Thumbspike Saison 2.1

The Lake Arrowhead Brewfest is coming up in August, and I’ll be there with the Horse Thief Brewing Association to serve up some tasty homebrews! I’ve promised two beers–one is the second iteration of my raspberry Belgian, and the other is my wild hop saison! I recently kicked the keg on this one, and I was overall pretty pleased with it.

The latest version of Thumbspike Saison is virtually identical to the last, with only a few very minor changes. First, I did a mix of Bohemian and Belgian pilsner malt for the grist, because my floor-malted Bohemian pilsner malt was nearly gone. Second, I ditched the rice hulls from the grist, because the percentage of wheat was so low as to be a non-issue for sparging (and this was proven in the easy collection of the first and second runnings). Finally, I modified the hop schedule very slightly to try and increase the hop character in the brew.


Thumbspike Saison 2.1

  • 5.25 lbs. Château Pilsen malt (Castle Malting)
  • 4 lbs. floor-malted Bohemian pilsner malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.75 lbs. Munich I malt (Weyermann)
  • 0.75 lbs. white wheat malt (Great Western Malting Co.)
  • 1 oz. Carafa Special II (Weyerman)
  • 1.1 oz. whole wild hops (5.8% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 0.5 oz. whole wild hops (5.8% alpha), 10 minute boil
  • 1 oz. whole wild hops (5.8% alpha), 2 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
  • 2 pkg. French Saison Ale dry yeast (Mangrove Jack’s M29)

Target Parameters

  • 1.056 o.g., 1.003 f.g., 7.0% abv, 26 IBU, 7 SRM, 5.5 gallons into the fermenter
  • 90 minute mash at 148°, batch sparge, 60 minute boil


  • To use up my RO water and thin out the Claremont waters a bit, I added 1.5 gallons with 2.2 gallons of tap water for my mash water. I heated it up to 160°, added the water to the mash tun, and let it slide to 157°, before adding the grains. This hit a mash temperature of 148.3°, which was down to 144° after 90 minutes.
  • After 90 minutes, I added 1.2 gallons of water at 170°, let it rest for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the first runnings. I then added 3.5 gallons of water at 170°, let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the remainder of the runnings.
  • In total, I collected 6.75 gallons with a gravity of 1.048, for 80% efficiency.
  • I aimed for a 60 minute boil, adding the various hops and finings per the schedule.
  • After 60 minutes, I turned off the flame and started chilling. Once I hit 85° (which is pretty close to the limit of what I can chill with our water during the summertime!), I transferred to the primary fermenter and pitched the yeast.
  • I brewed this beer on June 25, 2017. Starting gravity was 1.055, nearly exactly hitting my target gravity.
  • I plan to ferment at ambient temperature, which is around 75°. It will probably sit for a few weeks, because I am in no particular rush to get this batch on tap.
Posted in hops, saison | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Beer Tasting: Hell Creek Amber Ale 1.1


Hell Creek Amber Ale, appropriately served in a fossil-themed glass

The keg is gone barely a week for my wild hop amber ale, so it’s better late than never in posting this review. Also, I bottled up a few of these and enjoyed sharing them with some folks at Homebrew Con (including a paleontologist or two)!

  • Aroma
    • Malt dominates the aroma, with malty-sweet toffee and light caramel character. No appreciable yeast or hop character.
  • Appearance
    • Very clear beer with a deep amber color. The head is ivory in color, and settles down to a low but persistent quality.
  • Flavor
    • Hoppiness dominates on the front end of the flavor, and persists throughout the tasting and into the finish. The hop character is fairly herbal, and the bitterness has a slight rough edge to it. The malts come across moderately, with a caramel and bready quality. There is a minerally character to this, and next time I’ll probably adjust the water a bit to lower that. 100 percent Claremont tap water apparently doesn’t work with this recipe!
  • Mouthfeel
    • Moderate body and moderate carbonation. The finish tends toward the dry and bitter side.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • This is an improvement, certainly, on the last version of this beer. I think it was a good move to ditch the special B. This is an interesting beer, because I “have” to brew it within some self-imposed constraints (only Montana/South Dakota ingredients). I would say that the beer doesn’t age entirely well, probably due to the high percentage of caramel malts, and had a bit of an oxidized note towards the end of the keg. For the next iteration of this recipe (assuming there is a next, of course!), I’ll probably switch up the grain bill and see what other amber ale recipes are out there. The caramel is just a touch heavy in this for my tastes. As noted above, I’ll also play with the water a bit.
  • Overall
    • 6.5/10
Posted in amber ale, hops, tastings | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beer Tasting: Thumbspike Saison 2.0

20170623_160401I managed to do a tasting with the very last glass of this! Talk about good timing.

  • Appearance
    • Thick white head, with excellent persistence. The beer itself is medium gold, with a slight haze.
  • Aroma
    • Tart aroma, with a hint of breadiness behind that.
  • Flavor
    • Pleasantly tart and very slightly fruity, with a bready maltiness that is quite pleasant. This is a moderately bitter beer, although the bitterness has a slight rough edge to it. I’ll blame the wild hops for that.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Light bodied, moderately high carbonation, and a nice dry finish.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • This is a surprisingly nice beer! I’m not sure what I expected, but in the end it turned out pretty good, especially with a bit of maturation. In the future, I might play with the hop bill, to take a bit of the “edge” off (probably due to the wild hops), but as a ‘gimmick’ beer this ain’t half bad! I like how the yeast worked in this one — the dominant tartness with a bit of fruitiness behind that makes for a tasty combination. It’s a bit different from the slightly more clove-y flavor I get from traditional Belgian saison yeasts, and I rather enjoyed it. Thumbs up for the Mangrove Jack M29 saison strain!
  • Overall
    • 7/10
Posted in saison, tastings | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Day 3 of Homebrew Con

This was the big day! I started off the morning with my seminar, “The Dinosaur in Your Homebrew.” For being at 9 am on the morning after club night, I had a fairly decent crowd–around 50 to 75 people. Martin Brungard introduced me, augmented by a special guest appearance from T. rex. (quite a surprise!) Then, I rolled into the content of the talk. Overall, I felt like it went pretty well. There are a few things I would tweak (I forget to mention some of the technical updates on names for formations contributing to the Burton aquifer), but I am always my own worst critic! I was pleased to see a few “big names” in the audience, and equally pleased to chat with a few folks afterwards on topics related to my presentation.


The speaker gift was pretty cool–a custom tap handle with the conference logo! The construction is nice and solid, and it will have an honored place in my tap room. Overall, my experience as a speaker was pretty positive, and I would absolutely do it again. AHA had good communication prior to the event, and made sure to have one or two people from the organization at my talk to touch base before and after the event. I particularly should acknowledge Dave Carpenter for encouraging me to submit a proposal…I did it somewhat on a whim and just before the deadline, without really any expectation of it flying, so this was a nice bonus experience!

20170617_182454Later that morning, I hit Annie Johnson’s seminar on Czech pilsners. She had lots of great content, and is a tremendously engaging and entertaining speaker. It was cool to see how “casual” the big breweries are about things like sanitation (at least for their “reference batches”), and it was a good reminder that excellent results can come from even what we homebrewers might consider appallingly primitive technique. It was also nice treat to sample some of her homebrewed Czech pilsner…it’s not often I get to try beer from well-known elite homebrewers!

I grabbed some food at the convention center, and then headed over to the scheduled online forum meetup. This was probably the only real aspect of the conference I found a bit disappointing. There wasn’t really any signage for particular forums, and so I wandered around and met one or two people, but there was never really a big group of folks like I’ve usually seen at similar events elsewhere. Ah well! Hopefully this will get changed in future years (I mentioned it in my conference feedback survey).

One of my fellow members of the Horse Thief Brewers Association (Steve J.) had an entry in the final round for the National Homebrew Competition, so I joined him at the award ceremony. I have to say I was dreading it slightly–there were a lot of awards to go through, and I was expecting an unending slog of announcements and marches to the stage. What a pleasant surprise! They kept things moving smoothly and efficiently, while still allowing each winner who was present to have their moment in the spotlight. The whole thing was finished in barely an hour–not bad at all! Although my fellow club member didn’t win, I did know the winner for the Double IPA category (Randy Sauter of Rapid City, South Dakota). It was pretty darned cool to hear his name announced, and to congratulate him afterwards. I was lucky enough to be able to sample the beer, and it was truly gold medal worthy!

The “Knockout Party” was immediately afterward, with ample homebrew available (including all of the extra bottles left over from the competition). I was interested to taste these…and surprised as to how many showed signs of aging or other flaws. This is a strong argument for rebrewing and/or careful handling prior to the competition! One fellow I met via Twitter was kind enough to share some fun sours from his collection; yet another connection I wouldn’t have made without social media.

Overall, this was a fun and educational conference. I enjoyed meeting lots of other homebrewers, learning some new techniques and tricks, and having the opportunity to present on some topics important to me. Another Homebrew Con is definitely in the cards for the future!

Posted in Homebrew Con | Tagged | Leave a comment

Day 2 of Homebrew Con

I intended to write up something after Club Night, but got back late and wanted to practice my talk one last time, so this is only getting written two days late!

In any case, Day 2 of Homebrew Con piled on some more informative seminars and product demos as well as more tasty beer.

The seminar highlight for me was on oxidation, presented by Robert Hall and Andy Mitchell. They even had samples of fresh and oxidized Fat Tire to compare, which was a really nice demo. They had tips on how to expand your oxidation vocabulary (it’s not just old cardboard or sherry; it also can manifest as honey or applesauce, among others), which was pretty useful. For those who want to experience oxidation directly, a simple demo is to take two bottles of a commercial beer (lighter beer, such as light lager or amber ale preferable), and then uncap one and leave it open for a few seconds before recapping. Leave the uncapped one at room temperature for a few days, and then compare! You should be able to pick up oxidation notes fairly easily. Finally, Andy presented some really cool data on oxidation in home bottling. He works at Fat Tire, and so has access to some sweet dissolved oxygen measuring equipment. He filled bottles from the tap using a hose without CO2 purge (like filling a growler) and a beer gun with CO2 purge, and compared their DO levels to those coming off the commercial bottle line. Surprisingly (to me), the “home-filled” bottles (even those using a tap hose!) often (but not always) had less dissolved oxygen than those from the commercial beer line! Capping on foam is probably critical. The bottle-line beers had more consistent DO levels, though, whereas the “home-filled” ones had a more variable spread of data points. Lots to think about!


Briess Malt Steeping Demo

I also saw a nice demo of the ASBC hot steep malt sensory method at the Briess booth (see picture above). I had read about this recently, and it seems like a nice way to quickly, cheaply, and easily compare malt flavor and aroma in a homebrewing environment. A PDF of their handout is available here.

In the social club, one of the local homebrewers (from the Primary Fermenters club) had a really tasty lemongrass ginger wit–it was wonderfully balanced in flavor and quite refreshing! It ranked among the more interesting and enjoyable homebrews I sampled at the conference.

For lunch, a few of us made our way out to the Utepils Brewery. It’s a really pretty space, with gorgeous tilework below the fermenters, and even more gorgeous beer on tap. I had another glass of their delightful Czech pilsner, as well as their weizen. A food truck had pasties in several delicious varieties, which complimented the beers nicely.


Inside the Utepils brewery and tap room

The day culminated with the world-famous Club Night! Numerous local and regional clubs had their best stuff on tap, with some really fun themes. I enjoyed a Big Lebowski-themed booth, as well as the Game of Thrones booth–featuring taps run through an ice wall! This being the Upper Midwest, many excellent meads were available.

Back to the room, and one more run-through of my talk to close out the day…

Tomorrow I’ll post a summary of the conferences final day!

Posted in Homebrew Con | Tagged | Leave a comment