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The Hop Farm Year 2: Planting Hops, Building Hop Trellises , and Expansion

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A new growth

A new growth

Last year was the first year that my buddy Dave, James, and I planted some hops on James’s Farm.  We got about twenty rhizomes in the ground, and had a pretty tough year with a long hot drought in July.  The harvest last year was a blast (check it out) but the yield was minimal.

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This year, we decided to invest a few more bucks in the project.  We added approximately 80 rhizomes to the farm and now have about 100 plants growing. Here is the breakdown of the types of hops:

Cascade: 38 First year

4 Third year

Centennial: 12 First year

Chinook: 7 first year

Columbus/Zeus: 6 Second year

Mt. Hood:  8 Second year

Nugget: 1 big 3rd year rhizome root structure

Golding: Same as Nugget

Mystery: We have no idea, but it’s a second year

Sterling: 6 Second year

Recently, I rolled up to the farm with 50 hop rhizomes to plant.  For anyone who has grown hops before, you can imagine how much time this could take.  For anyone who hasn’t tried, one hop plant, including planting, making a trellis, running string, etc. can run about 45 – 60 min. This amount of time is absolutely worth it, but doing it 50 times in a row seems more like a punishment than an adventure.  Fortunately, I wasn’t alone and we had many toys to play with.  I have never worked with a caterpillar before, and its remarkable just how much of an impact the proper tools makes on a project.

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Here is how we approached the different aspects of the day:

Planting hops:

1) We stripped the ground of the top layer of dirt and grass. The big caterpillar “Wheel Loader” took care of a 6 by 100 foot area in 10 minutes. CRAZY

2) Put down lots of awesome manure in 2 rows. Again, the caterpillar did this in about 5 trips. I would have died doing this by hand.

3) Form the manure into nice, neat rows with a shovel

4) Plant all the Rhizomes with 2 twines ready to train the shoots from each rhizome

Building Trellises:

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1) Find some big, straight trees in the wooded part of the farm.  About 40 feet tall.  Remove all branches with a chainsaw.

2) Drill a whole in the top of the tree to run metal wire through

3) Dig a 3.5 foot hole with a hand powered hole digging tool (no idea what its called, but you twist it and it digs down)

4) Put the tree in the hole, fill it up, do another

5) Before running the wire through all the trees and fastening it to the ground, loop 2 twines/rhizome around the wire.  Make sure not to tangle them, it sucks untangling something 40 feet about your head.

6) Run the wire through every tree and attach both end to the ground

Expansion: What the fuck am I gonna do with that many hops?

So, the entire layout is the pilot section of what we are hoping to plant the remaining 4 acres of this open field

We did all this work over two weeks ago, as of now, 28 cascade shoots have begun climbing to the sky and all the second year hops are loving the rain/hot sun that has been alternating this year.  Can’t wait for the fall!

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Building a sleeve to my chest freezer: A. K. A. having the best retired dad ever!

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One of the most challenging aspects of homebrewing is temperature control.  There are many DIY ways to control fermentation temperature, but using a chest freezer with a temperature control themostat is really the best.  Once this system is running, space becomes the limiting factor.  I’ve had this chest freezer for over a year, but finally expanded it to hold 6 kegs.  I really can’t wait to start my lager brew days!  A billion thanks to my  retired father for assembling such an awesome expansion of the freezer.  Here is what he did, in his own words.

Written By John Lovrich (my dad)

    To raise the height of a chest freezer, you basically make a box around the outside diameter of the freezer to reach the desired height. The one I made was made with 1″ by 8″ clear cedar boards cut to the correct lengths. An extra length was cut to connect to the inside of the side in which the freezer hinge was to be attached creating a rabbit joint. This piece is attached to the outside piece with 1″ stainless wood screws making it stronger and permitting the back section to be attached from the back and the side. After the wood has been cut , apply four coats of spar varnish to all sides.
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 Light sanding is required between each coat, but in the end, a well sealed frame has been made protecting against moisture and mold. 2″ stainless steel screws were used to attach all the pieces, but remember to pre-drill the holes so the wood doesn’t split.
Once the wood is thoroughly dried, assemble the frame and be sure it fits properly on the freezer.
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If all is okay, attach Super-Tuff R insulation board to the inside of the item. Be sure that the aluminum vapor barrier is facing into the freezer. Do not glue the insulation board because the varnish prohibits good bonding. Attach the insulation board to the wood by using 1″ #8 stainless pan head screws with the largest stainless washers available. Insert screws at all four corners and across the top and bottom every 10 to 12 inches apart. Once completed, buy a roll of foil tape and seal the top and bottom of pacer by folding the tape and covering the top of the insulation board, extending down the board about a 1/2 inch and stretching across the top and attaching to the wood. This creates a nice seal. But be careful, the tape is very sticky and once it is on, it is on. Do a dry run without removing the backing paper before you assemble. You only get one shot when assembling.
To attach the spacer to the freezer, buy a roll of industrial grade velcro. The freezer door must be disconnected by this time. This material is also extremely sticky. This material is attached to the freezer side as well as to the bottom of the spacer. Again, I advise doing a dry run with the velcro before final assembly. Place the velcro on the freezer first, and then after it is placed on the bottom of the spacer, carefully drop in place a press down for a few seconds. That’s it. The spacer is firmly attached. Place the freezer door on top of the spacer and be sure it is alined. Make sure the hinge is flush to the wood, pre-drill the holes and attach with 1″ #8 pan head screws, or larger or smaller if necessary. Drill any holes for the tubing to be used from the outside toward the inside. Use a thin paint brush to coat the inside of the hole just drilled with spar varnish. The spacer is now complete and ready for use.
WOW! what a guy!

DAD

DAD

Brewing Cousins Volume 1 Published!

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One of the happiest aspects of my journey into brewing has been the companionship of my cousin J.B.  We have both been brewing for about the same amount of time and have cheered each other on as brewers and as family.  Here is our first collaboration/publication.

Brewing Cousins: Vol 1.

J.B. ‘s blog:

http://zornbrewing.blogspot.com/

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Yeast classes, new apartment, new brew setup

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today marks a brand new year, and with that number change, I have also experienced many personal changes to go along with it.

First off, I am teaching my first brewing classes at Brooklyn Homebrew this month.  They are going to be focused on practical understanding and application of yeast in our own homebrewers.  I’m tremendously excited for this, but also very nervous.  Adults are a different world than teenagers, I just hope the lessons I learned for teenagers will still work on adults.

check out the classes here:

http://store.brooklyn-homebrew.com/Classes.html

I’m doing 3 classes this month, and hopefully many more in the future.  I am also planning on reworking this blog for the class as well, so… many changes to come

Secondly:  NEW APARTMENT! I recently moved into my new apartment with my girlfriend and I am finally getting my brewing schedule in order. I also picked up a new chest freezer, so I now have 4 fridges devoted to brewing! I can’t wait to start lagering.

Thirdly:  I think I have finally finished my pale ale and brown recipe (thanks simon!) both with be posted in full detail asap.

Lastly: Happy new year everybody.

Visiting Belgium Pt 2: Het Anker, Westvleteren, De Halve Maan, Westmalle

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sweet

After three days in Brussels, My parents and I drove around the northwest countryside of Belgium making some brewery stops along the way.  First up was a brewery that was about 20 minutes north of Brussels called Het Anker.  This brewery was written into the trip because of its location and a good review from a travel book my mother bought (grrreat).  Het Anker is the brewery responsible for Gouden Carolus and Dentergems white beer.

Het Anker Lineup: from left to right
Gouden Carolus Classic, Tripel, Ambrio, Hopsinjoor, Anker Boscoli

I ended trying their whole lineup and I was pleasantly surprised by the sweet berry beer as well as the clean palate that all the beers shared.  Though this brewery wasn’t my favorite it was still a great way to start the day.

looking down from the mountain top

Next brewery on our tour was the elusive St. Sixtus Abbey of Westvleteren. Renown for having “The best beer in the world”, Westy is a brewery that in the middle of beautiful farmland.  We even turned into a farm trying to find this place.  Once you pass a school, the abbey is tucked away behind the tall walls that surround the monastery and the school.  Its weird, but the vibe reminded of a sort of California olive garden. For a Monday afternoon the place was packed with people, some of them being children since many of the beer gardens in Belgium seemed to be “family” friendly.

Westy Blond, Westy Cheese, Westy 12

Only 3 beers are made here, and all of them were delicious. The blond and the 8 were both well balanced beers, but the 12 really takes the cake.  I even got my mother drinking it by the time we left. Another very laid back Belgian afternoon surrounded with amazing beer and very friendly people, the name of the garden really rings true, “In de Verde” which translates to “in the peace”.

After Westy we headed to Brugge to enjoy some canals and De Halve Maan brewery. It is located very close to the center of this walkable city.  The beer was good, but compared to the other breweries on this trip, it really didn’t hold up.  All the beer was slightly unbalanced and just a bit to assertive for my liking.

Westmalle

Last up was the Trappist brewery Westmalle.  Once again, the brewery is closed to visitors, but across the street is a big beer garden (another olive garden vibe).  Westmalle fresh was much better than what we get here and the cheese was lovely.  I was also surprised to see how large Westmalle is.  The religious connection did not stop them making a pretty damn big brewery.

Triple and Dubel

All in all, I would live in Belgium in a heart beat.  Friendly people, welcoming cities, and some of the best beer in the world.  I would go back tomorrow if I could.  Now its time to start planning on visiting the rest of the country. GO TO BELGIUM!!

Visiting Belgium: Cantillon, Hoegaarden and a night in Brussels

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To celebrate turning 30 this year, my family and I decided to take a vacation to see some breweries in Belgium.  Now, traveling with the family to visit breweries can be a bit challenging, since neither of my folks are “beer drinkers”.  They aren’t allergic, but the wonder of beerdom have yet to find its way into my parent’s life, so a week in Belgium might have been a bit much for them to take on.  My girl also came along, but she is well versed in awesomeness and has already taken a liking to Belgian beers.

C’est bon

We flew into Brussels and we were at our first brewery within hours. Cantillon is a brewery that is only about a mile out of the city center and located in a more industrial side of town.  Cantillon is known for using spontaneous fermentation to make their world renown lambic and gueuze beers. The brewery is set up like a museum with and some very old tools set up for display right alongside oak barrels that are aging beer in them.

nice barrels

I’ve done a good amount of reading on this brewery and being able to see this place in person was a real treat, but the tasting was really the best part.

time does not respect that which is done without him

After the tour, everyone gets to taste some unblended lambic, followed by a choice of 1 blended lambic beer.  Luckily being 4 people, we were able to try all the styles.

here are the tastings we tried:

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Faro, Rose Gambrinus, Gueuze, Kriek

unblended lambic: served warm and flat, this is a tough one to drink.  A sharp flavor hits the tongue and lasts for awhile. This was the second time I’ve tried one of these and honestly, I am done with it.

Gueuze (blended lambic): Through combine different years of lambic, this style has more depth and a smoother experience.  Signs of the spontaneous fermentation are still present, but muted compared to the unblended version.  This beer was also carbonated, which helped with the body significantly.

Faro:  This is a lambic back sweetened with brown sugar. This style surprised me with its drinkablity. Very good beer that I plan on replicating in the future

Kriek: A lambic with sour cherries. A style done commonly around the world, and in many ways, I feel done better.  Still the most drinkable beer of the tasting, mom actually got through it

Rose Gambrinus: Lambic and Raspberry.  don’t really remember it.

St. Lambicus: a lambic aged on wine grapes, this was by far the best beer that we tasted. They only sold it by the bottle and it needed to be consumed on premise.  This approach beyond baffles me, but my cranial implosions won’t sway tradition.

The following day we took a 45 min train ride to visit the brewery/museum at Hoegaarden.  This was meant to be an easy day for the rest of the group, since Cantillon was a bit of a nose dive into Belgian beers.  A quick cab from the train station allowed us to see the country side and make it to the brewery/restaurant/museum within 5 minutes.

a great place for the afternoon

The museum was a pretty straight forward walk-through media experience, obviously InBev put a few bucks into it, but nothing outstanding.  I did learn that Hoegaarden is the name of the town that made wits, not just an individual brewery. In the courtyard, there is a lovely restaurant that serves all the varietals of Hoegaarden, including the raspberry infused Rose, which was an instant success with my mother.

Grand Cru, Rose, Julius Cesar, Wit

This visit was meant to be easy and relaxing for everyone involved, and it met expectations.  Hoegarden was a fun day trip that went very smoothly. The beer was good, the museum was thoughtful, and the restaurant  owned pretty hard.

That evening my lady and I went out on our own to discover some of the finer parts of Brussels.  A great dinner conversation slowly evolved into a local walking to one of the best beer bars that he knew of in town.  “Au Bon Vieux Temps” has a great atmosphere, but the walk down the scary alley was kind of tough to pull off.  For the second time in my life, I was able to try a Westvleteren 12, which was ranked the best beer in the world a few years ago.  The night ended with us making some new friends and enjoying Brussels, next up was the Trappists and Bruge

“Coaching” Session at Boston Brewery

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One of the perks of winning last autumn’s Brooklyn Wort was a one on one coaching session with an employee of Boston Brewing. By the way, the next Brooklyn Wort is being held in Manhattan in October and entries start Aug 11 for the preliminary round.  Details are here. (http://www.brooklynwort.com/)

I was offered a bunch of options, like a phone conference with a marketing specialist, but I was really interested in speaking with a brewer that could help me out with some of the more experimental things I’m playing with in my kitchen, I mean brewery. I was hoping that one of the biggest Micros would be willing to let me take up an hour of time to really pick a pro brewers brain.

After months of failure trying to work out a date that I could make it up to Boston to actually get face time with someone, summer finally came to my rescue.  I grabbed two friends who happened to have a weekday off and drove up to Boston.

Rolling up to the “Boston Brewery” I was immediately taken back by how small the scale was.  It turns out that they only use a 10 barrel system up in Boston, be it a nice one, the vast majority of their beer is brewed at two other major breweries in other parts of the country.

that’s it?

The shock of that quickly wore off when I learned that the Boston Brewery is responsible for their cask room releases.  The brewery is all set up for nice tours and cool pictures with plenty of history about Sam Adams and lots of awards that they have won hung above.  I would recommend a visit for someone who hasn’t really toured breweries before, you get to smell hops, check out grains, and walk the floor of the brew house.

big barrels!

Luckily, the majority of my visit was spent with Grant,  a recent addition to Boston Brewing, who is one of the brewers there.  After a few minutes, Grant figured out that I wasn’t there for some fun chat about pitching rate, but that I had a few more in depth questions that I would like to discuss.

Grant dropping knowledge

The talk very quickly turned into a great coaching session with ideas being shared about wild yeast identification and pH adjustment, with a little bit of info about KMS and stabilizing bigger beers.  Having someone with this kind of brewing knowledge really explain some of the science behind my ideas essentially leapfrogged my experiments about 2 years forward.  On the way out, he even hit me up with a couple of online resources that are exactly what I was looking for.  Grant made the four hour drive worth it.

This experience really renewed my affection for Sam Adams.  Sam was one of the first Micros that I ever tasted and many times, it was their brew that was my first exposure to different styles of beer.  Having them treat me with such a high level of respect and openness really boosted this beer back to the top of the pile for me. I know what I’ll be drinking next time I’m at a normal bar.  Much more on the information that I learned about in the coming posts, I hope Sam Adams starts a beer school!

Many thanks must be said to both Michelle and Grant.

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