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!