Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Better Know Your Brewers: Legal Draft Beer Co.

It was a cool and clear Tuesday morning in the heart of the Metroplex. The sun was just beginning to peek over the distant Dallas skyline, casting stark rays of light straight down Abram street in Arlington. As we adjusted the visors in our car, we reflected once more on how lucky we were to have the opportunity to meet the newest Brewers on the block, Legal Draft Beer Company. Nearly all of you reading this post have been on a brewery tour and learned how beer is made, but we count ourselves among the supremely lucky few that Greg McCarthy, his partner Curt Taylor, and their master brewer Heiner Orlik invited us to see how a brewery is made.

While a crew unloaded the Legal Draft brewhouse from a flatbed, Greg, Heiner, & Curt all exchanged excited looks and Christmas-morning smiles. Amanda and I walked through the warehouse space that will soon come to house this amazing brewery, imagining with some ease where each tank, pump, and kettle would stand alongside a vibrant tap room and a skilled brewing staff. A cold mist began to blow in, so we all huddled into a warmer space out of the wind to talk about where Legal Draft came from and where it is headed.

How did y'all get started brewing?

Greg: My dad brewed some when I was a kid, and I talked with Curt about 15 years ago about starting up a brew pub in Arlington. Not til a few years ago did I get some stuff together and make a few batches and my friends and I thought, "This isn't too bad." And at the same time I knew I didn't want to do this just as a hobby. Now was a good time and it felt like a good opportunity to do this, so I started putting together a business plan and doing a lot of research and looking around for a place to do it all. Last spring Curt and I were together with that same group of friends and I told him I kind of wanted to do this and he said, "Sign me up!" So we went forward and about middle of June last year I started telling people about what I was going to do so I couldn't back out. And here we are. 

Tell us about bringing Heiner on as your brewmaster.

G: Well I had brewed a few batches, but I always knew I wasn't going to be the brewer. We weren't in any clubs or organizations. I think my beer was pretty good, but it's a whole different subject brewing in your garage compared to what we're going to do. And y'know, we didn't have time to mess around for 5 or 6 years learning how to do that, apprenticing someplace or starting smaller ourselves and seeing if we could grow. We knew we wanted a really good brewmaster, and when I talked to Ezra Cox, then at Revolver, now Cidermaster at Bishop Cider, he said, "Here's what you do. You put an ad in all the trade publications online and you find a really highly qualified, big background sort of brewer and then he becomes pretty much everything that's important to your brewery." 

So we put the ad out in September with our sort of mission statement to make a lot of beer and grow fast, and within a couple of weeks he replied and his first message to me was, "Your mission statement is all well and good, but who is going to be the captain of this ship? Are you looking for someone who was a homebrewer for 2 years or an assistant brewer for a couple of years at some place that doesn't make very good beer, or are you looking for someone who is German-classically trained to be your brewmeister?" And I said, "Well it sounds like we need you." We wanted someone who was dedicated and trained who would do this, and Curt and I drove out to Midland to meet him. He was brewing out at Big Bend in Alpine, and he has a daughter and granddaughter in Forney, so he and his wife were anxious to be closer to them. He also wanted to be somewhere where you didn't have to drive three and a half hours to get to a mall.

Curt: Not to mention, his wife was not fond of all the tarantulas and mountain lions and scorpions in West Texas. 

G: Heiner has been brewing beer in America for 30 years, and he's like us - he doesn't have time to mess around and go the nice patient route with a small brewery. He's very highly educated, he did the whole program at Doemens in Munich, he brewed for Abita for a long time, and he also has a degree in Economics.

C: That's what's impressed me is his diversity of experience. There's not one thing we've run into where he didn't have something to offer. The potential for Greg and I to make mistakes and have to backtrack to go in the right direction, I guarantee he's already saved us a couple of those wrong turns, and I'm sure there'll be more to come. You can't replace over 30 years of brewing experience. The first word out of his mouth is Quality. You have to have quality product, a clean environment to brew in to make something that our friends would enjoy drinking.

What made you decide to open a brewery?

G: Everybody has been over to the largest capacity, oldest continuing brewery in the Metroplex, and the first time I went there I was just amazed because it was 95 degrees outside, not air conditioned, on a Wednesday night, no music, no food, and there were 500 people there. And you know what? It was FUN! It was greater than the sum of the parts by a mile. I just thought if they could do this, then we can too and maybe ramp that game up a little bit.

C: I think Greg and I over the last 15-20 years have been talking about having some place cool in Arlington and every time we leave we wouldn't have to drive to Dallas or Fort Worth. With the brewery and everything else happening for Downtown Arlington, it's going to be a destination. It's going to help to change the face of entertainment in downtown.

Your brewhouse is not very common. Can you tell us more about the IDD High Efficiency Brew System (HEBS)?

G: There are a few breweries across America that have this system. Probably less than 20 systems working right now, and according to Heiner, the mash filter is not a new idea. The system is all mounted to the skid: the mash tun, the boil kettle, the hot liquor tank, and the whirlpool. You pump out of the mash tun through the filter plates and depending on your style, you have the prescribed number of filter plates. Every other plate is solid and the other one has a bladder inside. Efficiency of that process comes from the grain getting stuck on the cloth and squeezed like a tea bag. You get the very last of the sugars out of the grain and when it's done, that grain falls down and you can clean the filter easily and the grain is very dry and heads off into the hopper. So that's different from the lauter tun and you get a greater extract efficiency. 

Then the boil kettle has the usual steam jacket, but it also has a calandria inside which is basically another steam boiler so you get a really high-energy, vigorous boil and a higher evaporation rate in 40 minutes that would take a conventional boil kettle of the same size 90 minutes or longer. So you cut time off each batch, and as you're pumping that wort through the filter and the mash tun empties, you're ready to start mashing in your next batch. You can be working 3 batches of 17 barrels at a time all in a row. When I saw it in action, they started at 9am and intended to brew 3 batches but ended up doing 5 to get a little ahead and they were still finished up by 5pm.

What sort of beers can we look forward to enjoying soon?

G: Heiner is in charge of the recipes, but we'll start off with sort of a core 5 beers: gold lager, amber lager, a hefeweizen, an IPA, and a stout. Something for everybody. Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, there aren't a lot of craft breweries that have a bunch of lagers. It's really an economic decision because it takes more time to ferment properly. The lagers are getting sort of overlooked. By the time we open, we're going to be heading right into the Texas summer time, and we want to have clean refreshing beers with a few options that  everyone is going to want to drink. We'll start with that core 5 and always have that on tap, but the good thing about Heiner is he wants to take it in different directions too. 

Reinheitsgebot means different things to different brewers. For some people it means, "Ve have four ingredients in ze bier and no ozzers!" But Heiner's view is it's all about no adjuncts, it's about the methods and it doesn't mean you can't brew ales or have fruit beers or add orange peel to your wheat beer or have sours or anything like that. He wants to barrel age some stuff, he wants to do sodas like root beer and ginger ale to serve to kids or non-drinkers or designated drivers, he wants to create some radlers, too. He's of the mind that Reinheitsgebot means you do a good job, you brew good quality product in the right kind of environment. You use barley, not rice or corn to cut costs. You know, if you're brewing a wheat beer, technically you're violating Reinheitsgebot, but it really doesn't go against its intent.

C: There's also a strong desire to have gluten-free beer as well, and our system lends itself to that very easily. We can't call it gluten free legally, though,  without adding a certain enzyme that converts any remaining gluten in the beer. We recently went out to San Diego and visited Duck Foot Brewing, and every beer on tap there was gluten-free because the owner is a celiac. We sat there and drank for a couple of hours, and I liked ALL of their beer! It didn't taste like a Redbridge or Omission or anything. They were all good. It would be a good way to tell folks who have that limitation, "Hey we have stuff for you too. Not just soda."

Aside from our favorite draft houses and growler bars, what sort of packaging should we look for on shelves?

G: We will have primarily cans, about 2/3 of our production by volume and get them into stores. We'll have our own canning line in February or March, so we'll be up and running very soon after we start up. (Mobile canning) is a great system, but it gets expensive over time. It would cost us about 3-5 times as much in the first 5 years as having our own machine. We'll pay off the equipment within the first 3 years we believe. 

We'll also have the taproom, and that's always where my head was first. That's where you first visit breweries and I just wanted something with a good vibe, a nice family place to come hang out for a little while. Bring the kids, bring the dog, have games to play, TVs on the wall with sporting events. You know, a place people just enjoy hanging out. We'll also have a big enough place to rent out for events like class reunions, rehearsal dinners, business lunches, whatever folks like to do. 

Photo credit: Dodson Development, LLC

Arlington seems to be at the beginning of a very concerted effort to revitalize the downtown district. How will Legal Draft fit into that picture?

G: (The Texas Live events center) was the first of several announcements we expect to be coming soon. Put a pin down in the absolute center of the Metroplex, and it's right here. It's taken some time, but it takes some vision and some guts to knock down some of the unfortunate looking infrastructure and build places people want to come visit. Groups like Dodson Development have that vision to come in and design some great spaces for everyone to use and enjoy, and it's going to be great.

Our good friends at Division are a stone's throw away from y'all. Do you see any collaborations or neighborhood alliances in the future?

G: Wade Wadlington's shop is real close, and we think that's terrific. It would be great to get even three more. It creates some magnetism and synergy, unless we get one of the very few people that doesn't want to play nice, which just doesn't happen often. Wade and Sean do completely different stuff than what we're doing: he's got fruits and sours and IPAs. He'll be smaller volume, but he'll have twenty different beers on tap and the variety is what makes it fun. And his place looks terrific! Things are starting to happen for him and for downtown and it's really exciting for us all.

Having warmed up with some much needed coffee and much appreciated beer conversation, we left Greg, Heiner, & Curt to unload their remaining equipment and headed back home with an even greater sense of excitement than we brought downtown. The sun climbed a little higher
and burned off the fog to shine on brand new kettles and pumps, and thus Legal Draft Beer Company took some of its first steps onto the DFW craft beer scene.

We want to thank Greg McCarthy, Curt Taylor, and Heiner Orlik for allowing us to be a part of their brewery building process. We are genuinely excited for y'all, and we can't wait to share a pint in Spring of 2016!

Like Legal Draft on Facebook & follow them on twitter @LegalDraftBeer and Instagram legaldraftbeer!

Greg and company will be joining Tyree, Rhode, and myself this spring on Tyree Radio for an all-Legal Draft Local Buzz podcast. We'll make sure to give y'all a heads up so you can listen to even more great news and brews from Legal Draft Beer Company. Don't forget to like and share Tyree Radio on Facebook and subscribe to the Tyree Radio podcast. It's free and it's AWESOME.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Mild Winter Brew Day

We missed posting last week because we were getting ready for another brew day. This time, we dove into a recipe that is not very common, though incredibly easy on both the brewer and the drinker: English Mild. As its name implies, this British ale is neither bold nor big. This is what we "yanks" would call a session ale, though distinctly full of English ale character.

Dark Milds (per BJCP 2015 style guideline 13A) can be anywhere on the pale to dark amber range, about 12-25 SRM. They should appear fairly clear and possess no great hop presence or aroma. The main stand-out quality of this style is its drinkability while remaining flavorful. True to most British styles, the beer should be malt forward and exhibit toasty/biscuit flavors with a satisfying dry finish. As my comparison to session beer might imply, this is not a heavy hitter at about 3-4% ABV. This is a beer meant to be enjoyed throughout the day without rendering the drinker incapacitated.

As we mentioned last post, we will be co-brewing with our friend Kyle Nelson of Steel Rain Beer in January with the hopes of submitting our beer for the Bluebonnet Brew-off. This is the largest single-site homebrew competition in the United States, and judges an incredible 1,000+ homebrew entries every year. Due to time constraints, we decided we would brew a Mild recipe that Kyle drew up so that we could finish it in time for the entry cut-off on January 28.

This recipe is not Kyle's, though. I read a few recipes online and listened to the Brewing With Style podcast from the Brewing Network to pick up some pointers and general impressions. I wrote this recipe on Beersmith and checked it against the style guidelines, just to test the boundaries of the style for my own education and edification. I also chose to brew this on my small-batch stove top setup since I'm currently re-building my full batch system. (Stay tuned for a bunch more posts on the build!)

On to the recipe:

Mild Winter

2.5 Gallons, OG: 1.036, FG: 1.010, ABV: 3.4%, 20 IBU

2.75 lbs Maris Otter Pale Malt
4oz Biscuit Malt
4oz Crystal 40L Malt
4oz Chocolate Malt

Mash @ 152 for 60 min

0.5oz East Kent Goldings @ 60 min

White Labs WLP007 Dry English Ale Yeast, ferment @ 65 for 3 days, then ramp up to 70 for 2 days before crash cooling and kegging at 1.5 volumes CO2.

Now for a gratuitous amount of brew day photos...

My small batch grain bag is a little large, so to keep the bottom
from scorching on the hot bottom surface, I put a stainless steel
vegetable steamer underneath.

Perfect mash temp hit after doughing in.

Our overly sophisticated mash insulation system
consists of several bath towels and my Carhartt.

Even so, we lost about 4 degrees Fahrenheit
throughout the 60 min mash. I'll chalk it up to
less thermal mass in the 2.5 gal batch size.

After removing the grain bag, we were left with
exactly 2.5 gallons of "first runnings" wort.

But we weren't done with those grains just yet!
Sparging with 170F water, we rinsed out some
more sugar and ultimately gravity points.

Adding the sparge back into the boil, we started
with about 2.75 gallons.

In order to keep from shocking yeast that's been
stored in a fridge, I put the vial or pouch in a
bath of room temperature water to warm up.

The downside to small batches is you don't
always use hops in the most efficient way. I
suppose I could have added the hops later during
the boil and used the whole ounce though.

Pre-boil gravity right about 1.040. Hmm...

Our high-tech method for suspending the hop sock
to keep it from scorching on the bottom of the
kettle during the boil.

Damn-near futuristic chilling setup with the
garden hose connected to the wort chiller in
the driveway.

Despite the Texas winter day being a balmy 75
degrees, the wort chiller was able to bring the
2.25 gallons down to pitching temperature in
about 25 minutes. Here is the batch getting all
cozy in the fermentation chamber.

Last but not least, our OG reading shows a
whopping 1.050. Ain't exactly a mild anymore.

Now oddly enough, I got stellar conversion in my mash and the pre-boil gravity showed 1.040, finishing with a OG of 1.050. This pushes it out of the style guidelines by quite a bit, leaning more towards a British Brown Ale (category 13B). Not what I set out to brew, but hey it's still beer. I'll have to dial in my boil-off rate and brewhouse efficiency in Beersmith to prevent surprises in the future. We'll see how this guy measures up after fermentation. I will likely have to re-name it to reflect its true style. Mild-Mannered Brown? Who knows. Once again, beer was made and it was a good day.

Chipotle 9*8*7 RIS on the left & Mexican
Vanilla 9*8*7 RIS on the right
If you look closely at the photo of our fermentation chamber, you may notice something a little weird with one of our two Russian Imperial Stout variants. Slowly but surely, the Chipotle 9*8*7 RIS has been building up a pellicle. Pellicles form when oxygen gets into the fermenter. Though it's most commonly associated with sour beers and/or lambics, it doesn't necessarily mean the beer will become sour. True, the chipotle powder I used probably had trace amounts of some wild yeast that landed on it in its production process, but this may only impart a "funky" flavor one might expect from brettanomyces without the lacto- or pedio- sourness. While some may consider dumping this beer since it's "only a gallon of beer," I'm going to let this little experiment continue. We really enjoyed this base Russian Imperial Stout, and I'm intrigued to see what time and bugs will do to it.

I did not sanitize or sterilize the powder I used for this gallon of special release RIS, so I inadvertently inoculated a gallon of stout with some kind of funk. Whether or not it will improve the flavor remains to be seen, but I'm hopeful that we won't have to dump this gallon. When it comes time to bottle, we'll let y'all know what's up.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Tis the Season!

We took a few weeks off from the blog to spend time with our friends and family. We participated in the Chosen Half Marathon in New Braunfels, Texas in support of our dear friends, Adam, Katti, and Isaac Henderson. We shared miles, meals, and memories, and we were pleasantly surprised when some of our other dear friends, Brian and Lauren, shared some of the peach wheat beer we brewed for them back in July! I must admit, I didn't think I would enjoy a fruit beer as much as I did. We may have to add Life's A Peach Wheat Ale to our yearly rotation!

Chosen Half Marathon runners just before the race

We spent the following weekend visiting our friends and relatives in Tyler, Texas for Thanksgiving. Turkey, dressing, dogs running everywhere, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, dogs, squash casserole, dogs, and of course, ooey-gooey butter bars. And dogs. There were 10 dogs. In one house. At least they didn't run away with the turkey. We had a great time catching up on each other's lives and playing board games while enjoying some Deep Ellum Dream Crusher and Martin House Day Break. Now to say that our board game sessions are hilarious is like saying sunsets are pretty. As far as I can remember, each time we've played a board game together, whether it be Cards Against Humanity, Balderdash, Cranium, ERS, or Catchphrase, at least one of us has been in serious danger of asphyxiation due to laughter. Honestly, how any of us have managed not to break a rib or two is a certified medical mystery.

As all of us across DFW recover from North Texas Beer Week and Thanksgiving, let us reflect on the coming months. It's the most wonderful time of beer. Stouts, warmers, porters, barleywines. Where the summer is more of a quantity season, fall and winter are certainly a time to reflect on quality. This is why I took a leaf out of a fellow homebrewer's book and decided to start a birthday tradition of brewing a barleywine to be aged and enjoyed on the following year's birthday.

I recently had the pleasure of enjoying this delicious 
barleywine from Deschutes after a year of aging.
Photo: Paste Magazine online

This practice allows me to do what I enjoy most, namely brewing and drinking great beer, on a day when I can surround myself with the things and people that matter most. Barleywines and stouts are excellent beers to share with loved ones while contemplating life and the future. Something about gingerly sipping a 10%+ ale bursting with flavor and complexity sets the tone for one to be able to step back and examine oneself impartially.

I have noticed that many people don't find barleywine appealing, most likely owing to its intense malt flavor and high alcohol content. This is fair, because barleywine isn't a beer brewed to appeal to the masses. It is one to be enjoyed on special occasions when you have the time to reflect both on the beer and on the important matters you've set aside throughout the week. Each sip contains the right balance of elixir and contemplation, setting the tone for your mind to begin unfolding the most tangled messes we all struggle with. Whether this hearty ale is enjoyed with friends accompanied by meaningful conversation or poured and sipped fireside while enjoying a good book, a fine barleywine sets the appropriate tone for contemplation and reflection.

Here's the recipe:

Birthday Barleywine

2.5 Gallons, OG: 1.100, FG: 1.020, 60 IBU, 10.5% ABV

Grain Bill
8lb Maris Otter Pale Malt
2lb Munich Malt
4oz Crystal 20
4oz Crystal 80

Mash @ 149 for 90 min

1.5oz East Kent Goldings First Wort Hops
1.5oz East Kent Goldings @ 10 min
(75 min boil)

White Labs 007 Dry English Ale Yeast

Ferment @ 65F for 2 weeks, rack to secondary for aging 9 months, package for conditioning 2 1/2 months. Enjoy near November 14, 2016.

I look forward to nursing my barleywine through fermentation and aging in the coming year. That may prove challenging not due to technique but rather remaining mindful of what is best for the beer as the year carries on. I'll be making a few changes and additions to the New Main brewhouse in the coming months, thanks to a little help from our friends. We were gifted a sturdy wire frame shelving unit on which I hope to construct a 2- or 3- vessel brewing system soon. We will also be decorating the garage brewhouse with several tin signs and posters we won at Dr. Jeckyll's grand opening and Halloween party. Furthermore, we will be setting up a collaboration brew session with my award-winning brewing buddy Kyle Nelson of Steel Rain Beer in the near future as well. We're hoping to brew around New Years and make a Bluebonnet competition entry beer, so stay tuned for the details!

Kyle Nelson, another badass Aggie brewer and blogger sporting
his Gold Medal at Labor of Love earlier this year

Last, but certainly not least, the time is near at hand for our good friends Sean and Wade at Division Brewing to fling wide their doors and accept the unwashed masses into their brewhouse and taproom. Though their grand opening has yet to be announced, murmurs and photos on facebook intimate that they are nearing their much anticipated start date. Be on the lookout for some meet-the-brewer and tap takeover events in the Arlington area. We were fortunate to catch them during North Texas Beer Week at Mellow Mushroom in Arlington to sample the few remaining excellent beers from their impressive line-up that we had yet to try: Rosalee, Ag Town IPA, Bruton's Bitter. Folks, I think it is no small secret that we CANNOT WAIT for these guys to start pouring in Downtown Arlington.

Wade Wadlington & Sean Cooley are about to drop some mad
delicious beer on Arlington

Until next time, enjoy each other, enjoy this time of year, and of course enjoy great beer.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Happy Veterans Day! - Operation Bravo Recap

This Wednesday is Veterans day, and for those of us who have not served in the armed forces, it is immensely important to acknowledge and thank everyone who has. I have had the pleasure and honor of knowing several fine Americans who put their life on the line to protect our country, regardless of personal beliefs or who happened to be in the white house at the time. To all of my friends and family who serve and who have served, thank you from the bottom of my heart for keeping the American way of life alive.

We celebrated our Veterans this past weekend by participating in the Operation Bravo Homebrew Competition and Hero Appreciation Event hosted by Homebrew for Heroes and Shannon Brewing Company. For those of you that recall our post about Deep Ellum's homebrew competition, this contest was very similar. Brewers entered one beer each for judging according to the BJCP guidelines, and the three best beers were awarded third, second, and first place in a best of show ranking. Nearly thirty brewers entered a beer into the competition, and from the several I tasted, North Texas knows how to brew!

Busted out the Beerhemoth for another great homebrew competition

We are very lucky to be homebrewers in the internet age, having access to the best available information with just a click. Not only that, but I met several folks who have spread the knowledge and passion for brewing to their neighbors and family members. And let me tell ya, they are making some awesome beer! I sampled a nice British mild and American IPA, a great brown ale, an amazing grapefruit farmhouse brett beer, a great wheat, and some delectable vanilla bourbon porter during the event.

We got the opportunity to serve our homebrew to Veterans and brewery guests all afternoon, and I was personally impressed with the discerning palates of these beer fans! Many were picking out the chocolate and coffee notes in our Rio Bravo Porter while commenting on the lighter-than-expected body and dry finish. Along with the porter (our competition entry), we brought our Zombie Dust clone batch for the hop heads to enjoy. We promptly ran out of the porter (okay, maybe we sampled some of it watching Aggie football over the past few weeks), and urged a few self-admitted IPA haters to give this brew a shot. To their credit, these folks were able to appreciate the massive citrus character exploding out of their glass and weren't so caught up in the "I don't like hoppy beers" mantra. Thanks to everyone who stopped by our table to try our homebrew!

No finer a view to be found than craft beer fans enjoying your homebrew

I want to hand out a few special thanks to some people who made Saturday so great. Kyle Nelson, another Aggie homebrewer and beer blogger, was gracious enough to host me under his canopy since I arrived a little later than planned. Kyle is an accomplished homebrewer who took home Gold at the Deep Ellum Labor of Love Homebrew Competition a few months ago for his stellar Saison. Kyle brought an outstanding Belgian Quad to this competition for entry in the Stong Dark Belgian category. Being only a few feet away, I was able to sample this fine brew more than once that afternoon, and each sip was better than the last. As a BJCP judge in attendance suggested, this fine beer will only get better with age. Thank you Kyle for helping make this event unforgettable. I hope we get the chance to homebrew together very soon! Y'all should go check out his blog for great write-ups and recipes:

I also want to give a shout out to one of my friends, Charles Medina, who is a dyed in the wool craft beer fan. Your positive attitude, assistance during my many beer sampling (and let's be honest, beer "recycling" breaks), and just your general enthusiasm gave me the energy and help I needed to make it through the afternoon. Thank you brother. Can't wait to brew with you either!

The face of a real craft beer fan, Charles Medina

Now on to the nitty gritty. Competition. As much fun as it was to swap brews and ingredients with the other homebrewers and participate in the collaborative spirit of homebrewing, someone had to walk away with the hardware at the end of the day. As I mentioned before, the top three beers were ranked in a best of show presentation. In addition to the best of show category, homebrewers pouring at the event had the opportunity to bargain, advertise, and ultimately woo the craft beer fans in attendance into casting their vote for fan favorite. The winner gets their homebrew recipe immortalized in a homebrew kit marketed as "Picked by Heroes" nationwide. Look for this one on your local homebrew store shelves soon for a chance to recreate your favorite hand crafted beer!

The first, second, and third place winners of the best in show awards were all given some pretty awesome hardware. Each winning brewer left with a Homebrew for Heroes growler with a complimentary fill from Shannon's taproom, a gift certificate to Stubby's Homebrew Shop in Haltom City, and a .50 caliber bullet bottle opener that turns into a tap handle from Bullets2Bandages. These were some pretty generous and amazing prizes.

Some mighty fine hardware, I do declare

Okay, I've stalled long enough. New Main Brewing's Rio Bravo Porter won first place in Best of Show for the event! In addition to the outstanding prize pack I just mentioned, we now get to do a Pro-Am (professional - amateur) brew session with Shannon Carter! This collaboration beer will be produced on their commercial system, and in the very near future it will be commercially available. Not only that, but that beer will be entered into the 2016 Great American Beer Festival competition in Denver, Colorado as part of the national Pro-Am Competition. You bet your hat we're planning on going!

These are very exciting times for New Main Brewing. We are very fortunate and very blessed to be able to share our passion for brewing with all of you. We are also among the luckiest people in the world to be able to live in this country that is so well defended and honored by its service members. To each and every hero out there, from the bottom of our hearts, Thank You.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Zombie Dust Clone Brew - Update

Here's an update on our 5 gallon clone batch of 3 Floyds Zombie Dust IPA:

Well, this batch flew through primary fermentation in 5 days! We transferred the beer to secondary and added our dry hop charge of 3oz last night. The sample tasted delicious, but once this baby has about 5 more days of time to get to know the dry hops better, this beer should knock your socks off with citrus flavor!
Hydrometer sample cuddling up with some Citra
OG: 1.044, FG: 1.010, ABV: ~4.5%

Pretty please with Citra on top

About 5.25 gallons of the good stuff
Brulosophy, another beer journalist that we follow, suggested that a shorter dry hop period might yield more favorable results than extended dry hop lengths. Since this is our first batch of this recipe, we'll stick to the prescribed 5 days this time around and play with the dry hop length next time. But hey, anything to shorten the time from grain to glass is just fine in my book!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Clone Brew: 3 Floyds' Zombie Dust

We've been resting on our laurels long enough, so we brewed this weekend. This time, I wanted to jump into the realm of very hoppy IPAs. I have brewed a few IPAs before, but I don't know the first thing about the basics of a good American IPA recipe. I should really grab Mitch Steele's book - IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. Yup, all of those words are what I need.

I decided on a fan favorite from the extensive recipe database on a clone of Zombie Dust IPA by 3 Floyds out of Munster, Indiana. Many brewers and craft beer nerds rave about this beer, claiming it is one of the best IPAs they've ever had when found fresh (within a few weeks of its brew date). IPAs should always be enjoyed fresh since hop aroma and flavor fade over time. True enough, the original India Pale Ales were simply standard British Ales infused with ridiculous amounts of hops to act as a preservative for long journeys from the UK to India. However, through countless years of "research," we've discovered how tasty fresh, hoppy beer can be.

Photo:; Artwork: Tim Seeley

Now, I know a few of you are reading the name of the beer and thinking, "This is just another example of people jumping on the Zombie bandwagon." This is just not the case. It has nothing to do with the famous graphic novel and AMC television series, The Walking Dead. If you check out 3 Floyd's website, you'll notice nearly every beer or piece of merchandise centers around an amazing graphic style that accentuates the macabre. They've been dark and mysterious since 1996, and I personally dig the overall attitude captured by their motto, "Not Normal." Even though they don't distribute to Texas (yet), they partnered up with Real Ale Brewing (Blanco, TX) and Surly Brewing (Minneapolis, MN) to create an amazing Imperial Black IPA called Blakkr. Seek this one out, folks. It's worth it.

Photo:; Artwork: Michael Berglund
On to the actual brew. The recipe on is as follows:

Batch Size: 6 gallons
Estimated Original Gravity: 1.065
Estimated Final Gravity: 1.018
Estimated Color: 8.5 SRM
Bitterness: 65.9 IBU
Mash Temp: 152 F

Ingredients Amount Item Type % or IBU
11.75 lb 2 Row (2.0 SRM) Grain 81.7 %
1.13 lb Munich Malt - 10L (10.0 SRM) Grain 7.8 %
0.50 lb Carafoam (2.0 SRM) Grain 3.5 %
0.50 lb Caramel/Crystal Malt - 60L (60.0 SRM) Grain 3.5 %
0.50 lb Melanoiden Malt (20.0 SRM) Grain 3.5 %

1.25 oz Citra [12.40%] (15 min) Hops 21.1 IBU
0.75 oz Citra [12.40%] (First Wort Hop) Hops 17.0 IBU
1.25 oz Citra [12.40%] (10 min) Hops 15.4 IBU
1.25 oz Citra [12.40%] (5 min) Hops 8.5 IBU
1.25 oz Citra [12.40%] (1 min) Hops 1.8 IBU
3.00 oz Citra [12.40%] (Dry Hop 5-7 days) Hops

SafAle English Ale (S-04) or Wyeast 1968

I tweaked a few parameters to match my setup on Beersmith, and I was off to Dr. Jeckyll's Beer Lab to pick up my ingredients (as well as toss back a few excellent IPAs on draft). For those of you looking for an awesome Halloween party, Dr. Jeckyll's is finally having their Grand Opening this Saturday, October 31st to truly christen the expanded shop and bar space. With 40 taps of fine craft beer, plenty of local offerings represented, 4 regulation dart boards, and a fully stocked homebrew and home wine making supply shop, Dr. Jeckyll's really does have everything you need for libation celebration. (end plug)

Dr. Jeckyll's Beer Lab
One technique to bring out excellent hop character in an IPA is to treat your mash water with gypsum. Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate) is a brewing salt you can pick up at any homebrew store, and it helps accentuate the "crisp" quality in a hoppy beer. That's not to say it makes the beer more bitter; rather it gives the impression of a clear cut beginning and end to the taste of each sip. This impression also prevents a sensation of an overly sweet, lingering taste on the palate. In short, it makes hops pop.

As you may have noticed, this recipe is all Citra
I chose to use whole cone hops on this batch to see if there was a difference in the amount of trub (pronounced troob) at the end of the boil as compared to pellet hops. Trub is made up of fine hop particles as well as coagulated proteins from the grain from the hot/cold breaks. This material settles to the bottom during cooling and helps to clarify the beer going into the fermenter. In my experience, whole cone hops do produce less left-behind material, but only slightly. Depending on how you add them to your kettle - whether you dump them in naked or tie them in a muslin/nylon filter bag - your results may vary. For my purposes, I was just looking to clean less crap out of my kettle at the end of the brew day, and I think I achieved that.

Readying a whole cone Citra addition for the boil
Once I had cooled the wort down, I packaged right at 5.5 gallons and pitched the yeast. I have recently discovered that a flavor I perceived as a fermentation flaw was really just a characteristic twang in the yeast I was using, S-04 Safale English Ale yeast. Most people aren't that sensitive to this flavor, and they claim that it accentuates maltiness in the beer. It's a little, well, twangy to me. I chose to substitute the White Labs version, WLP007 Dry English Ale yeast, because I've had some success with it in my Russian Imperial Stout. It provides that malty emphasis without whatever it is that I don't like.

If I could post smells to this blog, I would
The batch is currently bubbling away in my fermentation chamber, and within a few days I'll be tossing in the dry hop charge to really make that hop aroma explode out of the glass. I can't wait to see what this beer has in store. I'd like to develop my own IPA recipe, but the first steps are diligent tasting, reading, recipe research, and more tasting. It's a tough job, but I'm up to the task.

On a side note, we recently took the Grainfather on a field trip for an on-location brew day at the Tarrant County Hope Walk for the AIDS Outreach Center. We were representing Dr. Jeckyll's team, the Rebel-Alers and the Beer Lab by showing off the Grainfather in action. We brewed what's come to be known as Dr. Jeckyll's house Hefe, which was the Hurricane Wheat we brought to Deep Ellum's Labor of Love Homebrew Competition and Festival a few months ago. Just goes to show, as long as you have electricity, a water hook up, and your ingredients, you can brew beer anywhere, any time with the Grainfather!

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Great Texas Crowler Debate

Recently, I was invited back to Tyree Radio's podcast for a new show called Local Buzz. This show is by and large a bottle share wherein we all bring a bottle or two of some great craft beer to taste and share with each other. As with any good conversation shared over excellent beer, controversial topics were discussed passionately. Things like pumpkin spice everything, Blue Bell Ice Cream stout floats, and a recent stink wafting across craft beer markets in Texas. Apparently, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) has set its sights on crowlers.

Crowler filling machines are patented by Oskar Blues,
a craft brewery in Colorado. Ball owns the patent on the actual
crowler can design, though.

Crowlers are the latest beer-to-go craze in many up and coming and well-established craft markets alike. Most craft beer fans are familiar with growlers; customers can walk out of certain craft beer bars with 32-64 ounces of their favorite beer in glass, plastic, ceramic, or stainless steel jugs (called growlers) for enjoyment later. This newest variation is precisely the same thing, except the container happens to be a one-time-use, recyclable, tamper-proof, aluminum can.

Many of the places people wish to bring their favorite craft beer do not allow glass containers. This severely limits the selection of craft beer available for such outings since only a select few brewers package their beer in cans rather than bottles. I know some this isn't a big deal to some folks, but part of the allure of growler bars is the prospect of picking up rare offerings that are hard to get a hold of and most of the time not available in cans. We at New Main Brewing love nothing better than checking out a live concert on the lawn at the Levitt Pavilion in downtown Arlington on a crisp fall evening with a delicious double IPA.

Crowlers boast a large complement of advantages over conventional growlers:
  • They travel well and are recyclable once you've drained the contents. 
  • If there is a charge for the can, it's minimal compared to purchasing a glass or stainless steel growler.
  • As far as open container laws go, nothing beats a sealed aluminum can. I'm looking at you, plastic growler screw caps.
  • One time use means there's no worry about cleaning the container out well enough to prevent a little science experiment to grow between growler fills.
  • Most crowlers are 32oz or two pints, which is the perfect single serving size in my humble opinion. To be fair, 32oz growlers exist, but again those are mostly glass which means they don't travel well. 
  • Also, the smaller volume also means your beer is less likely to go flat during a typical session. 64 ounces, no matter how diligent you are re-capping the growler will flatten slightly over time and all 64 ounces must be consumed once the growler has been opened to prevent oxidation of the beer.
  • Crowlers are still relatively novel, so it attracts even more attention to the already booming craft beer market on both the brewery and retail fronts.

TABC's main argument has to do with the act of canning the beer, though. They claim that it is a manufacturing process that should be executed by the beer producer only. The act of repackaging beer is legal enough for plastic, glass, and stainless steel multi-use growlers, but the second you fill an aluminum can, you've violated TABC laws, according to their interpretation. When I hear the term "manufacturing process," I sure as hell don't think filling one 32oz can every few minutes qualifies.

It would be interesting to hear the perspective of mobile canning services on this issue. In essence, mobile canning services operate under contract to package a given number of batches of beer on a schedule worked out between the brewery and the service. In my opinion, this is nearly the same thing as a brewery owning their own canning line, and the sheer volume packaged at a given time justifiably constitutes "manufacturing." Maybe if brewers designated certain kegs that they send to bars as crowler fills only and then treated the account as a subcontracted venture instead of producer to retail agreement, the TABC would be able to understand the transaction better. My limited knowledge and understanding of the various types of permits required for producing and serving alcohol leads me to believe this is still a no-go without the bar holding some type of manufacturing license, though.

This seems like splitting hairs to this beer blogger. Granted, I do not work in the craft beer industry, so I may not be as educated as your average commercial brewer. I am, however, representative of the typical craft beer enthusiast, who I would argue is just as fed-up with this ridiculousness as the crowler bars themselves. TABC's policy is alienating the craft crowd in an already over-taxed, over-restricted, behind-the-times state. Not a smart move for the nation's 3rd largest state economic impact for craft beer and the 7th largest craft market by volume produced in 2014 (according to the Brewers Association).

One of the finest IPAs brewed in Texas offered
in a Crowler at Cuvee Bar in Austin, Texas.

The crowler bar owners are not laying down, though. Mike McKim of Cuvee Bar in Austin recently lost his crowler filling apparatus to the TABC over this kerfuffle. They have taken up the mantle and challenged TABC's interpretation of the poorly written law. McKim plans to refrain from paying his fine while seeking a judicial ruling on the matter. At this early stage, this is probably the best way to get the law changed, or at the very least clarified. After all, there are several other states with adequate legal description and regulation regarding crowlers, so it seems this issue may simply be a matter of how new crowlers are to the Texas craft beer scene.

No that's not the Seattle skyline; it's a crowler filler.

To play devil's advocate for a moment, we have to realize that the TABC exists to regulate and provide the means through which alcohol is properly tracked and taxed. To that end, it makes sense that all manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers should operate within its guidelines to ensure fair play by all parties. I believe this issue should be regarded as a clarification issue and not a stubborn zero tolerance protest. Everyone in the alcohol industry is there to succeed, and the stronger the industry, the more tax dollars are ultimately provided. Seem's like a win-win if they can all just agree on what game they're playing.

Let's get this straightened out so we can get back to enjoying great beer like free Americans.

For more reading on the issue, check out these links:

For more discussion about this and other topics of interest to craft beer drinkers, check out The Local Buzz podcast from Tyree Radio. It's a free podcast that covers a variety of topics, so subscribe, check them out on facebook and twitter @TyreeRadio. We have a blast every time we hang out with them, and we think you'll enjoy them, too.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Grainfather Review

A few months ago, I received a cryptic text from one of our friends at Dr. Jeckyll's Beer Lab:

I had no idea who the Grainfather was, why I was being informed of his arrival at 11PM on a weeknight, or why all of a sudden I felt like some kind of craft beer mafioso was about to exact revenge on me for some reason. Fuhgeddaboudit.

The next morning, I swung by the Lab to brew an all-grain clone of Weihenstaphan Hefeweissbier with my brew-in-a-bag setup. I greeted the homebrew shop guru, Scott Cooper, with a smile and a wave only to find an even bigger smile on his face. It turns out that the text I received the previous night wasn't a warning for me to make like a tree and leaf; I had just stumbled upon the opportunity to brew my first all-in-one electric beer.

The Grainfather is an all-in-one electric brewing system that allows the brewer to mash, sparge, boil, chill, and transfer within a compact footprint using a standard electrical outlet and sink faucet. It takes each component of a traditional all-grain brew setup and incorporates it into a single vessel, complete with temperature control, counter-flow wort chiller, and even a pump!

Yours truly and Scott Cooper of Dr. Jeckyll's Beer Lab
in Pantego, TX (Arlington)

I have to admit, it was like Christmas in July. I don't think I stopped smiling at all that day. Another Dr. Jeckyll regular, Tod, had unboxed and assembled the Grainfather with Scott the night before, so all that was left was to get to brewin'! For those of you brewing along at home, here's the recipe:

Grain bill
5lb Pilsner Malt
5lb Wheat Malt
8oz Rice hulls

90 min @ 154F

2oz Tettnang (2.5% alpha acid) @ 60 min

WLP351 Bavarian Hefeweizen, ferment at approx. 68F for 7-10 days

Kegged & carbonated @ 35PSI for 2 days, bled CO2 & repressurized to about 10PSI for serving

OG 1.048, FG 1.007, 5.4% ABV

There are several great step-by-step reviews of the Grainfather on YouTube and other places, so I'll leave each of you to your own preferred search engines for those. This post is about a few things I learned while using the Grainfather that I believe have helped me brew better beer.

We heated up our strike water with the use of the "high wattage" switch. Normally, this is only used in boil mode, but we figured we could get to strike temperature quicker. We were right, and we mashed in about 20 minutes after adding the water. Switching back to "low wattage," we doughed in and realized that the 90 minute mash would be a good opportunity for a little refreshment. Dr. Jeckyll's Beer lab is not only the finest homebrew shop in Pantego, they offer 40 taps of delicious and often rare craft beer from across America and the world.

Apparently, this was our first mistake. You see, beer has this thing called alcohol which may impair your memory, judgement, manual dexterity, speech, and memory. I have since taken a leaf out of Shannon Carter's book and decided to delay imbibing until cleanup time. I did however manage to take good notes throughout the process in order to be able to repeat the brew in the future. These two things can vastly improve the quality of your homebrew without ever having to spend another dime on equipment.

Our second mistake came when we realized at the end of the 90 minute mash that the reason our mash temperature had fluctuated so much was because we never turned the pump on for recirculation. That's kind of the main point of having the pump. Had we turned that sucker on, the mash liquid would have been continuously filtering through the grain, extracting more and more sugar as time ticked on, thus clarifying the wort before the boil and utilizing the grain to its maximum potential. This method is called RIMS - Recirculating Infusion Mash System. Instead, we were about 5 points shy of where we should have been for a pre-boil specific gravity reading. Whatever, we dumped some DME in and proceeded to boil.

Bringing her up to a boil

With the relatively light hop charge, there were not too many other opportunities for the bumpy maiden voyage of the Grainfather until it came time to cool the wort. The counterflow chiller is designed to connect to the pump and continuously pump hot wort through copper coils cooled by tap water. We went a step further and added another wort chiller to a bucket of ice water between the faucet and the counter flow chiller for an augmented cooling effect. While this is a good time-saving technique, we learned that it's still important to stir the wort while it's being cooled. We ended up with the temperature probe sitting at the bottom of the kettle reading several degrees below the liquid at the top of the kettle.

No problem there, just stir it a little, right? What could possibly go wrong? Apparently, the pump has a small filter just inside the bottom of the kettle which is basically a perforated stainless steel tube. The safety engineer at Grainfather decided the sharp edges at the end of the filter should be protected by a flexible silicone cap. While I'm thankful that the filter didn't fly out of the kettle of its own volition and slit my or Scott's throat at any point during the brew day, I am rather displeased with how easily this cap can be knocked off by the requisite stirring motion. We ended up with a few errant grains getting into the pump and restricting the flow, which led to a longer than normal chill phase.

Cleanup was simple and quick with the help
of the on-board pump

At the end of the day, beer had been made, so let us rejoice and be glad. I would definitely recommend purchasing a Grainfather brewing system if you are in the market and have the means. Here is a pro and con list based on my personal experiences to help your buying decision:


Very small footprint: great for low profile storage or for those of y'all that might live and brew in an apartment
Ease of use: if you read the instructions (2 minutes worth), it's as simple as flipping a couple switches
Predictability: the same process is used, regardless of the beer you're brewing, so the only thing changing is your recipe
Cleaning is a snap: just recirculate warm water with PBW or a similar cleaner for about 10 minutes, then rinse for 5 minutes
It's electric: very low risk of scorching your sugars with a normal amount of stirring.
Efficiency of design: the mash is contained within an inner cylinder with a false bottom. Once the mash is over, hoist the inner cylinder to the rim of the kettle, and small feet suspend the mash over the kettle while you sparge. That way, you can flip the switch to boil and quickly heat up the wort as it filters through the grain bed. This can save a lot of time.


Not really a con, but RTFM: Seriously, they've all but idiot-proofed the system and a quick glance at the instructions will take all the guess work out of operation
Pump filter cap: I bet they could make it a lot harder to remove if they tried
It's electric: if you're brewing in the middle of the storm of the century or off the grid in a cabin in the woods somewhere, you'll need a backup generator
Sparge water: You'll need to heat your sparge water on a stove somewhere since the kettle is going to be in use at that point
A little pricey: Dr. Jeckyll's has about as good a price as anyone currently selling (especially when you factor in picking it up locally versus shipping costs), but it's still a little on the high side. You may consider putting your old system on Craigslist to offset the cost.

The Weihenstephaner clone accompanying a
berlinerweisse and special editions of the RIS

I brewed a porter on the system the following week with a much higher degree of success. Both beers turned out great, and I can easily say that the Grainfather allowed a much more enjoyable and less physically demanding brew day. If you'd like to try out the system for yourself, stop by Dr. Jeckyll's Beer Lab in Pantego (Arlington), and ask Scott to set up a Saturday brew session. I might even poke my head in the door and see what kind of shenanigans I can get us into!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Labor of Love & Pop Up Art Festival Recap


Many of you have probably heard from our many facebook posts that our Russian Imperial Stout won the silver medal in its category at Deep Ellum's Labor of Love Homebrew Competition and Festival. Our first hardware! The judges score sheets commended the balance achieved between a large malt presence and just the right amount of bitterness to keep the finish somewhat dry. We are very happy with the results, and Amanda has advised that we brew this year-round to keep up a steady supply.

Judges' Comments

The festival was tons of fun. We want to thank everyone who stopped by and sampled our beer. We brought our Palo Alto Wit and a clone of Weihenstephan Hefeweissbier that we dubbed Hurricane Hefe (to keep with our nautilus-inspired spiral mantra), and a few bottles of the stout. We thought no one would want to drink stout when it's 100 degrees out, but we ran out of stout within the first hour! Everyone saw our medal and wanted a taste.

Beerhemoth in action!

The beerhemoth performed beautifully. After setting up at 3pm and packing out at about 10:30, there was still plenty of ice around each keg. The beer coming out of each tap was just the right temperature, and a lot of the foaming issues other folks had using standard jockey boxes did not rear their ugly heads for us. The hefeweizen was a little over-carbonated, which isn't a terrible thing for the style, but we were able to pour the perfect sample by dispensing into a small pitcher before pouring each taste. This is a standard trick of the trade for beers with high carbonation (into the 3.0+ volumes realm).

Our "menu"

We had a great time sampling everyone else's homebrew. I want to give a shout out to Steel Rain Brewing to congratulate them on the GOLD medal they won for their Saison. Seriously, that was an amazing Saison. Easily the best I've ever tasted. Great job, y'all! We should collaborate one of these Aggie game days and brew up something good.

We also had the opportunity to pour our homebrew for fellow Arlingtonians at the #CreateArlington Pop Up Art & Music Festival this past weekend. We met tons of great folks who had very kind remarks on our beers. We brought what was left of the Hefe, the Wit, a few bottles of RIS (those are starting to get scarce!), and the pale ale we brewed for our friend's bachelor party this summer. We had several folks who were self-proclaimed "not beer people" comment on how they could actually taste this stuff and that they really liked it. We met a nice young family who had recently returned to North Texas from a few years living in Houston, and they were relieved at the advances in the craft beer scene in the time they had been away. We even had a few globe-trotting beer fans tell us the hefeweizen tasted just like the German wheat beer they remember from their trip across the pond. Everywhere we pour, we're just as excited to talk beer as people seem eager to try it!

Many fine folks asked how they could get a hold of New Main homebrew at the Pop Up Festival. Unfortunately, TABC laws prohibit the sale of homebrew unless I obtain a manufacturer's license. While a commercial venture may be some time off in the future, we are planning on producing some cool New Main gear for both homebrewers and craft beer fans alike very soon. In the mean time, if you happen to be in the neighborhood on a brew day, I'll be happy to pour you some homebrew and talk beer with you.

We want to thank everyone who has supported us thus far. In all honesty, the thing I love most about homebrewing is sharing beer and memories with all of you. You make all the hours of hard work in my precious free time worth it with every sip and each read. Thank you all for being excellent beer fans!