Conference Porter Brewday

I brewed up a traditional brown porter over the weekend for a conference I am attending in February.  It will be served at a party at Wintergreen ski resort, so I wanted it to be fairly simple and something that we would enjoy on a cold winter night.


The morning started out chilly, but the sun kept it bearable for us this afternoon.  Tim came over to help out, which really made for a smooth brewday.  With the ground water as cold as it was, my Therminator plate chiller cooled us from boiling to 62F in about 5 minutes! We even fired up the grill and made some sausages for lunch.  Makes me really look forward to the spring and summer when it is more enjoyable to be outside.


I used dry yeast for the second time in a row, and I have to say, I’m starting to think that it may be the way to go.  The only negative of dry yeast I can think of is that the variety available is limited compared to liquid.  But the quality is a little more consistent.  With liquid yeast the viability decreases with time so that a pack that is 3 months old is significantly less viable than a brand new pack.  With dry yeast, you can be a little more confident about how much live yeast you are getting.  And at about $5 a pack, you can pitch 2 packs directly into a low-medium gravity beer for the same cost of making a starter with a liquid pack.  So far I’ve had pretty good experiences with the dry packs.


If I plan on harvesting the yeast from a batch, or if I simply want a nice clear beer, I have been transferring the wort off the trub after a brewday.  While I’m cleaning up and getting the yeast ready, I let the wort and trub settle, then transfer it into a new carboy for a nice clean yeast cake after fermentation.  So far it has been working great.

Conference Porter (5.5 Gal, 85% efficiency)


6 lbs Maris Otter

1 lb Pale Chocolate

12 oz Crystal 20L

12 oz Crystal 120L

8 oz Flaked Oats


0.75 oz Chinook 11.4% AA (60 min)

1 oz German Tettnang 3.9% AA (0 min)


2 packs Danstar Windsor Ale, rehydrated with 1 cup 70F water


Mash with 3.19 gal target 152F for 45-60 min

Sparge with 5.08 gal 170F+

Keg after fermentation complete, 2.1 volumes CO2

*this Windsor yeast was a beast for me.  I had it fermenting in less than 6 hours, and after 24 hours it was fermenting at 69F at an ambient temperature of 63F.  So I would recommend keeping this at or below 63F to keep the ester production down. Fermentation was finished in about 3 days.  I’ll let it sit for a week before kegging.

OG – 1.050

FG – 1.012

ABV – 5.0%

IBU – 27

Here’s a slow mo of me oxygenating the wort prior to pitching the yeast

Baby J and Keags



Published in: on January 15, 2015 at 1:43 PM  Comments (1)  
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Brewday for Gesha Session SMASH(ish) coffee IPA

Let’s break that down first.  Gesha is a rare variety of coffee that has been touted as having the most brilliantly complex and intense flavor profile of all coffees.  One of the most expensive varieties, you can expect to cough up over $10 a cup in some places.  Luckily, Jonny over at Shark Mountain Coffee in Charlottesville is willing to barter with me in exchange for a six pack of finished product.   We had a successful first collaboration with Nicaraguan Ninja, a chocolate milk stout using raw and roasted cocoa beans from Shark Mountain.  I hope this collab turns out half as good as that one did!

Geisha cherries

A session beer is simply one that you can easily drink several of without falling over.  The actual ABV of such a beer is debatable, but most agree that around 5% is the cutoff for a session beer.

SMASH is an acronym for Single Malt And Single Hop.  So, a SMASH beer is a simple recipe beer that highlights a single malt and a single hop.  This will be a SMASH(ish) beer due to my local homebrew shop not having enough of the single hop I was using in stock. So I had to substitute the bittering hop for a similar variety, and now there are two different hops in this beer.  But as far as hop character, the bittering addition is less important than the other additions, so a different bittering hop will only effect bitterness, not flavor or aroma.  We used Centennial hops for flavoring and aroma, and Columbus for bittering.

IMG_3104Coffee IPA is self explanatory.  Most brewers will use coffee in a dark beer such as a stout or porter, but many are starting to use it in different styles.  The IPA is one of them. And if you think about some of the flavors and aromas of a well roasted lighter coffee, a lot of the same descriptors come up: floral and citrus being two of them.  So Hopefully the coffee will pair well with the American Centennial hops.


I chose Maris Otter as the malt for this beer, an English Pale Malt that adds a bit of nutty flavor to the beer and has a little more character than plain 2-row malt.

The weather forecast was iffy last night, so for a little insurance I had a tarp over the upper deck level to provide some protection if it rained.  Turns out that was a good decision, since about halfway through the boil it started coming down pretty hard.  I was able to protect the wort from getting contaminated by rain, but continue to realize the need to seal up the lower deck so I can use it during all weather without the added stress.


The night brew has become a regular happening around here, with two kids now its harder to brew during waking hours.  I’ve been able to cut the brew night time to around 3.5 hours from lighting up the burner for the mash liquor to pitching yeast after cleaning up.

I’m going to try a new method of dry hopping with this beer also.  I plan on racking the beer into a keg after primary fermentation is complete, adding the dry hops and whole coffee beans in a sac.  Then, transferring after five days into a new keg without exposing the beer to oxygen.  I’ll try to post an article on this in a week or so when I do it.

Gesha Session SMASH(ish) Coffee IPA

5.5 gallons (80% Efficiency)


8.5 lbs Maris Otter English Pale Malt


1 oz Columbus 15.2% AA (60 min) (pellet)

1 oz Centennial 9.6% AA (10 min) (whole leaf, due to availability)

1 oz Centennial 9% AA (5 min) (pellet)

1 oz Centennial 9% AA (0 min) (pellet)

2 oz Centennial 9% AA (dry hop 5 days) (pellet)


Danstar BRY-97 American West Coast Ale yeast, 2 packs, dry yeast rehydrated


4 oz roasted Gesha coffee beans, whole, in secondary with dry hops

Target values

Mash with 3.2 gal water at 161F for a target 150F

Sparge with 5.1 gal water at >170F

Original Gravity – 1.046

Final Gravity – 1.009

ABV – 4.9%

IBU – 67

Published in: on December 24, 2014 at 8:43 AM  Comments (2)  
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Photo updates from the last few months

We’ve been busy raising a 3 month old and a nearly two year old lately, so the posting has been scarce.  Here’s a photo update of whats been going on.


racking the Butter Beer to a keg

Brewing the Nicaraguan Ninja, a Chocolate Milk Stout with locally roasted cocoa beans from Shark Mountain

Brewing the Nicaraguan Ninja, a Chocolate Milk Stout with locally roasted cocoa beans from Shark Mountain


Crozet pizza and beers at Starr Hill outside of Charlottesville


Happy Halloween!


Baby Jameson


The Beer Board


J and K


Our cider from this year came out delicious!


Butter Beer?! It actually turned out pretty good. English mild flavored with lactose and vanilla, butter, nut extract.


Boar’s Head Thanksgiving 5k


watching Bert and Ernie together


Santa at Blue Mountain Brewery! At least we were able to have a beer while waiting in line. Photo was totally worth it.


Just chillin


Checking out locations for the brewery… more to come on this

Published in: on December 22, 2014 at 2:44 PM  Comments (1)  

Canning Day at Three Notch’d Brewery

Tuesday morning I got the chance to help can one of the areas favorite IPA’s, Three Notch’d Brewery’s 40 Mile IPA.  They are always in need of volunteers to help out with their canning, which they do once or twice a month, and are happy to compensate you with a case of beer for your help. Next time you’re there, ask if they need help for their next canning if you’re interested!

My payment for helping out

My payment for helping out

The process involves bringing in a machine from Old Dominion Mobile Canning, a company contracted for the day to provide canning services.  Space and cost of these machines are the main constraint that prevents many breweries from having their own.  It takes two people from the canning company and about 3 from the brewery to operate this machine.  It is capable of canning about 40 barrels of beer (2200 six packs) in about 6 hours.



headed for sanitation

headed for sanitation

The empty cans are loaded into the back of the machine, where a conveyor belt directs them into a sanitizing wash.  After the sanitation rinse, the cans are purged with CO2 before getting filled with beer.  Afterwards, a lid is dropped in place and sealed with a press.  Finally, they run through a rinse spray and are hit with a shot of compressed air to help dry off.

cans being filled with 40 Mile IPA

cans being filled with 40 Mile IPA

This is where I came in.  Once exiting the machine, the cans need another quick drying off, after which they are organized in cardboard boxes and topped with 6-pack rings.  Finally, the boxes are stacked onto a pallet to be sent out for distribution.

It certainly isn’t the most glamorous job in a brewery, but as it turns out, there is no shortage of these types of jobs in a brewery.  Brewing beer is just a fraction of all the actual work done in a brewery.

I’m hoping to get into Three Notch’d more in the future to see how all the other processes work in a commercial brewery.  For now though, I think I’ll just enjoy one of these freshly canned 40 mile IPA’s.

drying and sorting cans

drying and sorting cans


the whole family, with our new addition, Jameson!

Another successful Homebrew For Hunger, Charlottesville 2014


Homebrew for Hunger was this past Sunday, and 40+ homebrewers brought over 100 beers for attendees to sample.  Local breweries also came to join in the fun, with Starr Hill, Three Notch’d, Champion, South Street, Devil’s Backbone, Blue Mountain, and Cvill-ian bringing some of their best brews as well. It was nice to have pro brewers sample our beers and give feedback. And it was equally fun getting to talk to so many people who are as passionate about beer as we are!

Our Keagan Imperial Stout and Le Citra SIPA were received well, and we were fortunate to have a few pints worth left over to bring back with us in the kegs.  I plan on bottling the remaining two this week to make room for others coming down the line.

Jameson tagged along and did great.  Keagan stayed home with Gram and Grandad, with a lot of people asking about her.  The Imperial Stout paired great with locally made chocolate from Shark Mountain.  IMG_2475

The Nicaraguan Ninja, a chocolate milk stout made with chocolate from, you guessed it, Shark Mountain, will be bottled this week if I can find the time.  And we will be brewing a collaboration beer with Spencer in a few weeks, a Butter Beer clone from the Leaky Cauldron.  It will be an English mild base beefed up with lactose and vanilla and butterscotch flavoring.  We will be planning a Harry Potter movie night release party for that one when its ready.

Finding time to brew has been challenging with a second baby around, I want to thank Shannon for accommodating my hobby and for being supportive in everything I do!

Click here for Homebrew for Hunger’s 2013 recap

Nicaraguan Ninja Chocolate Milk Stout


We brewed another chocolate stout for the first time in a few years.  Last time, it was Cocoa Joe, one of our very first brews.  It came out OK, but we have learned a lot since then, so I am hoping this one turns out even better.  Instead of using store bought chocolate bars, this time we found a local chocolateer (?) and asked if he would give us some raw materials to use.  Shark Mountain Coffee, in Charlottesville, is a small locally owned coffee shop that roasts its own coffee beans.  They also specialize in chocolate, sourcing raw cacao from different countries and creating chocolate from them.  I was given some raw cacao beans as well as some roasted beans to use, in exchange for some of our finished product.


Another night brew, I got started with the mash during nap time, around 1pm.   I crushed the raw cacao with all the grains for the mash.  We took a sample of the wort pre boil to see how it tasted, and I was pleasantly surprised at the chocolate flavor the raw beans gave the wort.  After fermentation, I will add the roasted beans to the beer for about a week, then keg.

Thanks to Steve O. for helping out with this brewday.  And to James for bailing me out when I ran out of propane again.  I went out and bought a second tank the next day and got it filled, so I have no excuse now for running out of gas.  Thankfully it happened before the boil started, so it wasn’t at the worst time possible.

We made a big yeast starter, and the beer was fermenting away nicely within 8 hours.  I’m hoping this one will be done fermenting in a few days so I can get those roasted beans in.

Here is the recipe I used:

Nicaraguan Ninja Chocolate Milk Stout

Grains/Adjuncts (5.5 gallons, 80% efficiency)

7 lbs Maris Otter Pale Malt
1 lb Caramel 90L
6 oz Carafa III
4 oz Roasted Barley
8 oz Flaked Oats
5 oz raw Nicaraguan cocoa beans crushed in the mash


1.5 oz US Goldings (5.2% AA) 60 minutes


1 lb Lactose, 15 minutes boil
6 oz roasted Nicaraguan cocoa beans 1 week post fermentation in primary


Wyeast 1099 Whitbread Ale, 2 L starter, 24 hours

OG – 1.055

Mash at 151F

Homebrew for Hunger 2014 Charlottesville

2013 HFH

2013 HFH

Last year was the first annual Homebrew For Hunger event in Charlottesville.  It was a great success, aside from the fact that McElroy Brewing Co. missed out on the opportunity to participate.  Mark your calendars for October 26th from 1-5pm at Fifth Season Gardening for HFH 2014!  This year we were quick to sign up and have already brewed two special beers for the event.

Ticket information has not yet been released, but they will be available at Fifth Season in Charlottesville.  All proceeds benefit the  Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, so come out for a good cause and sample some great homebrews from local brewers!  Several local craft breweries will also be in attendance serving their beer as well.

This year will be a little different than last year, if you were lucky enough to attend before.  Because the area used last year for the event is now retail space, this year we will be outside under a large tent.  This probably also explains the earlier time rather than an evening event.  Hopefully the weather will cooperate and it won’t be too cold.  As last year, each attendee will receive a ticket to vote for their favorite homebrew.  Last years winner was invited to brew with Three Notch’d Brewing Co. of Charlottesville.  I was pleasantly surprised at the level of quality beer put out by all the homebrewers last year, and look forward to some stiff competition this year.  Here is what I have planned for the event.

Keagan Imperial Stout 2014

I’m sure you all remember this one from last year.  In 2013 I brewed an Imperial Stout just after Keagan was born.  I decided to enter it into the Dominion Cup and it won a silver medal for best of show, along with a gold medal in the stout category (I will continue to reference this accomplishment for the foreseeable future).  The only difference in the 2014 vintage was in the yeast.  For 2013 I used an English Ale yeast.  This year I used a blend of that same English yeast along with American Ale Yeast.  No, I didn’t blend yeasts because I thought they would complement each other, I added the American Ale yeast 24 hours after I pitched the English Ale yeast and didn’t have any activity.  Just a knee jerk overreaction, and since I had some extra yeast around, why not?  Turns out whatever happened with the yeasts, the beer turned out fine.  Stats on the two beers are slightly different as well, 2013 being 9.7% ABV, 2014 9.5%.  But all in all, they are both very similar.

Le Citra SIPA (French for “The Citra SIPA”)

I decided to try something a little different for my second entry.  A hybrid style that has not really been brewed by many craft breweries.  I’ve yet to taste this one post fermentation, but I anticipate it being similar to a Belgian IPA.  The “S” being for Saison, a French style yeast.  Earlier this summer I brewed an all Citra IPA that turned out great. I decided to use the same recipe and ferment it with Saison yeast.  Saisons are typically fermented at very high temperatures, like 75-80F.  This brings out a peppery, spicy yeast character.  I chose to limit the yeast character by fermenting it lower, around 70-72F.  I didn’t want the yeast to overpower the hops.  This is a bit of an experiment, so I’m hoping for the best.  It is just finishing up fermentation, so I will get to sample it later this week to see how it did.

Yes, Shannon's still pregnant!

Yes, Shannon’s still pregnant!

Dominion Cup 2014 Results

I decided to submit two last minute entries to this year’s Dominion Cup, Freedom Blonde Ale, and Frozen Leprechaun Lager.  The event was held this past Saturday at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond, VA, and the results were posted on Sunday.

Dominion Cup 2014 Winners

The Freedom Blonde did not medal, and was up against 23 other entries.  The Leprechaun Lager placed first in the Amber/Dark Lager category, beating out 20 other entries!  As I had said before, I didn’t have high hopes this year, and it wasn’t until just before the deadline that I chose to submit them, so I am very pleased with medaling with one of the two beers.

CAMRA, or Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale, showed well in the competition, medaling in 9 of the 24 categories for a total of 12 medals, and also taking home the Gold medal in Best of Show, and a tie for the Homebrewer of the Year Award, given to the brewer with the most total points accumulated in the competition.   Congratulations to Jeff Melton (BOS for his Belgian Specialty Ale) and Jamey Barlow (Homebrewer of the Year)!

After sampling this year’s Keagan Imperial Stout (KIS), I feel confident that it would have done very well again this year had I submitted it, but it will be reserved for this year’s Homebrew For Hunger event, coming up in October.

Along with KIS, I brewed a Saison IPA that I also plan on debuting at the event.  So clear your calendars for the end of October (actual date still TBA) and be sure to come out to Fifth Season Gardening for another fun event!


Published in: on August 18, 2014 at 1:58 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Tasting Notes on “Frozen Leprechaun Dark Lager”

I decided to sit down and pour a glass of the dark lager and really analyze it today.  The Dominion Cup entry deadline is this weekend and I decided to go ahead and enter the dark lager along with the Freedom Blonde Ale, since they both are ready to go and are decent beers in my opinion.  Last year, after placing 2nd in Best of Show with Keagan’s Imperial Stout, I told myself I wouldn’t enter this year.  Doing so well in my first competition, I figured theres not much room to improve and plenty of room to go in the other direction.  But I’m entering this year with no anticipation of placing best of show, since those awards seem to go to the bigger beers.  After looking at the categories from last years results, I figure I have a decent shot at placing in either of the two categories these beers will compete in.

In 2013, Best of Show competed with 489 entries, of which Keagan’s Imperial Stout placed 2nd. It also placed 1st in the stout category, with 33 total entries (the most of any category aside from “specialty beer”).

Frozen Leprechaun Dark Lager will compete in the category of “Amber and Dark Lager Beer”, in 2013 there were only 16 entries to this category.

Freedom Blonde Ale will compete in the category of “Light Hybrid Beer”, in 2013 there were 27 entries to this category.

So, I’m giving the dark lager a better chance of placing simply due to the fact that there will most likely be fewer entries to compete with.  I think both of these beers are pretty clean and crisp, and I wouldn’t be surprised if either of them placed, but again, I’m going to try not to expect them to.

Here goes my review of Frozen Leprechaun Dark Lager, an American Dark Lager, category 4A.



Aroma: I don’t detect any hops in the aroma, which is appropriate for this beer, since the only hop addition was a 60 minute one, only to balance the malt with a slight bitterness.  There is a slight hint of malt, mainly roasty malt, and some coffee as well.

Appearance: The color is of slight concern to me, as the BJCP states for a Dark American Lager there should be a deep amber to dark brown color.  This has a near black appearance as you can see, but when put to light shows a ruby tint and brown undertones.  As my glass neared the finish, a more brown color dominated.  This is promising, since the judges will not have a full pour, only small tasting glasses.  It should be OK for color. The head is thin with an off white color which faded quickly, but never left completely.

Flavor: There is a slight sweetness apparent right away.  Just enough to balance the roastiness.  Small amount of hop bitterness and no hop flavor.  Very clean aftertaste with hints of malt.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with high carbonation.  Crisp finish.

Overall Impression: I may be biased, but I think this is a good representation of the category.  A Dark American Lager should be easy to drink with only little amounts of malt and roasty flavors.  It satisfies those standards and should do well in competition. We’ll see how it does!


birthday cupcake picnic! Happy birthday Shannon!



Published in: on July 29, 2014 at 3:30 PM  Comments (1)  
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Freedom Crystal Blonde Brewday

As a tribute to America, we brewed an American Blonde Ale today.  Two brews ago I also did a Blonde Ale, and it turned out so good I decided to do another.  The first was a recipe from “Brewing Classic Styles”.  This time around I thought I would come up with my own recipe and tweak the first to make it a little more to my taste.


After several hot and humid days, hurricane Arthur pushed through to our east and brought behind it dry cool weather.  It was a beautiful morning to get outside and brew.  This being the third brewday with all my new equipment, things finally went smoothly and without a hitch.

I decided that to sterilize my pump and plate chiller, I would recirculate the sparge water as it heated up rather than circulating boiling wort towards the end of the boil.  This made it much less stressful and worked out nicely.  I brought the sparge water to a boil, recirculated back up to a boil, and let it go for 15 minutes before transferring the hot water up to the cooler.  All of this while the mash was sitting.  After all that was completed I was ready to start my sparge.  Perfect timing.


I also came up with an idea that I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of before today.  I always use a sheet of foil poked with a fork to recirculate a pitcher of the first wort runnings back into the mash tun.  The first runnings always have a lot of grain bits in them, so I run it until the wort runs clear, then pour the first runnings back onto the foil so as not to disturb the grain bed.  Then I thought, why not leave that foil at the top of the cooler and let the sparge water run on top, distributing the hot water evenly over the grain bed through the fork holes?  It worked great.  Doesn’t save time, but definitely easier that holding the tubing during the whole 30-40 minutes of sparging.  And I haven’t found a sparge arm that works well yet.  This will be my new method.

Efficiency was the best I think I’ve ever had at 85%.  I tried to make a 5% beer, but will probably be looking at 5.5-5.7%.  Still should be a little more drinkable than the last blonde, which finished at 6% and is pretty drinkable anyhow.  Here are both blonde recipes, since I didn’t post the first one yet.

Happy 4th of July!

Freedom Crystal Blonde 

brewed July 4th, 2014


8.5 lbs 2-row
0.5 lbs Light Munich 


1 oz Crystal 4.1% AA – 60 min
1 oz Crystal 4.1% AA – 20 min
1 oz Crystal 4.1% AA – 0 min


Wyeast 1056 American Ale (1L starter prepared 24 hours before pitching, direct pitch)


mash with 4.4 gal (2 qt/lb) at 150F for 60 minutes
sparge with >170F to collect 7 gallons into kettle
boil for 1 hour
chill to 70F and ferment at 68F for two weeks
keg it
OG 1.050 (85% eff)

Blondie (from “Brewing Classic Styles)

Brewed April 19th, 2014


9.25 lbs 2-row
0.5 lbs Caramel 15L


1 oz Willamette 5.3% AA – 60 min


Wyeast 1056 American Ale 1 L starter


Mash 4.8 gal (2 qt/lb) at 152F for 60 min
Sparge >170F to collect 7 gal
cool to 70F and ferment at 68F for two weeks
keg it
OG 1.051 (78% eff)

Hooray for freedom and beer! (and goldfish)

Published in: on July 4, 2014 at 2:41 PM  Comments (3)  
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