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Owners Of Philadelphia’s Oldest Homebrew Shop Blame Changing Demographics And Attitudes For Their Closing

by Tara Nurin

Nancy Rigberg expected to run her homebrew-supply storefront boutique until she turned 70. But at 63, she and her husband, George Hummel, have decided to take early semi-retirement and close down the existing brick-and-mortar part of Philadelphia’s oldest homebrew shop, Home Sweet Homebrew, which they’ve owned since the early 1990s.

“For one we’re getting old,” half-jokes Rigberg, who bought the store with Hummel from the original owners who’d opened it across the street in 1986.

“The real estate market has changed,” she says, more seriously, of her slice of Center City just west of trendy Rittenhouse Square. “If you’re not a restaurant or a dry cleaner or nail salon there’s very little room in the market for small retail.”

Hummel chimes in from behind the glass counter where he watches over the grain sacs, rubber hoses, vintage brewery t’s, moving boxes and the one person who enters the shop while I’m there at 4:30 on a Friday less than ten days before the shop closes for good — a delivery man looking for an address.

“$2 million condos are going up on the corner,” he says. “People spending that much aren’t coming home and making beer.”

But pricey highrises aren’t the only thing sapping the energy from Home Sweet Homebrew, which will shut down its sole location Labor Day weekend. As I wrote here in 2016, overall, the approximately $1 billion homebrewing business is taking some heavy hits; Fifteen-hundred miles away, Houston’s oldest shop, open since 1971, is closing September 8, citing slow sales.

According to the American Homebrewers Association (AHA), even with 1.1 million homebrewers in the country as of 2017, with most boasting high incomes and education and 40% launching their hobby just four years prior, the number of supply shops has shrunk to 656 this year from a 2015 peak of 815. The sharpest decline came in 2017, when 97 stores closed. Forty-five have closed so far this year.

“Homebrewing grew rapidly between 2006 and 2014. In that time frame our membership went from 9720 at the end of 2005 to 45,519 at the end of 2014. We’ve since stabilized between 45,000 and 47,000 members. During that time of rapid growth a lot of new shops opened up, likely creating some over supply of stores that couldn’t handle having the market level off,” emails Gary Glass, director of the AHA.

Even Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) got out of the industry: in July it sold the online powerhouse Northern Brewer homebrew supply shop to a holding firm that describes itself as an entity that “rescues small- to mid-sized distressed companies” and “corporate orphans that are in out-of-favor industries or are undergoing some form of transition.” AB InBev’s “growth and innovation” arm, ZX Ventures, purchased Northern Brewer a mere three years ago.

“When there’s so much beer available why should you bother making it?” asks Hummel, summing up the main reason why I say, along with the departing owner of Houston’s DeFalco’s Home Wine & Beer Supplies and others, that homebrewing has largely become a victim of its own success.

Modern American homebrewing started around the 1960s and 70s, when domestic beer drinkers grew deeply unsatisfied by the pale adjunct lagers that dominated the marketplace. A large subset of influential early brewers like Jack McAuliffe and Ken Grossman developed their talents over homebrew set-ups before going on to found New Albion Brewing and Sierra Nevada Brewing, respectively. Since then, so many homebrewers have “grown up” to become commercial brewers that the Brewers Association trade lobbying group reports a record-setting 7,500 breweries operating across the U.S. as of June 30.

“While I think homebrewing in general is quite healthy and we likely have as many homebrewers now as we’ve ever had in this country, when a new brewery opens, it’s very likely that a local homebrew shop just lost one of their best customers. Many of the local shop’s customers will likely visit the new brewery as well,” writes Glass. “If those customers are spending more time at a new brewery, they are going to have less need to be stocked on their own homebrew.”

“Yards, Flying Fish, Victory, Oxbow, Sam (Calagione, of Dogfish Head),” list Rigberg and Hummel as they brainstorm some of the notable breweries and brewers that got their start buying homebrew supplies from them.

“The good memories are all the neat people we’ve met, the friends we’ve made,” muses Rigberg. “Everything has really changed.”

She’s not just being sentimental. So much has really changed, even in the past five-to-ten years. It’s not just rents that she says have climbed 20%-25% per year since Center City Philly started rebounding from economic gloom in the late 1990s, and it goes beyond the fact that a local craft beer drinker has only to go into almost any bar or bottle shop to browse an assortment that would have been impossible to imagine even a year ago.

To start, despite the explosion of breweries and their ensuing beer offerings, interest in beer is giving up ground to spirits, suggesting that the brew-your-own craze may be sputtering out as the number of people who wanted to make or drink better beer has plateaued. Second, online suppliers have crushed mom-and-pop retailers – especially those cramped into small, expensive downtown spaces like Home Sweet Homebrew — with their lack of overhead and unlimited storage space. Third, older operators like Rigberg and Hummel are reaching retirement age and growing tired of running a shop on such a barebones budget they no longer hire help.

But it’s also more than that. It has to do with the changing attitudes of the younger generations, and Rigberg and Hummel are just plain over it.

“People used to come in here because they wanted my knowledge and now they come in because they want to tell me why I’m wrong,” Hummel says.

Buried in their smart phones, customers don’t bother to say hello, Rigberg laments. They express their aggravation when the couple very occasionally closes for a few hours to attend a rock concert or family celebration, and they grumble when Hummel tells them he can order them ingredients or equipment that will take a few days to arrive. Rigberg calls it the “Amazoning of America.”

“This 24/7, ‘satisfy me now’ mentality is annoying,” she says. Reminiscing about the days when she and her husband built relationships with customers over decades, she says, “We’re trying to please everybody with everything without any kind of reciprocal loyalty.”

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I’m the beer and spirits contributor to Forbes — a freelancer who primarily covers lifestyle trends with a focus on craft beer, alcohol and culinary tourism and their impact on economic development. My writing has been published in Food + Wine, Wine Enthusiast, USA Today and many additional media outlets, which has won me 1st place awards in business writing and commentary from the North American Guild of Beer Writers; a 1st place business writing award from the NJ Society of Professional Journalists and the Food Writer of the Year designation in a competition hosted by the Wine School of Philadelphia. I co-founded Ferment Your Event to lead craft beer pairings and seminars (specialty is beer + chocolate), and I co-host a weekly radio show called “What’s on Tap” in addition to teaching the Craft of Beer course at Wilmington University. I volunteer as the archivist for the international Pink Boots Society for the advancement of women in beer and founded NJ’s original beer-education group for females. I’m an official beer judge, a Cicerone Certified Beer Server and an urban pioneer on the scenic Camden, NJ, waterfront. Please visit my website, www.taranurin.com.

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2018 Competition Application Open

The 2018 National Homebrew Competition Application Form is now open through midnight, January 30, 2018. The application and competition is open to AHA members only (join or renew today).

To apply to the competition, you will need

  1. The email address associated with your AHA member account and
  2. Your AHA member number.

Both of these can be found in the Brew Guru app or by logging into your account on HomebrewersAssociation.org.

Read the Rules & Regulations and Frequently Asked Questions to answer your questions prior to applying to the competition, and make sure you are subscribed to competition emails.

Applicants are only asked to choose how many entries they wish to enter and pay for, and to identify the judging centers to which they’d be willing to ship entries. Beer registration styles and specialty information are required after the application window closes January 30, 2018.

Entry fee is $14 per entry in 2018.

Important Dates & Deadlines:

  • Application Window: January 23 through January 30, 2018
  • Entry Registration & Payment: Notification February 5 through February 15, 2018. Applicants will then have 72 hours from the date of notification to pay for their entries.
  • Judging/Stewarding Signup: February 8, 2018
  • First Round Shipping Window: March 19 through March 30, 2018
  • First Round Judging (all sites): April 6 through April 22, 2018

* * *

American Homebrewers Association Competition Coordinator John Moorhead is director of the National Homebrew Competition, coordinates the Great American Beer Festival® Pro-Am Competition and the Capitol Hill Staff Homebrew Competition, works on homebrewing legislative issues, and writes for HomebrewersAssociation.org.

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Homebrewer’s Table: Charlie Papazian’s Blueberry Pie & English Brown Ale

All good dessert recipes deserve a good story. Surely you’ve got a memory you can dig up somewhere of baking your grandma’s sacred family cookie recipe or the first time you properly executed that pineapple upside down cake (Bravo!).

The same goes for Charlie Papazian’s fondness for pies. Before he started spreading the love of homebrewing and independent beer, Papazian spent his career teaching kindergartners how to sound out the alphabet and identify shapes and colors (he has always loved to teach and share his knowledge, after all).

Many years ago on his birthday—January 23—he asked his tiny students to request that their parents make and bring pies for a birthday celebration and, lo and behold, dozens of pies showed up. He was impressed. So impressed, in fact, that he ended up starting the Great American Pie Festival and the Great American Pie Competition in Boulder, Colo. His love for pies even went a step further when he submitted January 23 as National Pie Day to Chase’s Calendar of National Events in the late 1970s.

This pie is one of his classic pie recipes that pulls its sweetness from fruit and honey rather than sugar. After judging many pies, Charlie began to see the value in natural sweetness. Enjoy!

Blueberry Pie

Ingredients:

For the filling:

  • enough fresh or frozen blueberries to fill the pie plate, about 2–3 cups
  • 2 Tbsp. salted butter, cut into small pieces to evenly distribute
  • 1–2 Tbsp. flour
  • 2–3 Tbsp. honey or maple syrup
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. fresh-ground coriander seed
  • ¼ tsp. fresh-grated nutmeg
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice

For the pie crust:

  • 2 cups wheat flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 5–7 Tbsp. cold water

Directions:

Step 1: Preheat oven to 425° F while you prep your dough and filling.

Step 2: Put flour, water, and about half of your bu­­­­­tter into a food processor and pulse a few times. Add the rest of the butter and pulse about 6–7 more times. Take ice-cold water (without ice cubes) and add 5–7 tablespoons evenly to the mixture. Pulse again until the dough just barely holds together. Empty the dough mixture onto a clean, dry, flat surface. Do not knead the dough: this makes it tough, which is not ideal for pastry dough. Instead, roll the dough into one big mound and then split it into two separate mounds. Wrap the dough mounds in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 1–12 hours.

Step 3: After you’ve allowed the dough to rest, take it out of the refrigerator and let it warm up for 5–10 minutes. Sprinkle some flour on a surface so that you can roll one of the mounds out into a 12-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Take the rolled-out flour and line a 9″ pie pan. Pinch the flour down around the sides of the pan to make a crust.

Step 4: Stir the blueberries, honey, salted butter (in pieces, evenly distributed), flour, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, and lemon juice together in a mixing bowl. Add to the shell crust.

Step 5: Roll out the other mound of dough the same way that you prepared the shell crust. Lay over the top of the berries and pinch crusts together to seal along the edges. Use a bit of aluminum foil to wrap around the edges of the pinch crust so they don’t burn in the oven.

Step 6: Bake in the oven at 425°F for 25–30 minutes on the bottom rack. Move to the upper rack for another 25–30 minutes at a reduced heat of 350–375°F.

 

Pairing Suggestions

An English brown ale is simultaneously simple and complex in flavor, much like a classic blueberry pie. The tart sweetness from caramelized blueberries is a great complement to the subtle bitterness in an English brown. We all know there is nothing quite like a perfectly baked pie crust, which in this case pairs particularly well with the malty sweetness of the brown ale.

English Brown Ale Homebrew Recipe

If you’re planning ahead, brew this English brown ale featured in The Homebrewer’s Companion by Charlie Papazian.

Specs:

  • Original Gravity: 1.068–1.072
  • ABV: 6.5%
  • IBU: 38
  • SRM: 25–30

Ingredients for 5 gallons (19 L):

  • 5 lb. (2.3 kg) American two-row lager malt
  • 3 lb. (1.36 kg) Munich malt
  • 2 lb. (0.9 kg) Vienna malt
  • 1.5 lb. (0.68 kg) crystal/caramel malt 40°L
  • 0.25 lb. (113 g) chocolate malt
  • 1 oz. (28 g) Fuggle hops, 4% a.a. (boiling)
  • 0.9 oz. (21 g) Williamette hops, 4.5% a.a. (boiling)
  • 0.35 oz. (10 g) Cascade hops, 7% a.a. (flavor)
  • 0.35 oz. (10 g) Cascade hops, 7% a.a. (aroma)
  • 1/4 tsp. (1 g) Irish moss
  • ale yeast
  • 3/4 cup (178 mL) corn sugar or 1.25 cup (296 mL) dried malt extract for bottling

Directions:

Using a protein-developing step mash, add 3 gallons (11.4 L) of 130°F (54°C) water to the crushed malt. Stabilize at 122°F (50°C) and hold for 30 minutes. Then add 1.5 gallons (5.7 L) of boiling water. Stabilize at 148–150°F (64–66°C) and hold for 60 minutes. Add heat and mash out to 165°F (74°C).

Sparge with about 3–4 gallons (11.4–15.2 L) of 170°F (77°C) water. Add more water (do not over-sparge) to brew pot to make an initial extract volume of 6.5 gallons (24.7 L) Anticipate evaporation of slightly more than 1 gallon (3.8 L). Add boiling hops and boil for 75 minutes. Then add flavor hops and Irish moss and boil for an additional 15 minutes. Total boiling time is 90 minutes. Turn off heat. Add aroma hops and let steep for 2–3 minutes before removing hops and chilling the hot wort.

* * *

Hailing from the South, Millie Shamburger has developed an affinity for the beer industry and all the shiny things that come with it. When not exploring beer, Millie is in the kitchen, enjoying the outdoors, and wearing out her dancing shoes. 

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Brewers Association Announces Exit of Charlie Papazian

Father of homebrewing, founder and innovator to leave lasting legacy after 40 years.

Boulder, CO • January 23, 2018—The Brewers Association (BA)—the not-for-profit trade group dedicated to promoting and protecting America’s small and independent craft brewers—today announced that founder and past president Charlie Papazian will exit the Brewers Association on January 23, 2019, marking his 70th birthday and 40 years building the craft brewing community and inspiring brewers and beer lovers around the world.

“We are all here today because of Charlie Papazian,” said Bob Pease, president and CEO, Brewers Association. “His influence on the homebrewing and craft brewing community is immeasurable. Who could have predicted that a simple wooden spoon, ingenuity and passion would spawn a community of more than one million homebrewers and 6,000 small and independent U.S. craft breweries.”

Charlie Papazian

Charlie in his beer cellar circa 1985.

 

Charlie Papazian, founder of the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) and the Association of Brewers, set the stage for homebrewing back in the 1970s. His expertise and friendly tone assured people that making good beer was possible at home. He stressed his catchphrase of “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew” in his first book, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing and inspired millions to pick up the hobby of homebrewing.

Papazian (L), along with Charlie Matzen, formed the AHA in Boulder, CO.

In 1978, Papazian, along with Charlie Matzen, formed the AHA in Boulder, CO. They published the first issue of Zymurgy magazine, announcing the new organization, publicizing the federal legalization of homebrewing and calling for entries in the first AHA National Homebrew Competition. Today, the AHA is more than 46,000 members strong.

In 1982, Papazian debuted the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Boulder, CO. Now in its 37th year, GABF is the largest ticketed beer festival in North America with more than 60,000 attendees annually and its accompanying competition is one of the most coveted awards in the brewing industry.

The following year, the Association of Brewers was organized to include the AHA and the Institute for Brewing and Fermentation Studies to assist the emerging microbrewery movement in US. By 2005, the Association of Brewers and the Brewers’ Association of America merged to form the Brewers Association.

Charlie revisiting the spot in Charlottesville, Virginia where he brewed his first batch of beer in 1970. Photo was taken in 1979.

When asked, “Charlie, did you ever imagine that beer would become this?” His answer is always yes.

“I had a playful vision that there would be a homebrewer in every neighborhood and a brewery in every town. But what I did not imagine, couldn’t imagine, never considered, was the impact that craft brewing would have on our culture, economy and American life,” mused Papazian.

Papazian will spend his final year at the BA completing many projects, including a craft brewing history archive project. The archive will house 40 years of craft beer history in the form of more than 100,000 publications, photographs, audiotapes, films, videos, and documents—including 140 video interviews of the pioneers of American craft brewing—and will be accessible to researchers via the BA. He will also deliver the keynote address at the AHA’s 40th annual National Homebrew Conference, “Hombrew Con,” in Portland, OR on Thursday, June 28.

Brewers and homebrewers are invited to share their well wishes and Charlie Papazian stories on the AHA and BA Facebook pages.

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International Herb Association Names Hops the 2018 Herb of the Year

The International Herb Association (IHA) has selected the 2018 Herb of the Year, and it is our favorite bitter beer ingredient: hops!

Established in 1991, the IHA annually recognizes an herb to educate its members and the general public about. The IHA’s website explains that its Horticultural Committee evaluates possible choices based on the herb’s being outstanding in at least two of three major categories: medicinal, culinary, and decorative. In 2017, coriander—also a common ingredient in Belgian-style beers—and cilantro, edible products of the same plant, collectively earned the Herb of the Year title.

Visit iherb.org for more information on the International Herb Assocation’s Herb of the Year award. If you want to cultivate your own hops at home, visit our guide to growing hops!

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AHA Competition Coordinator stops by OHHAP podcast

John Moorhead, the competition coordinator at the American Homebrewers Association, joined the Out Here Having a Pint crew for episode 1 of their beer podcast.

Moorhead spoke with OHHAP hosts Kevin, Kelsey, and Rob on the National Homebrew Competition, beer judging, the independent craft brewer seal, as well as a rousing game of Beers Against Humanity.

Listen to the full episode below, and visit the Out Here Having a Pint blog for more information on the Indiana-based podcast.

[archiveorg id=JohnMoorheadInterview width=500 height=140]

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The Impact of Cold-Side Oxidation on New England IPA

This homebrew experiment was originally published on Brulosophy.com.

I brewed my first IPA in May of 2003, it was the third batch I made at home using extract and steeping grains. Since then, what I used to think of as typical IPA characteristics have evolved quite a bit. IPA used to be all about packing as much bitterness into a pint as possible, often relying on relatively massive bittering additions using pine-forward hops like Chinook and CTZ, and usually adding a hefty dose of Caramel malt. As craft beer began to grow, tastes swayed more toward the fruitier hops such as Simcoe, Centennial, and Amarillo, and brewers began using more hops later in the process while also moving toward simpler grists that produced a dryer beer. Using such novel techniques as hop-bursting and hop stands, some engaged in experimentation that ultimately led to various “new” styles of IPA including Black, Red, White, Belgian, Triple, Quadruple, Session… you get the idea.

And then, of course, there’s New England IPA (NEIPA), which by my recollection is the latest in the long line of this iterative evolution, a style that stands in near direct contrast to the IPA of my earlier days of brewing. Rather than bitter, piney, crisp, and clear, the best (or most popular) versions of NEIPA are characterized by their low bitterness, “juicy” fruit aromas and flavors, soft and creamy mouthfeel, and perhaps most notably, a hazy appearance. In order to make such a beer, brewers rely on a conglomeration of methods including the use of a good portion of flaked oats and biotransformation dry hopping. Furthermore, while the idea that oxidation expedites the loss of hop character in IPA is nothing new, many brewers of NEIPA also take somewhat extreme measures to reduce their beer’s contact with oxygen. 

Over the last year, I’ve tried my hand at making NEIPA a few times, some of which were rather good and others that almost made me quit the style. The few I’ve liked pretty much mirrored the commercial examples I enjoy in that they maintained a light orange hue reminiscent of fruit juice and had a simple bready malt character. The homebrew and commercial versions of NEIPA I’ve been less than pleased with have all taken on a darker appearance that’s accompanied by an odd caramel-like character that leaves the beer tasting more like a piece of hard candy than a refreshing IPA. What causes this?

Most NEIPA recipes I’ve seen have grain bills absent of malts known to impart much color, and my personal experience proves this darkening can occur even with the simplest of grists. The go-to reason cited by many is oxidation, which I was skeptical of given the results of our xBmts on intentional oxidation at kegging. Following those xBmts, I received feedback from folks positing NEIPA is more sensitive to oxidation for various reasons and that a follow-up xBmt ought to investigate the effect of reducing oxygen exposure on the cold-side when making this style. Challenge accepted!

Purpose

To evaluate the differences between a New England IPA transferred to a CO2 purged keg and the same beer transferred to a non-purged keg.

Methods

All out of Maris Otter, I concocted a blend of pale and Munich malts that I hoped would be somewhat similar then used a rather large portion of flaked oats to make up the rest of the grist.

Hazel New England IPA

Homebrew Recipe Details

Batch SizeBoil TimeIBUSRMEst. OGEst. FGABV
5.5 gal30 min52.7 IBUs4.7 SRM1.0581.0126.0 %
Actuals1.0581.0126.0 %

Fermentables

NameAmount%
Pale Malt (2 Row), Rahr9 lbs66.67
Oats, Flaked (Briess)3 lbs22.22
Munich I (Weyermann)1.5 lbs11.11

Hops

NameAmountTimeUseFormAlpha %
Simcoe40 g15 minBoilPellet13.1
Citra30 g2 minBoilPellet13.8
Galaxy30 g2 minBoilPellet18.1
Simcoe30 g2 minBoilPellet13.1
Galaxy60 g5 daysDry HopPellet18.1
Citra30 g5 daysDry HopPellet13.8
Simcoe30 g5 daysDry HopPellet13.1
Galaxy60 g1 dayDry HopPellet18.1
Citra30 g1 dayDry HopPellet13.8
Simcoe30 g1 dayDry HopPellet13.1

Yeast

NameLabAttenuationTemp.
Juice (A38)Imperial Organic74%62°F – 70°F

Notes

Water Profile: Ca 131 | Mg 1 | Na 10 | SO4 62 | Cl 186

 

I prepared a starter of Imperial Organic Yeast A38 Juice 2 days ahead of time.

The day before brewing, I weighed out and milled the grains.

Since this would be a 10 gallon batch with a relatively hefty grain bill, I went with the batch sparge method and collected the strike water in my mash tun while the sparge water was placed in my kettle. After adjusting all of the water to my desired profile, I dropped my heatstick into the strike water, placed the cover on the mash tun, then set a timer for it to turn on 1.5 hours before I planned to wake up and brew. I awoke the next morning to required only 5 additional minutes to reach my target strike temperature.

I proceeded to mash in and was quickly reminded of how much thicker the mash is when using the batch sparge method.

A check of the mash temperature showed I was right at my intended 149°F/65°C.

I stole a sample of sweet wort from the mash about 15 minutes in to check how close I was to hitting my 5.4 pH target.

After a 60 minute mash rest, I collected the first runnings of sweet wort and poured it into my boil kettle.

Following a quick batch sparge, the wort was brought to a rolling boil and hops were added as stated in the recipe.

At the completion of the 30 minute boil, I quickly chilled the wort to slightly warmer than my groundwater temperature.

 

A refractometer reading showed the wort was sitting at my target OG.

1.058 OG

Equal amounts of wort were racked to identical fermentors.

I placed the fermentors in my chamber and gave them a few hours to finish chilling to my desired fermentation temperature of 66°F/19°C before evenly splitting the yeast between them. As I’ve come to expect when using Imperial Organic Yeast, I noticed crazy airlock activity later that day but gave them a full 24 hours before hitting them with a biotransformation dry hop.

I let the beers ferment slightly longer than usual because I wanted to give the low oxygen beer enough time to fully attenuate, as I wouldn’t be taking a FG sample in order to keep oxygen ingress at a minimum. At 8 days post-pitch, I took a hydrometer measurement of the beer going into the non-purged keg that showed FG was hit.

It was time to add the second dry hop charge, which was easy enough for the standard oxygen batch. For the low oxygen beer, I very quickly poured the hops through a small crack between the lid and the fermentor, flushed the headspace with CO2, replaced the lid, then put the fermentor under 1.5 psi of CO2 using something I rigged together specifically for this xBmt.

Side note: I do not recommend others do this unless their fermentor is rated to hold pressure. The Brew Buckets are not but I was okay taking the risk for this xBmt, which also resulted in quite a bit of CO2 loss due to leakage between the lid and fermentor.

I immediately began cold crashing the beers and let them sit for 36 hours, the entire time hearing the faintest hiss of CO2 coming from the lip of the low oxygen Brew Bucket. When it came time to keg, I shut the plastic valve between the gas and the fermentor off to maintain positive pressure before disconnecting the quick-disconnect from the CO2 regulator; no hiss indicated my plan was working. I then connected another line via quick disconnect to the regulator that had a gas pin-lock disconnect attached to the other end. This got connected to a the gas post of a keg I’d previously filled to the brim with Star San sanitizer solution, which I pushed out of the keg using roughly 3 psi of CO2, the sanitizer leaving the liquid post and going into the non-purged keg.

It only took a few minutes, all of which I spent gritting my teeth at what I believed was a waste of gas. I was curious how much sanitizer would be left in the keg using this method and was surprised to discover it wasn’t even enough to slosh around, likely because my diptubes aren’t cut. With the keg fully purged, I swapped the lines from the CO2 tank again, set the pressure to 1.5 psi, drained off enough beer to ensure it wasn’t trub laden, attached a sanitized tube with liquid disconnect to the keg, then opened the ball valve on the Brew Bucket to start the flow of beer into the purged keg; once the beer was flowing, I attached a pin lock gas poppet depressor to the gas post to relieve pressure and allow for consistent flow.

The standard oxygen batch was kegged using my normal non-purging routine that required quite a bit less preparation. I always presumed filling from the bottom of the keg pushed any oxygen up and out of the depressed gas post, hence my belief purging with CO2 was unnecessary.

The filled kegs were both placed in my cool keezer and bust carbonated with 30 psi of CO2 for 24 hours before I reduced the gas to serving pressure. I stole samples 5 days after kegging just to see how things were coming along and noticed what seemed to be a slight difference in appearance.

Left: low O2 / Right: standard O2

 While NEIPA is known for being best consumed fresh, the crew thought it would best to let these beers age for a bit before collecting data to amplify any oxidative effects. I began collecting data 3 weeks after kegging, at which point the beers were evenly carbonated, nearly opaque, and noticeably dissimilar in color.

Left: low O2 / Right: standard O2

Just to make sure what I was observing wasn’t due to lighting or poor vision, I took pictures of each beer individually in the same general position, the difference in appearance becoming even more dramatic.

Left: low O2 / Right: standard O2

Results

A total of 22 people of varying levels of experience participated in this xBmt. Each participant was served 2 samples of the oxidized beer and 1 sample of the non-oxidized beer in opaque colored cups then asked to identify the sample that was unique. Given the sample size, 13 tasters (p<0.05) would have had to select the unique sample to reach statistical significance. Ultimately, 14 people (p=0.003) correctly identified the odd-beer-out, suggesting participants were able to reliably distinguish a NEIPA treated in a way to reduce cold-side oxidation from the same beer treated with less concern for oxidation.

The participants who correctly selected the unique sample in the triangle test were instructed to complete a brief set of additional questions comparing only the two different beers, still blind to the nature of the xBmt. Of the 14 correct tasters, 9 chose the reduced oxygen beer as their most preferred, 4 endorsed the standard oxygen as their most preferred, and 1 person reported perceiving no difference between the beers.

My Impressions: With the amount of very expensive trendy hops I threw into this beer, I have to admit I was pretty anxious how it would turn out. Similar to my first attempt at this style, I was rather pleased with the results… of the reduced oxygen half. Given my skepticism about this variable, I performed 10 semi-blind triangles out of which I was able to identify the odd-beer-out 8 times; I blame my 2 incorrect attempts on my kids who had Bruno Mars’ Chunky playing loudly in the background– cuttin’ a rug during evaluation and all. To me, the reduced oxygen beer smelled like a glass of tropical fruit juice, which also came through in the flavor. It was crisp yet soft and maintained a very fresh character even after a month in the keg. The standard oxygen beer wasn’t bad, but compared to the reduced oxygen beer, it fell flat, just like so many of the commercial and homebrew versions of NEIPA I’ve tried that took on that darker appearance. While the hop character was still very strong, it was paired with a distinct candy-like sweetness that I’d rather not be in my beer.

Discussion

Go browse any popular beer or brewing forum and you’re bound to see pics of people showing off a glass of murky NEIPA that looks more like adulterated coffee than fruit juice, which is usually what they’ll claim it tastes like. Given the typically simple grists used by brewers of this style, I’ve trouble accepting the color is a function of grains, meaning something else is the culprit. While I was skeptical oxidation was the answer based on prior experiences with other styles, just the objectively observable results of this xBmt alone have forced me to reconsider my conviction. What’s more is the fact tasters were able to reliably distinguish the reduced oxygen beer from the one treated with less care, indicating a relationship between color and flavor change.

It’d be easy to point the finger at oxygen and move along our merry way, but what really gets me is the fact NEIPA seems so much more susceptible to this type of oxidation than other styles, like there’s some sort of interaction between oxygen and some unique aspect of NEIPA. Personally, my eyes are on the high amount of flaked oats typically used when making this style, a variable we definitely plan to continue exploring.

It seems pretty clear that failing to take measures to reduce oxygen on the cold-side increases the risk of hastened shelf-life with NEIPA, but we can’t say for sure where this exposure matters most– is it suck-back during cold crashing, transferring the finished beer to a non-purged keg, or both? While I may not make this style often, based on these results as well as my anecdotal experiences, I absolutely plan to keep cold-side oxygen exposure to a minimum when I do from now on.

For those concerned about oxygen exposure that may not have all the gear I do, we came up with some methods that, in theory, ought to help (we plan to test them out at some point):

  • Keg the beer before it’s completely done fermenting to not only give the yeast a chance to scrub the keg of oxygen, but eliminate the risk of suck-back during cold crashing.
  • Ferment in a keg and use hop filters to avoid diptube clogs.
  • Rack fermented beer into a recently kicked keg that’s already full of CO2; probably best that the prior beer be of similar style and not contaminated.

I recently discovered a neat device from NorCal Brewing Solutions designed to eliminate the suck-back issue when cold crashing called the CO2 Harvester Kit. We’ve got a couple on the way and will be sharing our thoughts on it soon.

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Charlie Papazian’s Homebrew Spoon Smithsonian Bound

Artifacts collected from the Godfather of Homebrewing

As 2017 came to an end, Brewers Association (BA) staff and guests gathered at the Boulder, Colorado office for a celebratory send-off of an old friend. The guest of honor—a simple, wooden spoon—looked rugged yet still charismatic after 40-plus years of experience and Charlie Papazian, BA founder and past president, beamed like a proud parent. As Papazian shared reflections on the early days of homebrewing together, attendees raised their glasses to toast the wooden spoon—and the man—that sparked a movement.

In 1978, Charlie Papazian founded the American Homebrewers Association and began publishing Zymurgy, the leading magazine for homebrewers. Papazian is an inspiration to more than a million homebrewers through his many books, including The Complete Joy of Homebrewing (and its subsequent editions), which many consider the “homebrewer’s bible.” Yet Papazian was still surprised when the Smithsonian National Museum of American History reached out to procure some of his brewing tools for the American Brewing History Initiative.

“When the Smithsonian National Museum of American History contacted me, I thought, ‘Really? Well, okay.’ They wanted help to create a realistic display of homebrewing in the context of the 1970s. We had the brewing basics, nothing fancy,” Papazian said.

“One of the required pieces of homebrew equipment everybody needs is a wooden spoon. But not just any spoon, a ‘charismatic’ spoon.” he said. Today, one can find such a unique piece of equipment at a local homebrew shop. “But back then, you went into a department store or a hardware store and tried to find the largest spoon they had. Part of being charismatic is having been used by everyone in the room. This particular spoon was used by hundreds and hundreds of students I taught to homebrew.”

Charlie Papazian, founder of the American Homebrewers Association, sharing tales of his homebrew spoon.

This spoon is one-of-a-kind: notched for easy measuring and stained by dark beer with a well-worn end. “You can tell I’m right-handed,” Papazian joked. Staff and guests admired the 18-inch long artifact as it was passed around the office one last time before heading to D.C. for the white glove treatment.

“Along with the spoon, I’m sending the Smithsonian National Museum of American History my original, typed two-page instructions for homebrewing that I wrote in college—stained and with my handwriting on it. I still use my journals for brewing and I’m not ready to get rid of those yet,” he said. “I feel honored. You never think about the stuff you use everyday. Or that people would want to look at it and ‘feel the vibes’ in a museum.”

The American Brewing History Initiative is made possible through a donation from the Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers. The three-year brewing initiative is part of the Smithsonian Food History program and was created in 2016 to collect, document and preserve the history of brewing, craft brewers and the beer industry and explore how brewing connects to larger themes in American history.

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Rachel Staats has always had an affinity for pairing beer and pretzels. She’s been homebrewing with her husband since 2013 and her high school mascot was a pretzel. It’s basically fate.

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Organic Juniper Porter

Mash all grains at 152°F (67°C) in 1.75 gallons (6.6 L) of water. Sparge with 1.25 gallons (4.7 L) water. Add the extract to the collected wort, top up with enough water to make 5.5 gallons (20.8 L) of liquid, and bring to a boil. Add 0.5 oz. (14 g) NZ pacific Gem and 0.75 oz. (21 g) NZ Hallertauer and boil for 60 minutes. Add 0.75 oz. (21 g) NZ Hallertauer, Irish moss, and juniper berries. Turn off heat. Rest for 10 minutes and have a homebrew.

Chill wort to 70°F (21°C) and transfer to primary. Pitch the yeast and ferment for up to a week at 65 to 70°F (18 to 21°C). Transfer to secondary and ferment for another one to two weeks. Bottle the beer, and condition in the bottle for one to three weeks. This beer improves for up to a year. The cedary flavors of the juniper berries mellow slightly but become more complex. Tastes like the smell of sitting around a cedar campfire.

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