Brewing Suds with Buds


By Ricky Alexander

Homebrew Starter Kits

Ok, you got a nice homebrew kit from your Ma for your birthday, because your mother is just THE best and loves supporting all of your hobbies/habits. You stumbled through a couple of extract kits, got hooked, and decided to move to brew-in-a-bag (BIAB). You’ve read How To Brew, you’ve thought a LITTLE bit about water chemistry, and you feel like you’re ready for your next step. In my incredibly humble opinion, the most fantabulous thing about this hobby is connecting with other beer nerds to talk shop and try each other’s homebrew. Maybe you connected with someone through buying some used equipment from a local marketplace or the corner homebrew shop, or maybe you already knew someone who was brewing and they set the hook. The most efficient way to meet other wort wranglers is probably joining a local homebrew club. No matter how you get there, once you get some beer buds, the hands-down coolest thing you can do is get together and brew some beer. I’m a huge fan of brewing larger batches then splitting the wort so everyone can have their own interpretation of the style. You can use different yeasts, different fermentation temperatures, different dry hops, pressurized or open fermentations, herb/spice/flavor additions, etc. You could even bring your system to a friend’s house (or a destination location! Lookin at you, Hawaii) and brew side-by-side batches. The possibilities abound! And whether you decide to go the Brülosophy route and isolate variables to try and taste the difference, or if you just go for it, it doesn’t matter! It’s fun, it’s your hobby, and you should enjoy it! 

Finding other homebrewers!

As I mentioned, homebrew clubs are great for getting the collaborative spirit flowing. I mean, these guys are bound together by the fact that they like brewing and drinking beer. My homebrew club has a roughly one-barrel system that we get together and brew on quarterly and split the wort. Shout out to East Bay Homebrew Club! Everyone usually ends up with about three gallons of wort to do with what they please. As with anything, we’ve made some bangers and we’ve made some dumpers, but one of the things I like about “brewing big” is getting to practice scaling recipes. It’s also a three-tier system that uses pumps to move the wort through each of the vessels, which is not how I typically brew, so, again, it’s a great learning experience. However, not everyone has access to a full barrel system.
I’m also involved with a smaller group that get together monthly and get down in the weeds on water chemistry, yeast health, thiols, off flavors, how grains are processed, the benefits and trade-offs of various techniques; you know, the super geeky stuff. Shout out to Six Pack Homebrew Club! After reading rumors that Treehouse uses a co-pitch of Belgian and British ale yeasts in their hazies, we got inspired to see if we could taste the difference between a standard ale yeast, a mix of ale yeasts and wit beer yeasts, and a wit beer yeast in a New England IPA. To test it, we got together and brewed up 15 gallons and split it three ways, keeping everything but the yeast (and the relative preferred temp range of the respective yeasts) the same. The recipe was a pretty basic NEIPA recipe; pilsner, flaked oats, wheat malt, carapils, and a touch of honey malt. The goal was to see how different yeasts would affect the color, haze, aroma, and flavor of the beer. 

Brewing Together!

On the day of the brew, one of our buddies had to drop out for life reasons (damnit, life!) and another had to work (damnit, life!). So, instead of four of us splitting fifteen gallons, it ended up being two of us. Still, it was brewin with buds, and I made my partner hop in as a photographer/brewer’s assistant. I pay her in beer, but she still complains about workplace conditions. Anyway, we got a great day in early January for a brew. I’m a cold weather guy by nature, but I really love brewing when it’s cold because I use less water and chill faster, a double win. And all you have to do is put on a flannel and/or a puffy vest. And grow a beard, of course. 
Brew day went pretty well until it came time for mash out. At fifteen gallons of wort in a 20-gallon pot, we were pushing this gear to its limit. I don’t know what the conversion rates are, but 44 lbs of grain soaking wet is super heavy. I should mention we’re brewing in (big) bag. Having broken my ratcheting pulley on a similar brew, we weren’t chomping at the bit to try and lift this beast out of the wort. Instead, we tried a modified sparge, running the wort into a pair of secondary kettles. Sometimes you just gotta work with what you have.
Brewing Kettles
After we ran the “sparge” water through the grist, there was still a ton of liquid in the grains, so we ended up lifting the bagged wet grains into a slotted stainless pot, of sorts, that came with my Bayou Classic turkey fryer. Again, this didn’t help much, even with lots of hot squeezing. We noticed the grain bag was extremely gummy, presumably from the oats, although I have used similar adjunct-to-base malt ratios in the past with no issues. So, no idea what was going on with that, but it made for some gross pictures!
Eventually, we gave up. Our target OG was a bit low, but that just means you can drink more of them without falling over. Once we got all of the worty juice out, we poured everything back into the kettle, boiled for sixty minutes, then added our first hop addition as a 20-minute whirlpool. 
Brewing Hops
After the whirlpool we continued chilling until the wort reached 76F, at which point we drained off 5 gallons for the Jovaru/cosmic punch combination, as Jovaru likes it a bit warm for ester expression. We chilled the rest to 70F and pitched the Wit bier and Verdant yeasts into their respective fermenters.
FermZilla Conical Fermenters!

Learning Together!

During fermentation, the brew buds were in touch to ensure we were being consistent with ramp temps/timing, dry hop technique/timing, cold crash timing, etc. Basically, every effort was made to make everything but the yeast identical. All three beers finished in the 1.010-1.012 range. 
Brewing Measuring & Testing Equipment!
We kegged the beers and got together about one month following brew day to compare notes.
Draft Beer Dispensing Equipment!
(Left to right: Verdant, Jovaru/Cosmic Punch (ratio ~30%:70%), Wit bier strain. Rear: random out-of-focus barfly (Jeff) making a weird face.)
As you can see, the beers did have slightly different appearances! Similarly, when we dug into aroma and flavors, we (a group about seven) could easily differentiate between the beers. I REALLY wish I could tell you that these beers were wonderfully aromatic, punching you in the face with overripe tropical fruits and hosting an excellent mouthfeel full of juice. I wish that because I’m writing about it on the internet, because NEIPA is one of the most expensive beers to make, but mostly because I wanted to drink ten gallons of this stuff, reveling in the richness that is my life. However, there was a discernible off flavor in all three beers. This kind of vegetal, earthy thing that muted all those pricey hops and overshadowed our brew day stumblings. My best guess is that dry hopping post fermentation introduced some enzymes that resulted in hop creep, and by proxy DMS. The wit bier batch was palatable if you told yourself it was a farmhouse pale ale or something. Others enjoyed the Jovaru/Cosmic Punch batch, but, for me, life is too short to have these on tap. My brew buddy humbly agreed to drink through the Jovaru/Cosmic punch batch, and is planning to repitch some sucrose along with some Brett into the Verdant batch in hopes of reviving this sad ale. But, alas; you can’t win ‘em all! At least it was a failure made amongst friends. 
In closing, make some fermentation confidantes, brew beer with them, and enjoy! Prost! 


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