeast.

Low OG – Historically this yeast strain is known to stall around gravity 1.035. There are a lot of articles, blog posts and forums on why this happens and how to recover from it. Aside from proper wort temperature management, most brewers agree that the primary concern is a drop in pH caused by the sequestering of CO2 in the wort as the yeast consumes the bulk of fermentable sugars in a somewhat ravenous fashion. Many have resorted to disturbing the wort, releasing CO2 and often causing airlock overflow. I do not advocate this unless you are using a blowoff tube and really only as a last resort if your fermentation does get stuck. Instead, starting my two batches with wort gravities of 1.034 and 1.038 respectively removed this tripping point for at least two reasons. The move from 1.03x to 1.015ish happens rapidly, immediately, although more efficiently than if presenting the yeast with a wort closer to 1.060. This means the drop in pH is both less dramatic and slower, allowing natural conditions to assist in balancing and accommodating the change. This approach, however, of course begs the question of how to produce a higher ABV product? In my second batch I opted to double ferment the wort, raising the theoretical combined OG to 1.054. I consider this a fairly safe alternative to fighting with a stuck fermentation. I waited until the initial FG was under 1.010 insuring sufficient alcohol content to risk opening the fermenter. The wort I added to the beer was prepared following a standard brew day recipe.

Maintain wort temp between 90°-93° F and ramp up to 95°+ F to finish – I recently wrote a post on maintaining proper temperatures throughout the life of a batch of home brew. This is never more important than when working with the 3724 Saison yeast. This strain wants to be 90°+ all the time, rising a bit towards the finish. In practice this means understanding that wort temps start out at ambient temp, rise 4-12 degrees during the first few days of primary fermentation, then slowly drop back to ambient as primary completes. How did i manage all this? I pitched 85° ambient temp yeast into 87°+ wort. Over the course of a couple of hours, the yeasts very short lag time, the wort dropped a few degrees and then began to rise. Over the next 3 days wort temp was held around 93°-94° by the yeast. After that I applied insulation and ambient heat to keep the wort at 93°. Two days before bottling I raised the temp to 95°+ to consume any diacetyl that may have been present.

When happy, healthy and properly used the 3724 Dupont Saison yeast makes incredibly tasty beer. Although it can be tricky to work with, frustratingly difficult to get moving once it fails, and not always easy to find, the rewards are really worth it. The remarkably clean, spicy, fruity characters present in both the aroma and flavor are light and refreshing. If this has gotten the better of you in the past, dial it all in and give it another shot!

It’s not easy being green – A new spent grain rule

BEER OF SC

grain

When you visit breweries these days, whether in South Carolina or elsewhere, you may have noticed some spent grain sitting in a truck, trash can, or trailer that will soon be picked up by a farmer or taken to a farmer. Spent grain is the grain that brewers have used in the brewing process to make beer. After brewing a batch with the grain, it cannot be used again. In a way to help sustainable practices, local farmers, the environment, and sometimes even their own pocketbooks, many brewers across the country have found a nice side business of selling spent grains to local farmers for them to feed their animals. Now, not all brewers sell their spent grain. Many give it to the farmers for free.

Sounds pretty easy, right? Well, not so fast. The Food and Drug Administration is considering a proposed rule that would establish best practices for…

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Bell’s Boycott

ALEHEADS

Just minutes after I posted a feel-good story about the growth of craft beer, BeerNews.org posted another ugly legal story revealing the dark side of the industry. This time, the transgressor is none other than Aleheads favorite, Bell’s Brewery.

It seems that Northern Brewer, a huge internet beer community and one of the best homebrewing sources in the country, sells a clone (a homebrewing kit) of Bell’s classic Two Hearted Ale called “Three Hearted Ale”. And Bell’s Brewery, in all their wisdom, has decided to issue a Cease and Desist letter to force Northern Brewer to change the clone’s name.*

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Global hop shortage provides rare opportunity to local farms

home_ssp_alt  I am an admitted hop fiend, known to often hunt down freshly bottled/canned IPAs and DIPAs the day of their release. In my own home brew recipes I often exaggerate the hop content across all aspects of a recipe. So it is with great concern that I remark on the current global hop shortage. As the craft and homebrewing worlds have expanded exponentially, the demand has finally outpaced production.

As far back as 2012 I heard rumors of a pending hop shortage, soon to curtail the craft industry. As a newish home brewer with access to several dozen strains in my local diy store, I felt the news was exaggerated. A few breweries were forced to change or downsize hop schedules, but for the most part the industry was still charging forward. As of now my perception of this has changed dramatically. Large and small breweries alike are now being forced to curtail their hop use and recipe experimentation unless they have the ability to either grow their own or are lucky enough to operate near someone who does. This has once again pushed the leading edge of the industry to the CA/WA corridor as other parts of the US and beyond are slow to recognize the booming need. Surprisingly, a small perk has emerged. Increased access to international strains, from New Zealand, Australia, Japan, etc that have dramatically different and enjoyable flavors and aromas.

Only recently has this begun to affect my personal access to hops for homebrewing. Certain strains, numbering now in the dozens, that were previously plentiful and fresh have now become near impossible to find. It’s become paramount to gather and store whatever I may foreseeably use any time they are available rather than shop strictly per batch. At this point, I have more hops in my freezer than food. As it should be I say. This coupled with newly imported strains has made for very novel yet completely enjoyable batches of beer. I find it interesting how pungent and unique the international strains have proven to be. While American hops have followed a fairly focussed citrus, pine or earthy trend, NZ and AU hops tend to be far more diverse.

What will the future bring to the world of hops? Local farms and conglomerates alike will soon be devoting more and more acreage to its growth. Wild hops and local hybrids will gain in popularity as the US slowly catches up with diversifying strains. Brewers large and small will be forced to adapt to the changing hop market place and will need to do so quickly to maintain current production and preferences. I would never expect this to escalate to the point of an IBU shortage, far from it. In fact I think this will follow the path the malt industry has taken with local farms becoming once again a prominent part of the industry.

Local farms in Western MA providing fresh hops and grains:

Four Star Farms, Inc

Valley Malt

Farms outside of Western MA providing fresh hops and grains:

Harbor Hops

Is craft beer better in cans? Maybe…

As a lover of craft beer and being the kind of person who enjoys doing a little research to find the truth of an argument, I’ve decided to write a short piece on craft beer in cans. Despite technological advances which eliminate the potential, real or imagined, for the aluminum to contaminate or flavor the brew within, the myths live on. I will attempt to dispel some of them.

Aren’t glass bottles always better? Not even remotely. If canned beer is kept cool it shows a significantly longer shelf life than bottles. Why? Because beer’s greatest enemy, above all others, is UV light. Sunlight and simply ambient fluorescents in a beer cooler or store greatly diminish flavor and produce skunked beer. Heat is often blamed, but this is in fact a myth. This is why most brewers use dark brown bottles. Additionally, although generally assumed to be minute and insignificant, bottle caps do in fact leak air. Even small amounts of oxygen introduced to the head space of a bottle will diminish the beer over time.

Who needs cans? I do. There are a number of places where bringing glass is not allowed. The beach, concert venues, and NASCAR races are just a few. Cans are also better to pack for a hike. They’re more compact and less likely to break when jostled or bumped. Really anywhere glass is not appropriate, cans make enjoying craft beer a breeze. Canned beer is also slightly cheaper. The material and packaging cost less, so often this is reflected at the register.

Aren’t cans just little kegs? Not really. They are made of two different materials. All cans are made of lined Aluminum. The lining is made from the same material that’s used in the underside of bottle caps. Although there is some concern that this material is not ideal, it is considered safe when properly handled and prevents flavoring of the beer. Kegs, on the other hand are unlined stainless steel. This is the same material used in the majority of brewing equipment. Additionally, even if the two vessels were made from the same material, the kegs much lager volume/surface area ratio would render comparison irrelevant.

I think it tastes metallic? There are a number of reasons this is unlikely, but if you swear that it does I suspect you’re drinking straight from the can. For the same reason they employ a lining, canned beer should beer poured into a glass or cup, not pressed against your lips and mouth. Additionally, and this is not at all about using proper glassware, beer will always taste better if properly poured first. If you’re inclined to drink straight from a can or bottle it may be time to reconsider.

Aren’t they both recyclable? Yes, but the numbers are quite different. The percentage of reused material in bottles is roughly 40%, while in cans it ranges from 80% to 100%.

Am I advocating a complete abandonment of bottles? Maybe. First things first,  the industry needs to construct a can lining that does not contain BPA. Second, they have to address the reality that some people like to drink from the can and consider coating the exterior as well. As far as dispelling the myths and creating converts, that will take time. Some of the most respected brewers in the craft industry are now offering their beer in cans. This above all else will aid the cause as beer tasters compare bottled and canned beer side-by-side. My advice? Ask your local bottle shop what’s new in cans and conduct your own blind taste test. I mean really, what’s better than getting a fellow beer geek to admit he liked the canned beer better?

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