September 06, 2014

A year of neglect

Well, the 2014 season has already come to an end without much input from me or my small enthusiastic hop team. It has been a very busy year with the birth of my first child, Adelyn. Again, I apologize for the lack of activity but in my defence I did struggle to find a single moment of time this year. The season began with the delivery of 48 new plants (6 nuggets and 42 cascade) while I was still in the hospital with my newborn baby girl. As I travelled between hospital and house to keep the plants alive and enjoy my new family, I realized that this year would be a challenging one to say the least.

A couple of days later would be my first visit to the hop yard, a visit that would reveal the hardship that the winter had brought on. In surveying last year's plants, about half were missing and didn't come out of the soil. I have to believe that the winter cold had destroyed some of the weaker hibernating rhizomes. We did manage to string whatever was left over from 2013 and temporarily plant the new 2014 plants with tomato sticks.

The next visit to the the yard was 2 weeks ago, hence the title of this post... There was no training, no watering, no pest control, no pruning, etc. this year so I'm not sure what to expect for the harvest which is happening this weekend. I do know that the new plants did not produce cones because the height limits imposed by the 3' tomato sticks but we will soon find out what the yield will be for the 2013 plants.

Stay tuned to the thrilling conclusion of the 2014 season!

February 03, 2014

Some time has passed

I must first apologize for the immense break in my blog efforts but I have a few astounding developments to report since my last post in November. Being a true Canadian I must first complain about the relentless winter that we have contended with thus far. I feel that this winter has somewhat influenced my inactivity in creative writing and therefore it will be used as my scapegoat for now. Although the ground hog did see its shadow, spring does feel just a blink away. Since my last post I have brewed two Cascade based IPAs (perfected on the second try), A Chocolatoat Madness Stout, and a retry of the very first pilsner that I brewed without proper equipment called "Take-a-Pils". The IPAs have long since disappeared, the Stout is ready for carbonation and I am currently drinking the Pilsner, although it might benefit from a few more months of lagering. One thing that I have noticed is that my brewing has become much better because the Pilsner just doesn't taste as spectacular as I once believed it was. It is a great beer but I have produced much better since so I will probably modify the basic recipe before sharing it.

Thanks to my beautiful wife, I received the missing components that I was waiting for to begin the next step in beer delivery. I now have two kegs equipped with picnic taps to dispense the beer that I brew. This has significantly increased my brewing experience enjoyment as I have found that it is much easier to keg than to bottle. I modified the chest freezer to include a 4" collar so that the co2 tank and kegs would fit with the lid closed, and I will be posting some pictures in the next post (it still isn't completely finished but it is functional). I also repaired my leaking immersion chiller by soldering ends that would accept water hoses and a valve, so this is much nicer to use. The final piece of equipment that I received for christmas was a 15 gallon brew kettle with a ball valve and thermometer and this has been a joy to use. I am still stuck with 5 gallon batches because of the small mash tun that I have but this will likely be my next bit of kit investment.

Lastly, my hop partner has purchased a bull-dozer which makes further expansion of the hop yard a reality. That said we have decided to keep this years hop yard additions to another 50-60 plants. This will allow more time to strategically design the space so that we can achieve future plans without too much of the hiccups we experienced in 2013. I will be placing the order for new plants shortly and I really can't wait until this snow is gone and the new shoots are coming out of the ground! 

November 17, 2013

Pre-Holiday Madness

After an amazing night sharing some laughs at SecondCity and enjoying exceptional craft beer @Barhop in Toronto, I’m planning on spending my Sunday bottling what I have named: “Cascadian Imperial IPA”. Much has happened since my last post and I haven’t really had time to devote to the blog so apologies but here it goes.

The Germerican Hop Series APA mentioned in the last post looked and tasted remarkably similar to Keith’s Hop Series Hallertauer beer (see picture below). The next time I craft this beer, I might go a little lighter on the Carapils (say 0.5lbs vs 0.8lbs) to remove some of the residual sweetness. Also, I will dry hop the brew with another 2 ounces of Hallertauer to bring in some more aroma characteristics, something that I suspected the brew might lack. That said, the beer is probably the best I have brewed to date, and consequently it disappeared far too quickly! 

I hosted two brew-days since October and I will post both of these great recipes shortly. The first was a 3.0-gallon Christmas brew that I attempted last year which was impressive although quite young when consumed. I intend to age this one until the 20th of December before getting into it (last year it didn’t make it that far so I could hardly call it a Christmas beer!). The second is the 5.5-gallon Cascadian Imperial IPA that will be going into bottles this afternoon. I want to have two more brew-days under my belt before 2013 comes to an end, but I haven’t decided on recipes yet. Regardless, I want to be brewing on the weekend of November 30th and sometime in late December to properly celebrate a year of exciting home brewing.

My brew equipment received a boost with a new propane burner called the Bayou Classic that I secured a few weekends ago. The burner offers 210,000 BTUs of power and I am extremely impressed with its performance, as it has shaved almost a full hour off my water heating times! I also bought a 10lbs CO2 tank and hope to receive the rest of the kit I need to start kegging soon, something that I have been eager to do for some time.

The hops were put to bed at the hop-yard last weekend as the 4’ bines were cut to ground level and the hills were completely covered with hay for the winter hibernation. I’m looking forward to next April/May to see how they do!

September 24, 2013

Is It Cold in Here?

Before we get into it, I was in Toronto this past weekend and my wife suggested that we check out a bar that was recommended to her a few weeks back. Given my nature and inability to refuse a new beer experience, we ventured off to Barvolo which is located at Yonge and Wellesley. I've truly never seen such a spectacular selection of beer in Ontario with 30 beers/casks/wines on tap and many other bottles available for consumption. Before we knew it, the empty glasses of a House Ales Tu-Hop, a Durham Fresh Hop English Pale Ale, and an Indie Ale House Spadina Monkey (sour) were left on the table. I was very impressed that a bar so close to home had done their part to share great Ontario beer to the masses and it will definitely be a point of interest the next time I am in Toronto. 

Now down to business.....

Controlling fermentation temperature has been one of my greatest obstacles since starting my adventures in home brewing. I was once lucky enough to successfully brew a lager style beer in a friend’s garage following a December snowfall. The success, however, had nothing to do with skill and more to do with a consistent garage temperature of around 13 C for the two weeks that followed. I now know this because my second batch of lager, a few weeks later in that very same garage, was my first heart breaking pour. 

I recently decided that I needed a solution to this problem so, after some online research, I ordered an STC-1000 all-purpose temperature controller from Amazon. The following day, I picked up a Chest Freezer from a local shop so that I could build the solution. The conversion process was fairly straightforward, with the most difficult step being the installation of the temperature probe without damaging internal components (some careful drilling was required). Two hours later, the new Keg fridge was ready for a trial run and I'm pleased to announce that it works perfectly! Over the next few months, I plan to finish the project by constructing a wooden collar to extend the height of the unit so that a 10lbs CO2 tank and four kegs can be fitted. Eventually I will install permanent taps through the wooden collar and fulfill my adulthood dream of having beer on-tap at home! 

The new brew tool has opened a world of new styles that I can now brew. That said, my first brew was an attempt to clone a Keith’s Hop Series “Hallertauer”, mostly because it's very popular among my friends. As usual, the recipe for what I have named Germerican HopSeries APA can be found on the Craft Brewing page or by following the link. I used standard brewing techniques but for the first time I made a yeast starter (aka - another small beer) due to the cooler than normal fermentation temperatures. Hopefully, this will get the wort fermenting with minimal lag and I will end up with a crisp ale that everyone can enjoy!

September 10, 2013

From Field to Bottle

The 2013 harvest has all wrapped up! It was sad to see the bines cut-down, just a shadow of their former glory, and awaiting their frosty demise. Along with the brief sadness came overwhelming excitement for what next spring will bring. The first year plants each yielded an average of 1.5 dry ounces; I hear it is lucky to get any yield in the first year so I was over the moon!

We achieved two main goals over the weekend. The first, and probably most important was that we picked our first year crop and avoided any spoilage. All hands were on deck for this operation with four people working the afternoon away - well, about 4 hours anyway. The secondary goal was to clear and grade an acre of land for future use. Visit the-hop-yard page for more information on how that went.

The cones dried overnight and were vacuum sealed into 1 and 4 ounce packages the following day. All in all, it was an excellent, fun-filled weekend and a great learning experience for all involved. It is difficult to imagine how we will deal with a larger yield next year but I'm sure we will think of something! This year's harvest hardly fits into my freezer, which is a definite problem in need of a solution for next year.

As soon as I returned home, I finished up the "In-Threes Ale" by adding an ounce of freshly-picked Cascade for dry hopping. I will likely bottle this batch this coming weekend if I get a spare moment. This is the first time that I have used fresh whole-leaf hops and the beer looks and already smells amazing! As usual, it will be difficult to let this one age out completely.

September 02, 2013

Labour Day Brewing

Saturday was my long weekend brew day and it was full of increasingly annoying challenges. It began with a 50km drive to Brampton, where I sometimes pick up ingredients. I could see the sign “CLOSED FOR THE LONG WEEKEND” as I pulled up and remembered thinking “bollocks”. I quickly called my wife from the car and asked her to run point… there was still Hamilton but to my disappointment they were closed too. I remembered @NickelBrookBeer supplying me with ingredients a while back and as a live human answered the phone, my spirit began to come back! I was behind schedule, but one step closer to brewing with Nugget hops and Yeast in hand (not to mention some #Headstock IPA). Shortly after I got home I realized that my scale battery was dead so I decided to guess the weights. Also, my electric drill quit working after milling half of the grain – imagine having to hand crank! I suppose that is where the name In-Threes Ale stuck.

It had been a while since my last home-brew and I couldn't remember how thorough the cleaning was so I started from scratch. I was blessed with a couple of sequentially off-tasting batches a few months ago. I fixed this by cleaning all the equipment thoroughly with bleach so I repeated this process just in case. 

Getting some water up to temperature was the next step so I hooked up the propane to the burner. As soon as the tank was in my hands I began to think that I would only get half-way through before running out. I decided to tempt fate anyways and was lucky enough to finish the batch. For the first time in my brewing process, I decided to use a 30 minute protein rest at 120 deg. From what I can tell, the wort seemed to be clearer than it usually is but before I endorse the additional step, I need to see the finished product. 

Although clear, the wort also came out much darker than planned but given that I had no scale to measure out the grain, I was very happy with what I was able to achieve. The wort started to ferment early Sunday morning and is well on its way to becoming what I would expect to be an exceptional beer. 

Making beer in the garage is not always filled with this much excitement but it is difficult to control certain elements. As mentioned, I have had some horrible tasting home-brew (3 sink pours) but I have also had at least 20 amazing tasting batches. This batch should be ready to taste in around 5 weeks and good or bad, I will post about it. The recipe has been posted on the craft brewing page.

August 25, 2013

Food, Drink and Hops

So even though the weekend is over and I didn't do what I wanted to, there were little moments resembling productivity. The intention for Friday night was to brew some beer as my home brew stock has now completely dried up. As it turns out, I was short a few key ingredients so instead of brewing I had some friends over for a BBQ and a couple of Mad Tom IPAs (which I think are brilliant). Saturday morning began with a trip out to the hop yard which is always exciting for me. I have never been good at the "jellybean in the jar" counting game but I can only assume that there are over 10 thousand cones to pick when they are ready for harvest in a couple of weeks.

Some of the plants are showing possible nitrogen deficiencies but for the most part they are all in good shape. There were many scares with the hops this year but the most recent was when I found little black caterpillars eating away at the leaves a few weeks back. I'm happy to report that they are now butterflies and there wasn't any significant damage.

This coming weekend happens to be a long weekend so I'm definitely planning multiple brews. I was caught off guard last year with how quickly Christmas came, so the first brew will be a Christmas beer that I can properly age (I'm thinking vanilla bean, honey, orange peel bitter, and various malts). The second brew will likely be something simple and easy to drink like a single malt cascade IPA. I might decide not to brew the second beer because I'm really looking forward to brewing with fresh hops and I'm not sure if I have enough capacity for a third batch. I guess I have some shopping and math to work out before next weekend!