2020 was…2020. With everything that happened, from the pandemic to presidential shenanigans, this was one of the odder brewing stretches I’ve had. My homebrewing hobby was a bit of a respite from 2020, giving me a chance to disconnect and relax. Almost as importantly, homebrewing meant I had a steady supply of fresh beer even when the store shelves were bare, or when I really didn’t want to run more errands than necessary!
Here are some of this year’s highlights:
It was hard to pick just one favorite, but Tremonia Lager stands out. The perfect level of maltiness in my version made it incredibly enjoyable, and it was ridiculously drinkable at just shy of 5% abv. More, please! In fact, I have another batch lagering right now.
Least Favorite Batch
Nothing was a complete dumper (in sharp contrast with the dumper year of 2020), although I found that the Kveik Pale Ale was the most disappointing batch. I blame my hopping strategy, not the yeast.
Experimental Recipe with Most Potential
Kveik the Keg Brown Ale was lots of fun, and turned out surprisingly well. If I have Hornindal Kveik on hand in the future, I’ll likely do more in this flavor space.
Most Fun New Style/Recipe to Try
“Favorite Batch” Tremonia Lager also wins this category! It was a new-to-me style (Dortmunder Export, a.k.a., German Helles Exportbier), and I had a lot of fun figuring out the recipe.
Upcoming Beer With Most Potential
I’ve got a few beers in the fermenter or keg that are still waiting to be put on tap, including a German pils, that rebrew of Tremonia Lager, a Scottish-esque ale, and a double IPA (clone of Avery Brewing’s Maharaja IPA). They’re all full of promise, but the one I’m most excited for is “Off the Rails Belgian IPA”. It’s currently in its second week of fermentation, as an attempt at a clone of Houblon Chouffe. It’s a pretty high octane beer, well on target to hit around 10% abv. The batch is going to condition for awhile before being ready to serve, probably a month or two at least. I imagine that this is going to be a beer that I’ll finish fairly slowly, and may not even put it on tap at the main keezer, but will just pull off a glass now and then using a picnic tap.
Best Technique Added to Repertoire
A few months ago, I transitioned to electric brewing, which has enabled mash recirculation as well as easier step mashing. I’m still on the learning curve, but the curve is starting to flatten out a bit. The brew day rhythm is locking into place, and I’ve steadily gotten more efficient with each batch.
Best Ingredient Added to Repertoire
As mentioned above, kveik was a fun yeast space to play around in. I made three batches with it–a pale ale, a brown ale, and my holiday ale. It really does live up to the hype of fermenting cleanly and quickly.
I’ switched entirely to stainless steel fermenters, after years of glass carboy use. Safety was a big concern, as well as ease of cleaning.
I had a lot of fun in the fermented foods realm, playing with some sauerkraut and other lacto-based items.
On the commercial beverage side, I’ve been sampling a variety of non-alcoholic options. They’re not a complete substitute for alcoholic beverages, but are a bit more interesting flavor-wise.
I brewed 34 batches of beer this year, with around 160 gallons into kegs.
German Pils was my most frequently brewed style, with four batches. American pale ale followed, with three batches. American IPA, Dortmunder Export, Irish stout, and kölsch-style beers had two batches each. Lagers as a group comprised slightly more than a third of my overall brewing this year.
Overall beer strength was pretty middle-of-the-road, with a target starting gravity averaging 1.053 (median=1.048). My highest starting gravity was 1.105, for my homebrew club’s imperial stout barrel project. The lowest starting gravity was 1.031, for the Berliner Weisse.
My beer tastes run towards the lighter, lower-alcohol side, but I sure do like a nice and robust beer in that stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. I just finished the keg of Stygimoloch Bock, and this year’s Christmas Warmer went on tap in its place.
The goal for this batch was to have something with a bit of character and a bit of kick. I wanted a rich malt character, alongside a bit of spice. I looked through Gordon Strong’s Modern Homebrew Recipes, and found “Christmas Beer” as an inspiration. The malt proportions in my version are pretty similar to Strong’s recipe, but I did a ton of swapping for brand and even malt type. Golden Promise got replaced by Vienna, and Belgian Aromatic got swapped out for Honey Malt, among other things. The original recipe is far more English in character, including the hops and yeast, and I did away with that entirely! Instead of English ale yeast, I brought in Hornindal kveik. My logic was that its orange/citrus qualities would fill that space of orange zest in Strong’s recipe. Plus, I had the kveik on-hand, and thought it would be a fun variation.
Because this was a pretty experimental batch, and because I didn’t want ridiculous amounts of a spiced beer, I knocked the recipe back to 2.5 gallons. This gave me a chance to do a test-run for a small batch on my Foundry system. I quite like the result, but am glad that I don’t have endless quantities of it. Even a good spiced ale is best as a treat in moderation!
Christmas Warmer 2020
3.5 lb. Vienna malt (Weyermann)
1 lb. Munich II malt (Weyermann)
1 lb. honey malt (Gambrinus)
0.5 lb. Caramunich I malt (Weyermann)
0.5 lb. caramel 40° malt (Briess)
0.5 lb. flaked barley
2 oz. chocolate malt (Briess)
1 lb. honey, 1 minute boil
1 oz. robust molasses (Grandma’s Brand)
1 oz. Cascade whole hops (5.5% alpha), 30 minute boil
1 tsp. Fermax yeast nutrient, 10 minute boil
1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
Steeping spices (steeped for 10 minutes after boil)
Claremont water, with Campden tablet to remove chloramines.
I mashed in (using my Anvil Foundry) with 4.5 gallons of water at 160°, adding 2.5 mL of 88% lactic acid to adjust pH. I let this settle down to 154°, mashing for 50 minutes with recirculation. I then raised the mash to 168° over 10 minutes, let it rest for 10 minutes, removed the grains, and brought the runnings to a boil.
The mash yielded 4 gallons of wort at 1.041, for 62% mash efficiency. This was a bit below where I wanted to be, so I added 0.5 lb. of extra light DME, to raise the gravity.
I boiled for 60 minutes, adding the hops and other ingredients per the schedule.
After the boil but before chilling the wort, I steeped the spices in a bag for 10 minutes.
I cooled down to ~80°, transferred to the fermenter, and let it run at ambient. Because it was later in fall when I brewed this, ambient was around 70° or so for the start.
Starting gravity was 1.061. I brewed the beer on 20 October 2020.
I kegged the beer on 6 November 2020, and force carbonated.
Final gravity was 1.017, which works out to 5.8% abv. I’ve noticed that this kveik strain seems to underattenuate, measuring 61% to 71% in the batches I’ve done.
Deep amber beer with some haze; pours with a persistent beige head.
Candied ginger, general spice, with a touch of citrus peel. Slight malty/biscuity character, and a slight tartness. There is a hint of cinnamon/spice as the beer warms up.
Medium-low bitterness, and a light tartness (from the kveik?). There is a subtle spice character, with a bit of cinnamon and molasses that become more prominent as the beer warms.
Medium body, moderate carbonation. The finish is off-dry and fairly smooth.
Would I brew this again?
This is a pretty good beer, but still needs a little work. For my personal conception of a “holiday beer,” I’d like a bit more base malt character. For a rebrew, I might use all Munich I as the base, and also add some dark crystal malt (maybe crystal 80 or crystal 120?). The beer could also use a little more sweetness–perhaps from lactose or crystal malt–to round out the profile. The level of bitterness is about perfect. Finally, I might change the yeast to an English ale yeast rather than kveik. In sum, this is a perfectly drinkable experiment, and will be worth a future revision.
Classic American IPA time, again! The recipe is a modest modification of my Wildfire IPA from a few months back. The malts are fairly different (crystal 40 and biscuit, instead of crystal 30), and I used light Munich instead of dark Munich malt. The hopping schedule is also adjusted, to use the clean bitterness of Magnum and all of the flavor/aroma happening in the whirlpool and dry hop. So, I suppose it’s not really a complete rebrew, but a new recipe strongly inspired by the past recipe.
The name references the C-C dry hopping, with Cascade and Chinook whole cones right in the keg. And that, in turn, is a (bad) pun on “See See Rider,” a song that originated over 100 years ago and is known to many of us because of Elvis Presley.
See See IPA
12 lb. 2-row brewer’s malt (Great Western)
1 lb. Munich light malt (Chateau)
0.5 lb. crystal 40 malt (Great Western)
0.25 lb. biscuit malt (Dingemans)
1.4 oz. Magnum hop pellets (13.2% alpha), 45 minute boil
1 tsp. Fermax, 10 minute boil
1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
1 oz. Cascade whole hops (5.5% alpha), 15 minute whirlpool
0.5 oz. Chinook whole hops (13.1% alpha), 15 minute whirlpool
0.4 oz. Centennial hop pellets (9.3% alpha), 15 minute whirlpool
1 pkg. American West Coast Ale yeast (Lallemand BRY-97)
1.5 oz. Chinook whole hops (13.1% alpha), dry hop in keg
1 oz. Cascade whole hops (5.5% alpha), dry hop in keg
1.057 s.g., 1.011 f.g., 6.1% abv, 7 SRM, 67 IBU
Infusion mash, 150°, full volume; 60 minute boil
Claremont water, with Campden tablet to remove chloramines.
I heated 7.5 gallons of mash water to 157°, and added the grains to hit a target mash temperature of 150° for 60 minutes. I added 10 mL of 88% lactic acid to adjust pH.
After a 60 minute mash with recirculation, I ramped the temperature up to 168° over 10 minutes, and held it there for 10 minutes more. Next, I removed the grains and started heating to the boil.
I had approximately 6.5 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.050, for 64% mash efficiency.
I boiled for 60 minutes, adding hops and finings per the recipe.
After 60 minutes, I added the whirlpool hops and recirculated for 15 minutes, before continuing to chill.
I transferred the wort to the fermenter, and let it chill down to 68° in the fermentation chamber, before pitching the yeast.
I brewed this beer on 14 November 2020. Starting gravity was 1.055.
I kegged the beer on 1 December 2020, adding whole dry hops directly to the keg. I have the hop screen adapter for my Clear Beer Draft System, and thought I’d give it a try.
Final gravity was 1.012, for 5.7% abv. This batch came pretty close to hitting targets!
Deep gold and fairly clear, with just a smidge of haze at the time of this writing. It has cleared up surprisingly wel! The beer pours with a persistent but modest off-white head.
There are definitely Chinook hops in this! Hop aroma is at the forefront, with a heavy spicy, herbal, and slightly dank character. I don’t pick up much for citrus notes, although I could be convinced there is grapefruit as part of it. There is a hint of caramel malt character, but that’s very much in the background. No yeast character is evident.
Flavor is dominated by the hops, with the herbal and dank character mentioned above. Bitterness is moderately high, but not over the top; it’s about perfect for my tastes! The malt character is nicely supportive, and I like the malty, bready character alongside the trace of caramel. As with aroma, the yeast stays in the background, where it belongs!
Medium body, with a finish that is only slightly on the dry side. Carbonation is also on the moderate side, as is appropriate for the style.
Would I brew this again?
This general recipe is a great base for a classic northwestern IPA that highlights “old school” American hops. It’s pretty similar to its Wildfire IPA predecessor, and I think this overall recipe is likely to stay in my semi-regular rotation. Although it’s a bit out of vogue these days, the 2-row plus Munich base malt combo really hits the spot for me, and I think the crystal malt adds important character. My main complaint on this batch is that the Chinook hops are just a touch heavy. Their flavor plays well with everything else, but I prefer the more citrusy varieties like Cascade in my American IPAs.
I like session beers! I like stouts! Let’s do another one!
This recipe is a minor modification of a previous session stout. The main malt change was to swap in Vienna malt for Maris Otter, and use full-octane chocolate (350 SRM) versus the pale chocolate (225 SRM) that I used last time. Because this isn’t really a hop-centered beer, I switched the hops over to just a small charge of Magnum at the beginning of the boil. I also decided to swap flaked oats for flaked barley, because why not?
Session Stout 2020
6.25 lb. Vienna malt (Weyermann)
1 lb. flaked oats (Quaker Old Fashioned Oats)
0.75 lb. roasted barley (Briess)
0.5 lb. chocolate malt (Briess)
0.25 lb. black malt – 2-row (Briess)
0.125 lb. rice hulls
0.60 oz. Magnum hop pellets (13.2% alpha), 60 minute boil
1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
1 pkg. Safale American ale yeast (US-05)
1.041 s.g, 1.011 f.g., 3.9% abv, 31 IBU, 35 SRM
Infusion mash, 156°, no sparge
Claremont tap water, with Campden tablet to remove chloramine
I mashed in with 7.25 gallons of water at 161°, to hit a mash temperature of 156°. I started recirculating after 10 minutes, for a total of 60 minutes in the mash. I neglected to do a mash-out–oops!
After draining the grain basket, I had 6.5 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.033, for 67% mash efficiency. For this batch, I’m still trying to dial in my efficiencies on the Anvil, so I was a touch on the lower side of what I intended.
I brought the kettle to a boil, adding hops and finings per the recipe. After 60 minutes, I turned off the heat and chilled the wort, before transferring it to the fermenter.
Starting gravity was 1.038, a little lower than targeted (1.041). Oh well! I brewed this beer on 7 November 2020, and fermented at around 66°.
I kegged the beer on 22 November 2020, hitting 1.017 final gravity. This equates to only 2.8% abv! As is usual these days, I used keg conditioning to carbonate this batch. It took 2.7 ounces of corn sugar in 1 cup of water. After 2 weeks, I topped up the CO2 level with force carbonation.
Pours with a beautiful and highly persistent deep tan head; the beer itself is clear and deep brown, almost black.
Coffee aroma with a touch of chocolate; no hops to speak of; very clean character overall.
Coffee and roast malt notes predominate; not much for “maltiness” otherwise. Moderate, very clean bitterness.
Very light bodied, pretty dry on the finish with a lingering but not unpleasant bitterness. Moderate level of carbonation.
Would I brew this again?
Absolutely! For what it is–a dry, relatively light session beer–it’s pretty darned satisfying. The background malt body is a little light, but that’s OK. I expected a little more sweetness given the higher finishing gravity. Not sure what’s up with that.
Since last update, I’ve been doing a ton of brewing–nearly a batch every week! Perhaps the most satisfying thing, though, was reorganizing my brewing space. It had been close to a year since the last major cleaning and reorganization, and it sorely needed some attention. I tossed out trash, reorganized my malts, put some brewing salts into jars, and so on. Organization is only temporary, of course, but it’s a nice kind of temporary.
Beer Batch Updates
My Christmas Warmer has been conditioning for about a month now, and with another week or two should be ready to drink.
I kegged the session stout on 22 November, and started the carbonation with corn sugar. It finished up carbonation from the CO2 tank, and is now on tap.
The rebrew of Tremonia Lager just got kegged tonight. It’s happily lagering at 33° now, and will go on tap after the Pfriem Pils clone. So, it should get a good stretch of time to condition out!
On 21 November, I brewed a clone of Avery Brewing’s Maharaja IPA (“Mahajanga IPA”). This was my first super high gravity batch on the Foundry, and I definitely missed my numbers by a bit. I aimed for 1.088, and hit 1.077–after adding a pound of DME. This works out to about 59% mash efficiency. With the experience, though, I have a better idea of the efficiencies I can expect to achieve on the system, so future high gravity recipes will hopefully be more predictable. I’ll be kegging it in the next few days, with some dry hops.
On 5 December, I brewed “Aspiration Ale,” a clone of the 90 Shilling Ale from Odell Brewing. I had been wanting a red ale of sorts, and this take will definitely be in that realm. It smelled amazing on the mash–I hope this bodes well for the final product! Incidentally, this is also the first brew on the Anvil Foundry where I felt like I had a good handle on the whole process from start to finish. Practice makes perfect! I hit 68% mash efficiency, right where I want to be for a no-sparge brew.
What’s On Tap?
Stygimoloch Bock is drinking super nicely right now. It’s such an amazing fall/winter beer, and I’m pretty happy with the latest iteration of the recipe. I have a feeling that this keg won’t last very long.
“See See IPA” just went on tap (an homage to the song “See See Rider”, and a bad pun on the two “C” hops–Chinook and Cascade–that I used in the dry hop phase). It’s a modified rebrew of the Wildfire IPA I did earlier this year, mostly just adjusting the hops varieties. The beer started fairly hazy, but dropped reasonably clear after a few days. The flavor is pretty great, too. It’s a classic “Old School” West Coast IPA. For this batch, the dry hops are floating loose in the keg, and I threw a hop screen on the intake tube for my ClearBeer draft setup.
My session stout went on tap today, and is really, really nice. It’s beautifully clear, has robust malt character, and goes down pretty easy. It’s exactly what I want in a winter-season session beer, and the batch clocks in just shy of 3% abv by my calculations!
What’s Coming Up?
This coming weekend, I’m doing a half-batch (~3 gallons) of a Houblon Chouffe clone. It is another high gravity recipe, but learning from my past experience I feel like I’ve got a better shot of hitting my targets on this version! The beer is a Belgian IPA, which is a fairly new style and one I don’t think I’ve ever done before. I have fond memories of drinking it on tap at a local Belgian beer taphouse (in the Before Times), so want to give a try for my own version.
I have a fair bit of beer on-hand, and don’t really need to brew more. But, I need the relaxation that a Saturday morning brew provides. I think I’ll probably be doing some half-size batches, which scratch the itch and give me an opportunity to experiment a bit with reduced risk.
I’ve cycled through base malts fairly quickly as of late, and had to restock from my local homebrew shop. They’ve been carrying some of the Viking malts lately, and I got a 2-row pale malt as well as a pilsner malt, just to try something different. I also snagged a sack of Crisp’s Maris Otter malt, so put in some English-style batches in the next few months.