The Hops Are Coming, The Hops are Coming!

Would you have thought that you could grow one of the most characterizing components of your home brews right in your back yard? Well you can, and it all starts with a hop rhizome.

Unless you are really into the craft beer scene, or a home brewer, hops are probably a very single dimensional ingredient in the brewing process. Most people know that all beers have hops, but not everyone knows that there are many different varieties of hops. In fact, hops are one of the most identifiable, flavor defining components of your beer. Not only can hops vary the bitterness of your beer from a nice easy drinking blonde all the way up to a hop head’s dream IPA, but different hops can give unique aromas and flavors to your beers as well.  Beyond the different varieties of hops, the area in which hops of the same variety are grown can have drastic effects on the flavor, aroma, and bitterness of the hop. Hopefully in another post some day soon I’ll be able to delve more into the varieties of  hops.

As you may, or may not know, hops grow on a vine. It’s a vine that, over the course of the summer, can grow upwards of 20 feet. They look like small, green pine cones hanging off of the vine. Below you will see a picture of a single hop flower, then a farm full of hop vines.

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Hopfendolde-mit-hopfengarten“. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

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Chmelnice” by LudekOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

To get these wonderful little creations we must start with rhizomes. Rhizomes are small sections of root. They are planted at the base of something they can climb up as they grow, usually twine. This is a picture of a Rhizome from Northern Brewer.

Typically for the amount of hops the average home brewer uses in a batch of beer the cost is low. Most recipes will use an ounce or two of pellet hops for an average cost of less than $5.00. Therefore, building your own hop farm isn’t really for the purpose of cost savings. However, things like being more self sufficient, knowing exactly what is in your beer, and being able to say more of the beer came from your own hands are all great reasons to plant a rhizome or two in your back yard.

Pre-orders for the coming growing season’s hops usually begin in January and run through March, with Rhizomes shipping in April. Last year I was late to the party and ordered a few rhizomes in May, but delayed planting them until June, something I would highly advise against.

In another post I’ll go more into depth on the planting and growing process, but since we are just starting to get into the snowy season here in Michigan there is plenty of time for that discussion at a later date. Today I just wanted to let everyone know that the hops are coming and that some of the large brewery supply mail order companies are beginning to accept pre-orders for the 2015 crop. Please see the links below for a couple of the current pre-order hops that are available.

Adventures In Home Brewing – Hop Rhizome Pre Order

More Beer – Hop Rhizome Pre Order

Thanks and have a Hoppy Wednesday!

Force Carbing A Little Debbie

One of the things a home brewer has to struggle with is patience. Everything from waiting the 70 minutes for your mash to the three weeks for fermentation to the time it takes for bottles to carbonate all require patience.

Sometimes there are opportunities to skip ahead in the process.

There are a couple devices avaliable that allow you to force carbonate small amounts of your beer, assuming you have kegging equipment.

The first device I bought was the Carbonator.

This is basically a ball lock keg post that you screw onto your average soda bottle. You then apply a little CO2 and purge the air while it fills. Shaking the bottle allows the CO2 to mix into your beer and carbonate it.  Right now I have one of these in use on a 2 liter bottle of the left over base beer for my hard root beer.

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The best thing about the Carbonator is that if you keg you already have the required connections to pressurize the bottle.  Just pop a fitting off of a keg and use that for a quick second.

The only drawback is that if you need more than a couple they are a little spendy. That is what led me to the next thing I’m going to show you.

Another setup that I found is considerably cheaper to do multiple bottles. It’s only drawback is that you will need to dedicate a CO2 line to it’s filling adapter.

Kent Carbonation Cap

Kent Carbonation Barb

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The blue piece gets attached to a CO2 line and the white cap with o-ring go onto the bottle.

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In my kegerator I have two dedicated lines for force carbing. One with a standard ball lock fitting and one with this.

Tonight I decided that I would force carb a small sample of the Debbie Does Amarillo Dirty Blonde Ale.

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After it chills I’ll be able to get a good sense of what the final product will taste like.

Even if you aren’t a brewer these caps, along with a CO2 source,  make for a great way to preserve unfinished portions of beer from opened growlers.

Extreme Brewing by Sam Calagione

During today’s Amazon browsing I stumbled upon Extreme Brewing by Sam Calagione. Right now the Kindle version is on sale for $2.99. That seems like a great deal for a book written by one of the absolute god fathers of craft brewing in this country.

For those of you that don’t know, Sam Calagione is the founder of Dogfish Head brewery in Milton, Delaware. Dogfish Head is known for their large line up of very creative, boundary pushing beers. One of which is their 120 Minute IPA.  The 120 Minute IPA is a very limited release beer that is quite difficult to come by. Someday I hope to score a bottle and be able to share the experience with everyone.

I did however get to sample some of their 90 Minute IPA that was on cask when I visited their brew pub in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. It was amazing, as were all of the other beers they had on tap that day such as the Wild Carrot Seed Ale, the Raw Creation, and the Raison D’Etre. The incredible beers along with the food make this a must stop location if you are ever out on the east coast. I look forward to going back some day and taking a tour of their production facility as well.

Anyway, reminiscing about our east coast brewery tour got me way off course on this post. I look forward to reading this book and maybe even making some of the recipes that Sam includes in the book. Maybe I’ll try to make my own 120 Minute IPA…

Debbie Goes To Secondary

Today was a cold, windy day in the D. In fact it has been a very cold week. I tried to stay inside and warm,  but we had to go get our car hauler.

This weekend we are taking our Jeep up north to pre run some trails in preparation of Michigan’s largest winter off road event,  Snofari. Offroading is my other big hobby.  Maybe some day I’ll go into more about that.

Before we left I had a little time to go down and check on the Debbie Does Amarillo Dirty Blonde Ale. Today marked four days into primary fermentation.  The CO2 blow off bubbles have slowed down a bit so I figured it was time to drain off the trub.

One of the neat things about fermenting in a conical as opposed to carboys or buckets is that going from primary to secondary is as easy as opening a valve.

First off, trub, what’s that?

Trub is the dead and dormant yeast, hop residue, and anything else that falls out off suspension over the fermentation process.  It’s a peanut butter like sludge that forms that the bottom of your fermentation vessel. Common practice is to get the beer off of this trub shortly after the bulk of fermentation finishes because it can impart off flavors into your beer. Usually this happens four days to a week into fermentation.

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In that picture you can see a couple things.  First off the bottom outlet is the valve that gets opened to drain off the trub. Second in the stainless cup is the 16 ounces of trub that I drained.  I like to drain it as soon as I can, otherwise it begins to compact and becomes harder to get out.

But today wasn’t just yucky work. Today was also the first real taste test for the beer!  The upper port is a port that allows you to pull samples without risking contamination of the beer.  It’s also just  as easy as opening a valve.  Here is what came out.

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Per my hydrometer, the specific gravity was down to a 1.008 from an original of 1.046. This gives us an ABV of 5%. Not too bad, it should be very easy drinking. No sense in wasting that sample. Bottoms up.

Currently the beer has a good flavor with a little sweetness and a nice malty finish.  The flavor of the Amarillo hops is there, but not an in your face way. This one is shaping up to be a good one. It just needs a little more time to condition.

 

Spent Grain Flour

Something that every home brewer thinks about at some point is, “What can I do with this 20lb wad of grain besides throw it out? ” I think about it every time I brew, how about you? Well, this weekend I finally decided to do something about it.

After I finished cleaning up my brew equipment I set out our entire collection of cookie sheets and using a soup ladle I scooped out as much grain as the pans would allow. I didn’t want the grain very thick on the pans so over the 5 pans I probably only had a few pounds of grain. I pre heated the oven to 200 degrees and set an hour timer. Every hour I raked the grains around and after about 4 hours the grain seemed sufficiently dry to proceed.

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A closer view shows what the dried grains look like.

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After letting the grain cool a little I dumped one pan at a time into my wife’s Christmas present,  a Vitamix 5200, and went to work. Each pan was roughly three cups pre-blend.

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To get from grain to flour I started the Vitamix on low and gradually increased the speed until I hit 10. After a few seconds there I clicked it to high. I’m not sure if there is a specific time to blend, but I ran it until I didn’t hear a lot of solid chunks rattling around and it seemed to come out nice and fine.

The 3 cups of grain blended down to a little over 1 cup of flour.

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This was the final haul of flour from my saved spent grain. I estimate about 5 cups of flour was made.

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Overall I’m pleased with how this turned out. It’s great to be able to further use some of the brewing ingredients. Even if you don’t make flour the spent grains are good for compost or animal feed.

Going forward I’d rather have a food dehydrator for drying the grain. Maybe that will be a future brewery aquisition.

Now we just need to bake something!

Look forward to seeing some tasty spent grain and spent grain flour recipes in the very near future.

Mike Schaffer's Home Brewing Site