Tag Archives: home brewing

Growing Hops: Dipping Our Hands Into Agriculture

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Written By The Van Houte

the hops are coming

Thanks to the forced entry into the homebrew hobby by the main author of this blog, I like most have continued to advance this passion over the 5+ years that I have been brewing.  Transitioning from extract to all-grain to larger batches etc., it wasn’t till I left NYC that I got the opportunity to add the next phase of homebrewing:  hop farming.

The growing man: uncle James

I have always loved to grow things, but my current location fortuitously puts me 15 minutes from our family farm in Schaghticoke NY (it is the correct spelling) and the current location of our new business of growing 4 varieties of hops:  Cascade (2nd-year), Sterling, Mt. Hood, and Zeus (all 1st-year).

new girls

Two years ago we decided to devote a small plot out of 4+ acres available to growing hops.  The first plantings were 6 Cascade hop rhizomes purchased from Northern Brewer.  I knew cascade hops would grow well with little fuss in this area and chose them to start.  That first year we had better than expected cone development considering the first two years are really devoted to developing the root system of the plant, with full yields happening after the 2nd year.  With these I made a dry-hopped, estate bottled IPA with mixed results (mostly because it was my first time actually making an IPA).  Needless to say, it was a good learning experience and we wanted to plant more varieties to expand our portfolio.

Last year we bought 3 new varieties: Sterling, Mt. Hood, and Zeus.  We were debating whether or not to actually buy the “Noble” hop varieties as we brew mostly lagers, but ultimately decided on hybrids knowing that they would still grow well in NY climate and be more resistant to pests.  They also have larger yields, which is always nice.  I also wanted a high alpha acid hop and settled on Zeus although never actually brewing with them.  In addition we trumped our original trellis system and constructed 22-foot tall trellises using maple saplings.

The Trellis system

22 feet high is the normal standard for hop fields and we were excited, except for the fact that our 2nd-year Cascades grew at an astounding rate: 2 feet in one day was our maximum growth rate that we have calculated thus far!  The 2nd-years grew so fast that they outgrew their original 14-foot high trellises that they were trained on and before we could train them onto the new 22-foot trellises. This proved disastrous in terms of our yield, as the plants will begin to grow downward in search of a new line and then back up.  It’s a learning experience right?  We still have more cascade cones than one brewer would need.  The first year plants didn’t grow as well as the cascade plants did in their first year with the exception of the Zeus variety.  The Zeus plants are on par with the cascade plants.  We did have a scare regarding pests.  We have seen aphids and caterpillars, along with what might be certain fungi, and during one check-up, our hops did not look happy.  As newbies to hop farming, we didn’t know what exactly was negatively impacting our plants.  We had a very dry July, and luckily August has had more precipitation and the plants have bounced back.  Therefore it seems that pests or lack of nutrients were not the cause of our plants being unhappy, especially since we try to be as organic as possible.

up, up and away to 22 ft

The Sterling and Mt. Hood varieties have been more troublesome and they don’t seem to want to grow upward.  We were confused by this but basically have concluded that these varieties just might be a bit slower the first year than the other varieties.  We see no issues with pests, or water, nutrition, etc. at this point.  No matter how often/hard we tried to train them to strings, they just remained “bushy”, with a few exceptions.  Hopefully they will be happier next year and demonstrate more “typical” upward growth that we saw in the cascade variety.  Sadly, it doesn’t look like we will see cones from the Sterling or the Mt. Hood this year.  Of course there is still time left.
Growing hops now for 2 years has been an interesting journey.  Obviously its great in that we get to use our own hops, dried or fresh, straight from the farm, but it is also a lot of work to train and maintain the plants.  We continue to educate ourselves in this practice and try to consult with professionals in the field.  We are also in contact and are following those pushing to make NY State #1 again in hop production.  We are very excited about the new Farm Brewery Law (http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S7727-2011″ http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S7727-2011) that will help push hop production and homebrew/craft brewing in NY even farther.  Maybe even be able to sell our beer straight from the beer garden located at the farm, much like a winery!  In the end it has been great to use the land to benefit my hobby and we look forward to our third year and hopefully a full yield out of our Cascade plants.  We most likely will expand and double our plot next year so if anyone has any good suggestions on particular varieties/favorite varieties, let us know.  Initially I wanted to plant really rare and unique varieties, but being rare also means not finding the rhizomes.  Regardless we will plant more of these varieties and perhaps round out the portfolio with the other “hybrid noble” hop varieties.  Lastly, harvest is right around the corner and Chris is hoping to help out this year and take some home for everyone to try.  If anyone has any suggestions or interest in helping out or a visit someday, let us know!  More to follow soon about harvesting, drying, and packaging.

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“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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Thai Tea Pale Ale (extract)

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A good friend of mine wanted to get one more batch of brewing in before he moves far far far away to Mississippi and becomes a father.  In a recent adventure, he stumbled upon a thai iced tea that was simply splendid.  He decided to brew an extract pale ale with the thai tea.  A pretty straight forward brew day, with only 1 hop addition of Galaxy at 60 min made this one of the easiest brew days I have had in a very long time.  The tea went directly into the secondary fermentation after we brewed a strong cup of the tea.  We brought it up to a camping trip and the keg went quickly.

Thai tea pale ale

appearance: a light orange brown color that is hazy. poor head

nose: a bunch of esters, but also a lot of tea and mint scents, kind of twangy

flavor: an earthy flavor that is a combination of the full flavored tea and the Galaxy hop bitterness, while dry, it is pleasant.

mouth feel: the tannin pushes the bitterness to a bit of astringency, but is still a very drinkable beer.  medium bodied and needs more carbonation.

overall: not bad for an extract brew. next time, I would like to dry out the beer, ease up on the tea, and hop with an english hop like Willamette. 6.0 / 10

How gose it. Weird beer tasting

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This beer is my first attempt at brewing a Gose beer, one of the few german beers that has ingredients outside of the Reinheitsgebot, the german beer purity law. It is a pleasant sour beer with salt and coriander, but I used Acid Malt for the first time. Kind of a weird flavor, but delicious for a sour that I brewed only a few months ago.

How Gose it

appearance: A golden straw yellow with a slight haze, but not cloudy. A big thick white head sits on top and hangs around for awhile

nose: Lemony and wheaty. a mild funkiness underneath

taste: A sweet wheat flavor is the foundation of a salty lemon character with a slight tartness. A definite funkiness underneath leaving the flavor a bit big for this style

mouthfeel: big bodied and very highly carbonated.  I would prefer this a little dryer.

Overall: not terrible for my first attempt of a weird beer. 4.5/ 10

The Arrival of Summer, Pineapple IPA Tasting

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This last month has been a hectic one.  The end of the school year is always a fun time and with the month of June comes a real urge to drink some awesome fruit beers.  Being a beach bum summer guy, I really enjoy a whole bunch of tropically influence beers, and this is my latest attempt at one.  This beer is a citrus hopped IPA with around 95 IBU’s of Warrior/Citra/Pacific Gem being added predominately in the last 15 min of the boil.  After fermentation, I chopped up a whole pineapple that I had let “ripen” for about 1 -2 weeks and put that into a keg with the IPA.  A month later, I transferred off the beer and tapped it, here is what it tasted like:

Pineapple IPA

Appearance: A honey/ straw color that is semi clear with just a slight cloudiness, poor head retention, but highly carbonated

Nose: A big citrus nose with the Pineapple shinning brightly.  Mango and apricot undertones.

Taste:  A light beginning with a slight hop bitterness coming forward, followed by a big tropical finish.  A bitter pith of grapefruit and tart pineapple end into a dry finish.

Mouthfeel: Balanced, but big.  The dryness causes the taste to linger.

Overall:  a bit too dry for what I was going for, but for a highly hopped IPA, it was pretty delicious.  This will go great at the beach or a BBQ.  7/10.  Add a lot more specialty grains next time.

New members to the family

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MORE CASKS!!!!

I must thank my friend’s Tom and Simon for these new friends.  Tom picked me up a virgin 2.5 cask with a really gnarly design on it

Dr. Deacon Brody

A mad scientist cask…. that’s gonna be something someday.  I’m planning on making some homemade wine to age this with. should be great!

I also picked up a 5 gallon bourbon cask from Kings Distillery with the help of my friend Simon. Its really surprising how much heavier a 5 gallon cask is when compared to a 2.5 gallon cask.

volume step up #1

This makes my total casks now 6, with two souring beers and four for straight (ish) beer.  The sour beers are in a rye cask and a bourbon cask.  The straight beers will go into a 5 gallon bourbon cask, 2.5 gallon scotch cask, and the hopeful red wine cask.

Congratulation Kolsch! a retirement gift for my Dad

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The one on the right is done with work!

My father recently retired from his job of 39 years and a congratulations are in order! As a gift, I brewed up a batch of Kolsch, which was my second, and much improved, stab at this style.  Here are the tasting that my father and I wrote with my muse of a girlfriend.

Kolsch 1.0 on the left, Congratulation Kolsch on the right

kolsch 1.0 (old write up)

Apperance: cloudy and straw yellow

Nose: corn with lemon citrus

Taste: an easy drinker with a lemon taste

Mouthfeel: smooth and low carbed. very light bodied

Overall: much nicer now, the lemon flavor is well muted and very easy to drink

Congratulation Kolsch 2.0

Appearance: Completely clear (I love using Whirfloc) light yellow color

Nose: Very light, with a slight sweetness in the background

Taste: nearly perfectly balanced, an easy round flavor

Mouthfeel: easy drinking summer time light beer

Overall: Really well done, but kinda boring beer.  This beer got it right! 8.9/10

Cheers to my Dad and anyone else who parents worked for too long!