I told myself I wouldn’t finish writing this post until I drank the second bottle of Lambic ‘BHall’ from Brouwerji-chugach sent over from Maine. Well here I sit, in bed, with 1/8th of my glass left. My initial notes are below, but my pallette is likely much cleaner than previously – no other tastings, had cider previously – so I wanted to take a quick ‘second look’.

Lambic – 9/10; simply put: superb, verbose: not overly tart/sour (as many of my wild ales lean toward) making for a shockingly drinkable beer with mellow ‘green apple’ flavors, it smells like funk and a barrel had sweet babies crafting  an amalgam to simply draw intrigue – lemon rind, vanilla, light malt, and that ever elusive ‘cherry pie’. Honestly, if his brewery – once it starts – churns out beers like this, I’ll be bragging to everyone that I knew him when.


Now for the first tasting. My [sometimes] brew buddy and his wife stopped over at our “new” place along with a long 10 beer flight with some recent brews, and not so recent, along with BHall’s choice options (lambic, gueuze).

Our flight:

Grapefruit Wheat (GFW), OLY-500 with Pummelo Grapefruit rind and meats and thyme flowers ‘dry hopped’

Summer Stouts (ss04/05), split batch of first attempt at “warm weather” stout – US05 vs S04

Belgian Pale (BP2), “beta” pitch of 100% brett pitches from Omega Yeast labs, second floor version – high heat

Wine Hybrids: Saison with Sav Blanc must added and pitched with EYC20 (20), ECY01(01), WL670 (670) or Cuvree (cuv)


  • GFW – 8/10; Very grapefruit forward, light spice
  • BP2 – 6-7/10; lots of ‘malt’; herbal, earthy
  • ss04 – 7/10; chocolate nose w/ “semi-sweet palate”, nutty?, stone fruit
  • ss05 – 7.5/10; more “stout”, grain forward
  • 20 – 8/10; funk/sour nose, smells VERY tart but is reserved on the palate
  • 01 – 6/10; floral nose w/ overipe fruit, quite tart, “nerds”, ‘drink one’
  • 670 – 8.5/10; fruit salad nose, very “sweet/sour” along the palate
  • cuve – 3/10; sulfur nose, palate: smooth very nice, like a “malty wine”
  • lambic – 9/10; “barrel” nose, vanilla, lightly sweet meets a nice mellow sourness, VERY drinkable
  • gueuze 8.5/10; “vanilla” nose w/ a touch of sulfur; under ripe apple, a more ‘tame’ version of the lambic


  • GFW – 7/10; sour grape fruit after taste, wheat at the top w/ a subtle sour note
  • BP 2 – 7/10; caramel, malty, earthy, dry
  • s04 – 8-9/10; coffee, caramel, malty, nutty
  • s05 – 9/10; semi-sour, very nutty, hint chocolate
  • 20 – 8/10; sour nose, grapefruit, clove hint of banana, citrus, vanilla aftertaste
  • 01 – 5/10; sour nose, overripe fruit, tart (like drinking nerds)
  • 670 – 7/10; stone fruit nose
  • cuv – na/10; n/a
  • lambic – honey, touch of citrus, oak, vanilla
  • gueuze – honey, oak, green banana, vanilla


  • GFW – 8/10; sour, bitter, fizzy, champagne, grapefruit
  • ss04 – 8/10; peach, caramel, coffee, nutty, smooth
  • ss05 – 5/10; sour, acidity, salty
  • bp2 – 6/10; cocoa, malt, bitter, green
  • 20 – 10/10; light crisp, citrus, lemon
  • 01 – 6/10; spice, tart, sweet, dessert
  • 670 – 5/10; dry, citrus, grapefruit
  • cuv – n/a; sulfur, dry, sour
  • lambic – 9/10; honey, grapefruit, green, lemon, vanilla
  • gueuze – 7/10; tart, oak, fruit

Some had obvious favorites – but a pretty decent spread of beers that makes up the current profile. My surprise: the summer stout is really quite fantastic, none of that “acidity” found in many of my earlier stouts – how? Adding the chocolate malt with the sparge, wouldn’t have thought it, but it’s a huge difference – a nice mellow actual chocolate/coffee profile. I am no master taster by any stretch, but my brew buddy is burgeoning and his wife has never done anything like it before which gave me a good spread on experience and expectations, a nice swath I’d like the replicate in the future.

If life is what you make of it, then I’ve been a ship adrift.

More updates to come in a way to make it more obvious I give a damn about this whole thing. I’ve made the claim I care for not much save for my writing and brewing. Two days ago, my brew sheet was wayward – missing many new items and feeling empty, I haven’t written a lick save for the paragraph in the clumsy sci-fi piece I’ve now started, and I haven’t been keeping up with blogs at work, and here we are. Time’s up. Put it back together again and move on, head down.

On to the interesting parts anyone cares about: I crafted a few recipes and have been tilling the field of my mind for future ideas. Here they are in order.

Grapefruit Saison

2014-06-17 09.42.56

My dear uncle shipped a box full of massive white grapefruits from his tree placed in the shadow of the San Jacinto Mountains to our house whereupon I ate a couple and peeled, juiced and froze the rest. There it sat, moving from cold box to cold box and finally jumped its way into a brew I was cobbling together. What started as a grapefruit wheat met my dear love for OLY-500 and I kept the train rolling. OLY-500 vs Roeselare (Gen 3) this go; the former received ~1oz of fresh thyme from the garden at Southport, it’s simply wonderful, mellow grapefruit flavor met with peppery/lemon saison – easily a favorite – rest was ‘gifted’ via Keg. Roeselare version is untouched and needs packaging.

Summer Stout

2014-06-24 10.27.01

Simple point: I don’t enjoy many (nearly all) stouts. Very few. I want to love them, truly. My brewer-in-crime has love for them, so in my soul search and his admiration we came to an agreement on trying to bridge summer and stout. Before comments are mashed in the little box below, I’m well aware stouts are beloved all times of year. But the sheer truth is most beer drinkers are not reaching for a pint of the black in the throes of dog days. A fellow homebrewer mentioned a short steep of dark malt to nix the harsh acidity and his Black IPA was a testament to that. This mash got a dose of chocolate malt added at sparge only. The kettle was a murky river brown but was likely due to the heavy amount of wheat. Clarity will make it right. US05 vs S04.

Brett Mower

2014-07-01 11.35.57This idea started with knowing a cool summer only last so long and my itch to brew a “normal” pale was bubbling up. Homebrew Club was put to test a pitch of Omega Yeast Lab’s ‘beta’ brett mixtures – supposedly a Fantome and Trio mix. I threw some turbinado to round it out, a pinch of 120 and chocolate (for very light color) in the mash, and likely way too much fresh Thyme leaves in at boil’s end at. The Thyme went into the hot liquid and filled the small back room with an almost liquorice-lemon smell which make my heart plummet to sad places. We’ll see how those Brett fellows get on with the oils. This split is 2nd floor (70-80 f) vs basement (solid low 60s f) – an attempt to gauge the profile better.

Brewhouse Update

2014-06-17 09.24.37

Things slated for installation: fan, NG tie in. In process: Weldless 3-tier strut stand, tile back-splash, fermentation fridge. Components to each set, but progress. And I spilled about 2# of unmalted wheat that has sprouted and started to really grow over a handful of weeks.

Ever onward.


In a strange busy-street-meeting-another-oddly section of Chicago that seems forgotten, in a windowless… lets say office, science is happening. Among rows of jugs on stir plates, flying air hoses, is a small chemlab strewn about 100 sqft is Omega Yeast Labs. The first of its kind in Chicago and the midwest. But that isn’t the focus of our short tale – it’s their hybrid saison yeast.

Far beyond my comprehension is the development and breeding of yeasts and their inability to sex one another for some sort of reason. Most yeast labs work their way around that by crafting blends, Omega has basically crafted an entirely new strain by getting two unattractive partners to mate. The two partners: the famed 3711 and notorious staller 3724. 3711 is known for it’s simply lovely pepper meets citrus, where 3724 plays a bubblegum and mild fruit. OYL-500 does both.

Honestly – it’s wonderful.

At a local homebrew club meeting he came by and sold off a heap of pitches to the masses, I missed the meeting, but went to the “lab” to pick mine up. I got one for B Hall and one for me. I slated a wheat beer for Mary’s and pitched OYL-500 at let it roll in the low 60s. Back at the next LHBC meeting, many versions of the hybrid yeast were showcased – all with impressionable heavy pink-bubblegum flavor. Not that I don’t enjoy that profile, but having a full 4 gallons made me worry.

Time passed, I bottled my version and cracked one a last week, and in a word: elegant. The other half of the batch was wb-06 (a wheat yeast) with vanilla and lavender so comparison is muddled at best; but it’s refreshing in a ‘cannot wait for 90f’ kind of way. Dry, but not sharp – I bottled it with 3vols of co2 for a punchy sparkler. The pepper is mild and more misc “spice” than anything, with a kind of nodding floral note that I just adore.

Due to its ‘newness’ and pain-in-the-ass-to-getabiltiy, it’s unlikely to become my go-to saison yeast, but it will for sure have a home in my summer saisons. OYL-500 is complex enough yet not overbearing to gain my admiration and will keep a keen eye on getting more (after I wear my collection out).

My hit list series is a kind of quick-list of things I’d like to accomplish. This go-round: fruit/spices added – in brackets are possible style applications.

  • Pomegranates (again) [saison, wheat]
  • Cherries [wild]
  • Figs [saison, wild, wheat]
  • Blackberries [wheat]
  • Dates [IPA, Pale, Stout]
  • Elderberries [Pale]
  • Raisins [brown ale]
  • Earl Gray Tea [IPA, saison]
  • Apples [cider, mead]
  • Plums [saison, wild, stout]
  • Grapes (again) [wild, saison]
  • Tamarind [saison]
  • Lavender (again) [wheat]
  • Nuts [brown, porter]
  • Herbal Tea blends [saison]
  • Mole [stout]
  • Dandelion [wine]
  • Ginger [stout]
  • Juniper [IPA]
  • Vanilla (again) [mead, pale]
  • Chocolate/coco nibs [stout, porter, wild]

Most have a place in the beer doc and will be addressed soon. What is on your “hit list?”

It wasn’t so long ago that I could futz around for a half hour during Finn’s nap or a rack a beer to a keg at any time I wanted. This helped focus my ‘brew day’ whereas now I’m stuck doing as much as humanly possible before I have to leave to either end up driving in traffic or having my son fall asleep (as in bedtime) in the car. Today my prep-work paid off (and a huge help from Gary) – I brewed and kept focus there but did humdrum tasks (like label, eat lunch, start soaking bottles, organize) between hop additions, sparging, and mash-in. To make things seemingly more astounding – I finished early, had time to hang out, used a candy thermometer (b/c I forgot the thermapen again), protein rest, and generally had a damn nice day. Historically, I’m running around being dumb. So finally, a really nice day.

So, what did I make? The first of the solera.

2014-06-03 09.05.08

Simple enough, save for a mildly irritating hiccups. Smelled wonderful and had iceberg lumps of  protein from the 50% non-barley ingredients. Father-in-law was nice enough to clear out [more] space in the basement solely for this project so it’s got its own home now and everything is great. I had planned to do the 100% white wheat grapefruit saison, but rice hulls were on hold for a spell. Next time – it’ll be a summer beer anyway.

A quick note before getting into more ‘fun’ – I crafted a quick and dirty sparge arm from an old tube and a hose clamp. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

2014-06-03 11.39.20

The good stuff: A stand and more ‘accommodating’ brewery in the garage space is coming. Last week, I asked about the NG line running to the central heat system as an option to replace the LP tanks. Turns out Gary is/was pretty interested in this idea (as he’s pledged to keep the tanks full), and is going to reach out to a neighbor to plumb the line. Fast forward to this afternoon where talking up potentials got interesting. A stainless steel wall covering (for fire protection), operable windows, vent hoods, fans, a brew stand, were all floated and none batted down – hell, he even said “the landlord is responsible [sometimes] for upgrades.” Sweet mary. Homework starts now – ideally: a firewall/backsplash of some sort with a three-tier gravity system, hood and at least one window with the ability to open. Needless to say, I’ve got a bit of homework and reading to do, but open to ideas if you have them.

Good news abound. Well traveled.

First, let’s get a small detail out-of-the-way: All of my brew equipment is about an hour and half west from where I live. The long and short of it is my Father-in-law houses it all and watches my son while I do my thing. It works great.2014-05-09 11.20.14

With that said, making the trek out and forgoing a brew is odd. Driving that far with a toddler in tow forces unorthodox kettle fire times (8am) and ‘forced’ do-everything kind of brew days. Kegging has made transferring easy, but now that I’m ushering it off to my brother-in-law, things will likely change some. As it stands now, I will nearly never set a brew day solo; doing just a brew would be fine but because everything is bookended with a commute, I squeeze every single possible activity in so I’m not feeling as though I could have done more.

Which makes the past couple of visits even more strange. Friday, I spent a day bottling 10 gallons (2x 4gal Amber, 2x 1gal House variants). Then came Tuesday, where we spent just the early afternoon and I bottled 4 gallons and prepped. Of course, I wanted to brew, but forgot to stop for the rice hulls in making a 100% wheat beer, which helps not make one want to pull our hair during the sparge (rinsing of the grain).

So that means the brew-off, impending from the arrival of summer and the group buy is getting stacked: 100% wheat is marrying with two other styles I wanted to make – a session saison and a grapefruit wheat (featuring rind and juice of 4-5 massive family grown fruits), so there is one. Summer Stout is in the mind-cooker, a summer-solstice inspired number, the first of the solara, the… well you get the idea.

Time stops for no man. It’s time to get cooking.

For a bit of time, the idea of a solera has been rattling around in the noodle.

Like many homebrewers I only grazed the info of what other posters were talking about and pieced it together to create my kind of story. A lot of “sour soleras” for homebrewers means whipping up a massive 30-60 gallon batch, letting it age in a barrel, then at X number of months/years pull 5-15 gallons and replace with new. Headspace fills back in, you’ve got aged beer and fresh beer, it’s in a neat in a little package, and so it goes. To me this sounds like someone took the idea of what Rodenbach does with bottling for their Grand Cru and ran with it. Only, this isn’t really what on is, this a solera is:

12diagramofasolerasystem-1That. That blob of circles with arrows and all kinds of whatever the fuck. Technically, posted above is for making sherry at a particular winery, but what we’ll focus on is the bottom. Basically, you make a thing, put things in barrel and move it down and through the system to the bottom where you end up with a bunch of old product being bottled and increasingly younger product trickling down.

What does this do? Well for me, a few things. One, it’s a pretty bad ass ‘thought experiment’ put into practice. Two, it creates a blended consistent product. Three – maybe, someday,  it will create a system for having always badass delicious aged wild beer on hand.

How the hell am I going to do this? First and foremost, I’m NOT doing the lazy ‘one giant barrel’ approach. So that is out. Then I thought, brew the same beer every month for a year, then start blending down. Things get a little complicated when I want a real drinkable amount through. Why not two fermentors every two months? It suits me perfectly. I brew an unorthodox 8 gallons, and split, makes an ideal space in those amazingly cheap 5 gallon food-grade buckets widely available at hardware stores. Recently, I’ve loved the amount for blindly easy yeast experiments (more on these soon).

And, so, without further ado, my process:


Quick details: Brew 8 gallons of ‘house’ every other month for a year (solera -> 5). Bottle 4 gallons (solera), blend 2 gallons from each fermentor down newest (6) added to stack while birthing a 4 gallon one-off.

First thing one would likely notice is the painful vertical nature of my solera. I toyed with a building a ‘base’ solera first to then move build up and attempt to blend down, but this is simply a starter project. It’s really a peek into how much I’ll hate brewing the same thing over and over, how much I’d enjoy working a brewery, and an exercise in patience. I may end up not loving the idea after a year and a half and just bottle the thing and give up. It’s a working example.

The beer will be a slight variation on my personal favorite brew and attempt at crafting a ‘house’ beer – I could not think of a better candidate.

Photos, updates, and much more to follow. Brew day to follow arrival of the group grain buy.

UPDATE: 4.19.14
After a bit of thinking, prompted mostly by a ‘B’ below, and the grilling from my wife on why we needed 48 gallons in ‘the pipe.’ I worked on a new “design” of the solera:

Update: 1.11.15
#1 and #2 stages are done and #3 is to be brewed in short order.

A quick update and a thought on a possible future plan.

After a spill of a large measure of mash, an hour or so of clean up and a boil that ran long – I ended up with v2 of the house beer pitched sometime in December. A month, looking back now, full of mild days and a single heavy snow. This batch was split, 5 gallons to a fresh pitch of WL670 (a favorite), and a slow-to-start starter  in 2 x 1 gallon batches of the earlier 670 pitch from ‘house v1’, one got a whole mess of honey to bring it into braggot territory and the other received arils from two Aldi pomegranates. Where it all lives at my father in Law’s is a low-temp riding shindig in the ‘warmest’ place in the house at barely 60f. These will mellow, tart up, and relax until the green spouting days of spring and warmer temps before being stuffed into bottles.

Another brew day involved a split batch (seeing a pattern?) between a Kölsch strain and Rosealare. I’ve pitched a long use 4th generation (to me) culture of the latter in a wort to a grand kaleidoscope of funk, tart, and pucker. This brew day kicks off my first real journey into my progress into larger split batches (4 gallons each) and will likely be the future of where I go as a brewer. It is much too tempting to boil one wort and end up with two dichotomous beers that resemble mere shadows of what they were at conception. The road is long, windy, and will fork often.

An ideal segue to collaboration beer with a Chicago home brewer done on MLK jr day of this year (2014). 20 gallons of wort met 4 different yeasts: ECY01, ECY20, WL670 (G2), & Côte des Blancs (dry white wine yeast). At high krausen must from a sav blanc kit is pitched. A nod to the wild of the past – blends, farmhouse ales, etc – with a heavy horse-head-flick to the wild future – brett blends, yeast splits, etc. Will hopefully all be bottled and cellared. Time will tell.

On to the next big project: homebrew solera. After attempting to acquire a bourbon barrels, a wine barrel, ruminating on smaller sized barrels all for a sort-of bastardized version of a solera, I had a thought experiment posed to me and pointed me in a new direction. Imagine with me then, a solera consisting of six carboys (or buckets), sour yeasts (tbd), and a simple base. Simply start and fill a bucket every two months, after one year bottle 1/2 of the first – now one year old, top off the 1/2 empty carboy with a blend of the rest and top those off with a fresh brew. As I write this, I’m not sure how 2-6 are getting pulled and will have to work this out more. But as you can see it’s going to get complicated at first go, but will pay off in dividends – I’ll have aged sour at the ready every two months. Kinks will be worked, the future looks bright.

Here in a list is all things bubbling.

.5 gal – pear cider – natural fermentation
.5 gal – (mixed grape) wine – 5 day natural fermentation, then cote des blancs
5 gal – apple cider – natural fermentation
5 gal – apple cider – s-04
5 gal – mead – EC118/Red Star Champagne dual pitched
1 gal – mead – EC118
1 gal – mead – Red Star Champagne
1 gal – mead – ‘Blonde blend’ w/ cherries added

5 gal – Quad – Wy3787, will oak and pitch brett blend
5 gal – Coffee Porter – WLP400, adding cold brewed Metropolis Medium Roast to keg

That is just what is fermenting/ed.

Tuesday, an IPA with 2012 experimental hops for good measure. Will have to work on vetting a recipe this weekend. I may also bring back all the yeast and my yeast culturing biz to start ranching that week.

I love this hobby.

An aside: the blog has fallen to the wayside because work is taking over any time I wish I had and when I’m not working – I’m not writing, I’m playing a game because I don’t even want to write for myself. It’s work. Well, get on the horse. Practice makes perfect. Now, beer making.

While stationed at the fringe of the Chicago suburbs at my mother’s house for a month – I knew I wanted to brew and brew I did. I’ll try and remember most of the brew day(s) but this post is coming nearly two months so stick with me and you’ll make some tasty beer as well.

First, the reading. Like with all the beer I brew I do at least some digging in finding those who have forged the river before me. Those newer to brewing, do this, but you may already be doing so reading this – so good on ya. I found some info on Wikipedia [link], a couple of guys on HBT [#1, #2], and just about anywhere I could. This was not my first sour mash so I knew the routine, it was the % of grains that were a bit fuzzy. Nevertheless, here is where I landed:

Amt                           Name / %
6 lbs 12.0 oz          Pilsner (2 row) (Gambrinus) (1.6 SRM) / 64.2 %
2 lbs 8.0 oz            Corn, Flaked (1.3 SRM)  / 23.8 %
1 lbs                          Rye Malt (4.7 SRM) /  9.5 %
2.1 oz                       Chocolate Wheat Malt (400.0 SRM) / 1.2 %
2.1 oz                       Crystal 75, 2-Row, (Great Western) (75.0 SRM) / 1.2 %

Kentucky Common Mash

Then came the mash in. Just like in the hybrid sour mash [link] I had previously used, I started with a standard mash in schedule. Mashing in during the morning, I aimed for 148°f, but hit a few degrees high. From there acid malt was forgot for this particular step on this sour mash, so it simply became a more traditional sour mash where I allowed the mash to sit nearly all day and added a handful of crushed grain in the evening with the idea of hitting the magic 100°f mark which lacto loves so much. A sanitized plastic wrap across the top of the mash allows for less O2. This is to avoid spoilage microbes to flourish and keep those in the air from getting into the mess. I then sat the kettle on top of my mother’s pre-auto-off heating pad and a thick blanket I use to insulate my mashes, covered it all up and walked away for the evening.

Sour Mashing

This is where a lot of people would complain about the smell of the mash, but between the two – the “worst” smell I’ve had is way-over-ripe pineapple. That’s it. I also check mine often making sure to keep the souring mash at 100°f. This is less than easy without a temperature controller so keep an eye on it if you do no own one (like me). For this sour mash, a short 18 hour souring period was what I planned for as it wouldn’t be as ‘lemonade-y’ as the Berliner Weisse. The wort smelled like toasty pineapple and a freshly cracked plain yogurt.

Fly sparge

The sparge was super easy and I even fly sparged for the first time. Ballsy. Boiling was a short 30min with two ounces of hops at the start only. Uneventful and likely too late in the evening to care about smells, I think I was too focused on keeping the mosquitoes from ravaging my body.

Boiling Kentucky Common

Fermentation was during a sudden cool spell that ended up working perfectly for me. A pitched sachet of K-97, a pretty clean and dead simple dry yeast that I thought would fit the ‘heritage’ of the brew. The heat kicked up again after it was close to being done but it wasn’t taken for a tumble and just finished a touch lower than anticipated. It was then kegged and an ounce and half of medium french oak cubes were placed in for a week. I tasted it through the oaking and found day 7 right where I thought the ‘wood’ and vanilla held just a whisper in the spinning anamorphic flavor profile in the glass.

The first few pours were confusing to the senses. It always, always poured a muddy, dredged-from-a-creek-bed, brown. Which to say that I’m not afraid of having hazy beer, but the sight is just too much like pond water. The smell is deceptively sweet with cracks of fresh lemon from lacto. My first impressions were that I wouldn’t likely try it again. It was too odd and pulled in too many directions at once but after about a month it sat slowly dwindling it calmed down. Either I began to pull apart its layers or it just simply grew on me or it just became an amazing (easily one of my favorite) beers is beyond my simple mind – but the thing was astounding.

An undertone of caramel with a ‘just this side of tart’ pared against a backdrop of looming oaky vanilla. The yeast stepped to the side but was not outmatched and made for a clean drinking low-but not invisible ester profile. Drinkable in a way the Berliner never was: complex, deep, and rich with new flavors each take. A beer I will love to revisit soon, likely a perfect candidate for early spring or fall.