2022’s Brew Year’s Resolutions

Once again, it’s time to look ahead to the new year of brewing. What would I like to achieve in 2022?

  • Session Beers
    • I’ve always had session-strength beers as a regular part of my brewing rotation, and have had some really great successes. I’ve done well with IPAs and stouts, and would now like to branch out a bit. I recently made a session strength dark mild, which I just put on tap and am really enjoying. A Scottish 70-/Heavy is on the schedule, and I might even aim for a patersbier soon.
  • German Pils
  • Pre-Prohibition Lager
    • I recently had the 1903 Lager from Craftsman Brewing Company (Pasadena), and this beer was amazing as a pre-Prohibition style lager that clocks in at 5.2% abv. The malt character was fantastic, against some really nice hop qualities. It’s hard to find much information on this beer, so I’m going to need to look around a bit in the world of pre-Prohibition lagers to figure out a comparable recipe. In any case, this is a beer style I want to make!
  • IPAs
    • I’ve made some good IPAs, and even some great ones, but I’ve not yet settled on a “house” recipe. I need to change that. I have found that “traditional” West Coast IPAs with a heft measure of Centennial and Cascade are most to my taste, so I want to revisit previous successes and see if I can’t replicate those. I might even return to a session rye IPA, to hit the session beer goal again.

What’s Brewing? November 2021 Edition

Brewing continues to be an on-again/off-again festivity, as I work my way through a busy chunk of the year. Thankfully, the weekends are starting to free up a bit, so I’ve started to get ahead of things again.

Beer Batch Updates

  • Since last report, I kegged my Ill Tempered Gnome clone, and it’s now on tap. Although I had planned to bring some to Thanksgiving with friends, plans changed and now I’m “stuck” with the keg all on my own. Looks like a few lucky local friends will get a growler!
  • Winter Dream Ale–a Belgianesque winter warmer–has been kegged, and is now conditioning. The flavors seem pretty nice in preliminary tastings, although it needs a bit more time to drop completely clear. I hope to move it on-tap in time for Christmas.
  • On November 6, I brewed an IPA using hops from a recent HOPBOX, and it is now conditioning in the keg. I expect it will go on-tap fairly soon, because the kegs in the main keezer are getting pretty low.
  • I brewed this year’s iteration of Eagle Face Oatmeal Stout on November 13. It’s finishing up the rest in the primary fermenter, and should be kegged in the next day or two.
  • A new German pils is currently fermenting, after my brew day on November 21. It is going to ferment next to an amber zwickel, which got brewed on November 22. The former beer was made using the Edelweiss hop blend, which is an interesting experiment. The latter beer is a bit of a kitchen sink recipe to use up some odds and ends (especially Munich and Vienna malt). For each, I did a hochhurz mash (45 minutes at 144° and 45 minutes at 160°, before mash-out), and this really seems to boost my mash efficiency! I was at nearly 77% for the zwickel and 74% for the pils, which are each well above my usual 68%. On my previous pils, I just did a 60 minute mash at 149°, which ended with 70% mash efficiency. So, I speculate that a longer mash can be a key to boosting gravity in the Anvil Foundry. I might add this in to my regimen more frequently, once I evaluate the results.

What’s On Tap?

  • Ill-Tempered Gnome is now on tap, and it drinks really well. It’s a perfect winter beer, in that it has lots of flavor but isn’t too heavy or cloying.
  • Farke’s Best Pils is also almost gone, but still tastes quite good.
  • Humboldt’s Lesser Hefeweizen is probably halfway through the keg.

What’s Coming Up?

  • I need to plan my holiday brewing sessions, and am starting to work out the possibilities. A tropical pale ale is in the lineup (using HOPBOX hops), and I’m also thinking an English dark mild for something a bit more sessionable that will use up ingredients.

Review: Yakima Valley HOPBOX

When it comes to hops, I am often a creature of habit. I love Cascade, Centennial, Citra, and Simcoe for my IPAs, and I’ll sometimes throw in Galaxy or Amarillo. I love Saaz, Hallertauer, and their American equivalents for my German beers. And…I don’t get much outside of that box very often. With a bewildering array of hops on the market for homebrewers, I just get overwhelmed and usually stick with what I know.

Now, that philosophy can be great for consistency and predictability. It also helps me to avoid chasing the latest expensive fad hop, and I’ve really gotten to know the flavors in each familiar variety. That said, I’m almost certainly missing out on some real gems. But, how can I break out of my rut, without too much effort on researching and such?

About two months ago, I was super excited to learn about a hop subscription box from Yakima Valley Hops, called The HOPBOX. HOPBOX was totally sold out then, but one of their reps said to check back at a certain date, and I should be good to go. Sure enough, I visited the website a few weeks later and I could order! (thanks for the tip, YVH rep!) I signed up for a full year (which came with a 15% discount), and waited for my first shipment…

A little over a week ago, a very attractive box landed in my mailbox. Opening it up, I saw eight 2-oz. cans of eight different hop varieties, along with some stickers, a card describing the hops, and a set of stainless steel cups to portion out hop additions.

So, what do I think about all of this? Let’s take a look! (note: I paid for this myself, and did not receive any compensation for the review, so I feel I can be reasonably even-handed)

The Hops

I was pretty impressed by the hops! All were from the 2021 crop, so I have no doubt on freshness. High marks there.

I am also impressed by the varieties–this box included Bravo, Cashmere, Cascade, Centennial, El Dorado, Strata, Waimea, and Wai-iti. A few are ridiculously expensive to buy at some suppliers (e.g., Strata sells at over $2.50 per ounce at some online stores), and others aren’t yet available for this crop via YCH (e.g., Cashmere and El Dorado).

For my brewing habits, this is a perfect quantity of hops. There are enough to do a few beers with fun blends–for instance, my first batch uses Bravo as the bittering with Waimea+Wai-iti+Cashmere for the whirlpool and dry hop. There isn’t enough of each for a five gallon SMaSH beer, but I think I’m okay with that. I can always go back and try a particularly intriguing variety in more depth. For me, Waimea is the standout in my current package so far, and I may well come back to that.

I like that this box fits within a general theme, of “hops that are good for IPAs and pale ales”. That made it a lot easier to plan brewing, versus if I had gotten a smattering of hops suited for disparate styles.

One thing that might have been nice is access to detailed data on individual lots. The packages had alpha acids, etc., but I wouldn’t complain if there were specifics on particular hop oil quantities, etc. That is a very minor quibble, though.

The Extras

This box came with two stickers as well as a set of stainless steel cups to portion out hops. I’m not really a sticker person, so those were somewhat of a wash, but the cups have already gotten use in my brewery. Previously I have been using reusable plastic containers, which are OK but a bit large for what I need. The little stainless steel containers (the same as 4 oz. sauce cups you might get at a restaurant) are branded with the YVH logo and will fit 3 oz. of hops fairly comfortably. The cups also make it easy to weigh out an ounce at a time, or a measure mineral additions.

One extra I might suggest for future boxes would be to include variety-specific recipes for the hops. I of course had fun thinking up something on my own, but at the very least a starting point would be helpful.

The Packaging

Yakima Valley Hops uses a nitrogen-flushed pull-top can, which is pretty slick. There’s no doubt as to the fact that they’re sealed and pretty impermeable to oxygen. A minor beef is that they are a little less convenient to store compactly in my deep freezer than bags are, and the cans also tend to wrinkle slightly due to the contraction of the internal gases at freezer temperatures. That said, they’re quite visually attractive.

The box itself was nicely arranged, and it was enjoyable to open and see what all was inside. I personally find unboxing videos or excessive commentary on such things a bit over the top, but I can’t deny that I had fun.

The box/packaging itself are maybe a little big for what’s inside, but it is all cardboard and recyclable, so I give them high marks for that. There’s no excess plastic junk, or unrecyclable bits. Also, everything arrived in perfect shape.

The Cost

Because I ponied up for a one year (four box) subscription, this knocked 15% off the $40 price tag per box, so I’m paying $34/box. And, shipping is free! Is that worth it? Overall, I think yes.

For comparison, I priced out 2 oz. containers of each hop on the Yakima Valley Hops website. This adds up to about $18.50 of hops and $9.70 of shipping, for $28.20 total. I will note, though, that some of the things in my box are currently sold out or only available in 2020 or 2019 crop years. When I compared with MoreBeer, you’d spend around $31.42 and then an additional $8 or $10 for shipping, and you wouldn’t necessarily get as much control over which year you got.

In pricing out the stainless steel cups, it looks like they run around 50 cents to $1 each online; just for the sake of argument, let’s say $1 each (they have printing on the outside, after all). So, that’s $6 value there, more or less.

With everything included ($28.20 of hops and $6 of steel cups), and free shipping, I would say this box is about a break-even proposition, and you definitely come out ahead versus if you had to pay shipping. The exclusive access to some hops is also a nice perk. Overall, the box is also a fairly good value versus buying each individually at a reseller. However, the box wouldn’t necessarily be a good value at full price ($40).


On the whole, I rate the HOPBOX a 4 out of 5, and it comes awfully close to being 5 out of 5. The cost for what you get is pretty good, although not a ridiculous steal. The full-price one-off box might make for a good gift for someone, but if you brew a lot and are likely to use the hops, I would just get a full-year subscription to save a fair bit of money. The hop selection is top-notch, and the extras in the box are pretty cool. Additionally, at least this first box has definitely helped me to expand my brewing horizons, so mission accomplished! I definitely recommend this if you are a hophead or know someone who is.

What’s Brewing? October 2021

This month is a busy one, and I am taking a few weekends off from brewing. That said, I’ve been sliding a brew or two in wherever possible, because I seriously need the downtime.

Beer Batch Updates

  • I’ve moved a few beers from kegs to fermenters to keezer…these are listed below.
  • My German pils made with South Dakota hops is kegged as of last week. The initial tastings show that this will be a really nice beer, on the less hopped side of the style. The malt character is beautiful, and I get a floral hop aroma that’s also pretty nice. Right now, it’s lagering until a tap opens up. See the bottom of the post for a preview picture.
  • On October 9, I brewed a clone recipe of Ill Tempered Gnome, from Oakshire Brewing. It’s a super malty winter seasonal beer, without any spicing. My plan is to have it ready around Thanksgiving time.
  • On October 12, I brewed a 3 gallon batch of another winter ale (Winter Dream Ale). This is a bit of a kitchen sink recipe to use up some ingredients, and I am throwing in Belgian Abbaye yeast as an experiment. The intent is to have something dark and full-bodied, with an interesting malt and yeast character that is in the realm of Belgian quads.

What’s On Tap?

  • The raspberry Belgian sour is still on tap; because the weather has cooled a bit, we’re not going through it quite as quickly as before. At this point, it is ridiculously clear and has a wonderful raspberry character.
  • Turtle Toe Porter is just so enjoyable! I can’t say enough great things about the beer.
  • I recently moved a hefeweizen onto tap. It’s on the lighter side for the style, and quite drinkable.

What’s Coming Up?

A preview of my new German pils, with South Dakota hops

What’s Brewing? January 2021 Edition

The past month has seen some pretty steady brewing, as I push forward with recipes both new and familiar. So, here is a quick update in the waning days of January…

Beer Batch Updates

  • I brewed a Belgian IPA, intended as a clone(ish) of Houblon Chouffe, on 12 December 2020. This was a fun and challenging beer, both for its high gravity as well as managing a Belgian fermentation. It’s now kegged and conditioning; initial impressions are that it’s a really good beer, and hit my mark pretty much dead on.
  • On 28 December, I brewed a German pils with 100% Viking pilsner malt, a mix of Perle, Sterling, and Mt. Hood hops, and Imperial’s Global lager yeast. It is now cold crashing, and should be kegged this week sometime.
  • On New Year’s Day, I brewed a second version of Alstadt Alt, which was pretty tasty the first time around. The malt bill is pretty much the same, although I’ve switched up the hops and yeast slightly for what I’ve got on-hand. I should be kegging that this week, also.
  • I brewed a traditional London-style porter on 8 January 2021, modified from a Gordon Strong recipe. I kegged it on 24 January 2021, adding 3 oz. of corn sugar for priming. Interestingly, the gravity was stalled out at 1.025. I’m not sure if this is due to a high percentage of unfermentable sugars (brown malt?), or the yeast stalling.
  • Following the really tasty English IPA I made two years ago, I rebrewed the recipe on 16 January 2021. It’s pretty much identical to the last version, because it didn’t seem wise to mess with success.

What’s On Tap?

  • I’m nearly at the end of my session stout keg; it still drinks beautifully!
  • The new batch of Tremonia Lager went on tap recently, and it continues to condition a bit in the keg. It’s just now hitting the peak. I’ll sit down for a tasting with this one and write up a full report in the next week or two.
  • Aspiration Ale, patterned after a clone recipe for 90 Shilling Ale by Odell Brewing Company, is on tap and tastes so good. It has a little ways to go to clear up, but it’s pretty squarely filling the “malty but not overly alcoholic amber-ish ale” category.
  • Although my keezer only has three faucets, I’ve been running Mahajanga IPA off of a picnic tap. There’s only a little bit left, but it still is a super nice beer! Because it’s pretty high alcohol (8.5% abv), I enjoy this as an occasional one-off, so it doesn’t make sense to put it on the main serving line.

What’s Coming Up?

  • I’ve got a lot of beer in the pipeline already, so the next few weeks will focus on lagers. I’m going to repitch the yeast from the pilsner, to make a schwarzbier as well as a Munich dunkel.
  • On the lighter side, it has been a long time since I last did my orange wheat ale. I’m getting ingredients together now, and will brew this in the next few weeks.

Other Notes

  • I feel like my process with the Anvil Foundry is pretty dialed in now, and I’m consistently hitting 67 to 68% mash efficiency. I wouldn’t complain if it was a bit higher, so I might tighten the mill up just a touch. Right now I have a mill gap of 0.037″ (it was set at 0.041″ for the old mash tun), and might take it down to 0.034″ or so.
  • The cooling fan in the base of my Anvil has started acting up, with an extra bit of noise. After a bit of troubleshooting, it seems that the fan is going bad, so Anvil tech support is sending a replacement fan. I’ll note that the 18 volt, 60 mm fan type is a pretty hard one to track down otherwise!