Malted Barley Appreciation Society

Malted Barley Appreciation Society Newsletter

Vol. 5, No. 6                                                                    June 1998

The June Meeting

By Lucy Zachman

Paul Sylva, owner and brewer of Ipswich Brewing Company, livened up our May meeting with a number of his English-style ales. Crafted at the 14,000-barrel establishment in Ipswich, MA, these beers were fresh and flavorful examples of find micro-brewed beers.

Ipswich ales are distributed in seven northeast states as well as Great Britain and Japan. But no matter where you go to buy them, you had better find them refrigerated. Sylva noted that his beers are unfiltered and unfined. While this may help to retain mouth feel and creaminess, it does shorten the shelf life unless properly chilled.

Sylva said he started brewing in 1969 during a period in which he basically moved up to Vermont to drop out of society. Now, years later, Sylva approaches his commercial beers in much the same way as a homebrewer. All Ipswich ales begin with small test batches. Sylva and his staff continually refine the recipe until it's just what they are looking for.

Ipswich ales are naturally carbonated and made with pellet hops. Sylva said that he chose pellets because whole hops tend to loose their bitterness over time, while pellets are more consistent and long lasting. He also uses the same yeast throughout, #1028 London Ale.

Sylva's beers are aged a minimum of four weeks except for the barleywine which is given 180 days to mature. And now, for the tasting….

First up was the "original" Ipswich Ale. This is a medium bodied, fruity pale ale hopped with Willamette and Cascade. In 1996, Ipswich Ale was honored by Wine Enthusiast Magazine as one of the Top Ten Ales.

The Ipswich Dark and the IPA were poured next. The Dark being a well-balanced brew tasting of roasted malt and Galena hops. The IPA was made with Pearl and Columbus hops with a starting gravity of 5.4, ending at 10.09. Sylva said that an early IPA test batch sold at the stadium became a good luck charm for the New England Patriots, leading to the nickname Drew's (Bledsoe) Brew.

The Oatmeal Stout, Sylva's personal favorite, was heavy, rich and high in alcohol - 7.1%. Seven grains were used to make it, including flaked oatmeal, roasted barley, cara pils, black patent and chocolate malt, along with four different hops.

The finale barleywine was well worth the wait. This is the first year that Ipswich has brewed a barleywine, but numerous test batches led to a very hoppy, rich and slightly tart brew. Galina, Willamette, and Northern Brewer hops were used. The starting gravity was 10.84, dropping to 10.14. Sylva noted that they roused the yeast occasionally by injecting it with purified air.

The brewery also makes a porter and a winter welcome (with no spices) during cooler seasons.

If interested, Sylva invited all of us up to the brewery not only for an on-site tasting, but also to brew with he and his staff. He'll even provide room and board and all the beer you can pack in the trunk of your car. Ask Bob for Paul's phone and address if you'd like to go on this interesting field trip. Until next month….

Two Easy Steps to Better Homebrew

By George De Piro

"What is the best thing to do to improve my homebrew?" It's an often asked question. While it is difficult to point to a single factor that will tremendously influence the quality of your beer, there are a couple basic techniques that you can use to greatly improve your brews.

Perhaps the single most important thing you can do to improve your homebrew is to pitch a large, healthy starter. Simply pitching the contents of a swollen package of Wyeast is one of the worst things you can do. There simply is not enough yeast there to complete a healthy, appetizing fermentation.

Preparing a starter from a Wyeast pack is very easy. All you need are a few canning jars (with new lids and rings), some malt extract, water and hops. Add about a pound of dry, light malt extract to one gallon of water to make a wort of about 11�P (1.044). The addition of a small amount of hops (0.5 - 1 alpha acid units per gallon) is optional, but recommended. It is best to grow the yeast in an environment similar to the main batch of wort you will be fermenting on brew day, and the hops also have some antimicrobial activity.

Boil the wort for about 15-30 minutes (to extract the alpha acids from the hops) then put it into the canning jars. Try to leave behind the hop debris, but don't worry if you can't. Put the lids on the canning jars, and secure them with the rings by screwing them on finger tight. Then fill your brew pot with hot water and put the jars in it (so that the hot water covers them up to the shoulder.) Turn on the heat and bring it to a boil, and boil for 45-60 minutes (this will complete isomerization of the alpha acids and sterilize the wort).

Turn off the heat and allow the jars to cool off. At this point the lids should be vacuum-sealed (the center of the lid should not yield to pressure, or "bounce back" if you press on it. If it does, the lid did not seal properly and sterility is not guaranteed. Try again!) This process is called "canning."

You now have about a gallon of sterile wort for yeast propagation. Keep it refrigerated if you aren't going to use it right away (this will keep it fresh tasting and eliminate the very remote risk of botulism). If you have a pressure cooker, you can "pressure can" the wort by putting the filled canning jars in it and boiling them at high pressure and temperature for 10-20 minutes. This will render the wort completely sterile and allow it to be kept without refrigeration for a very long time.

You can pitch the swollen Wyeast pack into about a pint of sterile wort in a gallon jug. Aerate it well. Within a day it will be at high Kr�usen, and you can feed it another 3 pints of sterile wort. Aerate it, and let it ferment. If your timing is right, this will be at high Kr�usen just in time for pitching it into your 5 gallon batch on brew day (about two days after you "stepped it up" from the pint volume to a half gallon).

If you don't want to bother with all that (although it really is not hard), you should use dry yeast. Pitching the proper amount of dry yeast is far better than just pitching the contents of a swollen Wyeast pack. Two packets (14 g) of dry yeast should be pitched for every 5 gallons of wort. Rehydrate the yeast according to the manufacturer's instructions. (Usually you just have to soak it in sterile, 100�F water for a few minutes.)

By pitching an adequate amount of yeast you will experience short lag times (the time before fermentation starts), and complete, fast fermentations. You must not forget to aerate the cool wort at pitching time!

You'll notice that I mentioned "wort aeration" a few times earlier in the article. It is another key factor in improving your beers. The yeast need oxygen to grow properly in the wort. Without it, you will experience sluggish yeast growth, and long, slow fermentations. In the worst cases, the yeast will never finish fermenting the wort, leaving the beer overly sweet, worty-tasting, and susceptible to infection.

Fortunately, it is even easier to aerate wort than to pitch an adequate yeast starter. There are two effective methods of wort aeration. Which one you choose will depend on your budget.

The cheap option is an aquarium air pump hooked up to an aquarium stone. Simply attach the stone to the pump with some tubing, turn the pump on, and immerse the sanitized stone and tubing in the wort. You should turn the pump on before you immerse the stone in order to prevent wort from flowing into the tubing (which would make it difficult to clean). Allow the air pump to run for 30-90 minutes (or until the foam reaches the neck of the carboy).

All of that stuff can be bought at a pet store for under $12. You can get a nicer stone (made of stainless steel) from Brewer's Resource (800-827-3983). You should filter the air that is going into the wort. An in-line filter can be bought at the pet store (~$2). It will keep out larger particles. Brewer's Resource sells filters that will remove all bacteria and wild yeast from the air.

If you have a few more dollars to spend, you can buy a wort oxygenation kit from Brewer's Resource (~$35). It's simply a left-hand threaded valve that can be attached to a disposable oxygen bottle (that you can get for ~$8 at a home improvement store), some tubing, and a stainless steel stone. In operation you just sanitize the stone and tubing, attach it to the tank, turn on the gas and dunk it in the wort for about 90 seconds. Voil�! The wort is saturated with oxygen and your yeast will be very happy!

Of course, being very careful about your sanitation is always a crucial part of making excellent beer. Pitching an adequate amount of healthy yeast into a well-aerated wort will help overcome slight lapses in sanitation, but that does not mean you can slack off.

Pitching a good amount of healthy yeast, and then aerating the wort, will definitely improve your beer. Why settle for "drinkable" when you can make something that you'd be happy to pay for at a bar?

MBAS Trip to the G.A.B.F.

By B.R. Rolya

On Saturday, May 16, members and friends of the Malted Barley Appreciation Society took a trip to Baltimore for the Great American Beer Fest on the Road. We left New York at 7:30 am, and our stalwart members cracked the first bottle at 7:45 to better prepare for a day of drinking! We arrived in Baltimore in time for the early admission to the session (for AHA members only) and after studying the layout of the convention center, raced around to try those "must have" beers before the crowds descended. As it turns out, the crowds never got too heavy, so there was never a long line for the tastings, which made for a beery afternoon. Beer was poured in one ounce servings, which was generally adequate to get an idea of each beer's character. Approximately 125 breweries were represented, most of which offered several different styles. Participants ranged from the huge mega-breweries to tiny brewpubs.

There were some truly outstanding beers, but, surprisingly, many of the beers were rather mediocre. We have better homebrews at our meetings than many of the beers we tried there. Even more surprising was the quality of some of the GABF medal winners; granted, they won their medals in 1997 and we were drinking different batches, but I expect consistency from medal winners. Overall, German and British styles seemed to fare the best; the majority of attempts at Belgian styles were disappointing if not just plain awful.

However, there were some outstanding beers that MBAS members enjoyed and some of them came from the New Glarus Brewing Co. of Wisconsin. They were serving 4 beers: Wisconsin Belgian Red, Apple Ale, Uff da Bock, and a Framboise. Personally, I did not like the Belgian Red (a cherry beer) which was the gold medal winner of the fruit beer category; I found it to be cloyingly sweet with a fake cherry flavor. Bill picked up some spices, but all I could think of was sweetened cough syrup. Their Framboise, however, was magnificent. It had a beautiful garnet color and the perfect combination of fruitiness and tartness. This very well balanced beer was something I sampled more than once! With some trepidation, fearing more fruity sweetness, I sampled their Apple Ale (bronze medal winner for fruit beer). This pale golden beer tasted exactly like it sounds: a subtle apple aroma was followed by an apple flavor that was neither too sweet, nor tart like cider. The apple notes blended pleasantly with the malt and hops, creating a very refreshing beer. If only all fruit beers were this well balanced, then I would certainly drink more of them. The Uff da Bock was good, but not exceptional. I found it to be a bit too mellow and lacking in the malt profile that I expect in a bock.

Another favorite brewery for MBAS beer travelers was the Alaskan Brewing Co. (of Juneau). We all ran to their booth to try their famous Alaskan Smoked Porter (silver medal winner, smoke beers, and gold medal winner in the past). The Smoked Porter is an outstanding example of a classic Rauchbier. It had a definite smoke presence, both in flavor and aroma, but the beer was exceptionally well-balanced with a supporting malt profile and subtle hops. It was so well-crafted, that were it not for the utilitarian atmosphere of the Baltimore Convention Center, I could almost imagine sipping it in Bamberg, Germany - home of the classic rauchbiers.

Alaskan Brewing Co. was also serving their Pale, Amber, Frontier, and Oatmeal Stout. Of these, I found the Oatmeal Stout to be the most appealing with its pleasant roasty aroma, hearty body, and smooth finish.

I tried over 50 different beers (and that's the conservative estimate), and among those, several stand out as personal favorites. Bardo Rodeo's (Arlington, VA) Dremo Tibetan Sasquatch is an intensely hoppy strong ale that I always try if it's available when I visit. Coopersmith's Brewing (Ft. Collins, CO) Punjabi Pale Ale was a good example of the style: distinct hop presence, but with enough malt to make it more rounded. Old Dominion's (Ashburn, VA) Tupper's Hop Pocket is another excellent example of a well-hopped American Pale Ale that isn't one dimensional. The Tupper's Saaz Pils, however, was over-hopped for the style, but still quite tasty. Ellicot Mills (Ellicot City, MD) brews all Germany-style beers; between the 2 of us, Bob and I sampled their Pils, Dunkel, Marzen, Helles, and Maibock. Of these, the Pils and Helles were the truest to style and were refreshing and light without being bland. Boscos Brewing Co. (Nashville, TN) showcased their Famous Flaming Stone Beer, which I tried in honor of George De Piro's adventures in steinbier brewing. Their version was a balanced blend of malt and hops, but didn't really stand out. There was also a display of cask conditioned real ales; I particularly enjoyed Shipyard's Old Thumper and Rogues' Shakespeare Stout.

We finished the day at Sisson's brewpub for dinner and were all rather disappointed with their beers. However, being resourceful drinkers, there was plenty of good beer for the bus ride home!

On Wednesday, June10, 7:30 PM, the Malted Barley Appreciation Society will have our next monthly meeting. . The guests are not yet scheduled, but they should be interesting, as always. As usual, the meeting will be held at Mug's Ale House, 125 Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. See you there!

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