[Ed.: We're always open to guest posts here on Queen City Drinks, if you want to do 1 or 100 just shoot me an email at Tom@QueenCityDrinks.com with your ideas.]
Andy Melchers has been brewing for over 10 years and is a Bloatarian Brewing League member. He is a BJCP National Judge and has served as BBL Minister of Propaganda for way too long and was Event Director of Beer & Sweat from 2010-2012. This is the story HARK!:
It Started with a Dream
About two years ago I had a dream. A glorious dream. The kind of dream where you can can taste and smell. All of your senses are working overtime and operating on autopilot. There was no conscious input. However the memory of it all when I awoke was crystal clear – ‘citrusy orange mixed with a spicy peppery flavor supported by a light biscuity malt and crisp carbonation.’
That’s what I recall telling my wife anyway the morning of this revelation. Of course not being a beer drinker herself, she lovingly kept an ear open as she went about her business while I rambled on. Time passed and I began formulating what it would take to make this ‘dream beer.’ As it happens, a friend was having a brewout and I was planning to attend. I took stock of what ingredients I had on hand: 10 lbs. or so of Briess Pale Ale malt left in the 50 lb sack from some previous brews, some NZ Pacifica hops I had won at Beer & Sweat raffle months prior, 2 oz. of Amarillo I had bought to use in an IPA down the road (because at the time Amarillo was extremely hard to come by) and no yeast on hand.” Well, I can find a yeast at the homebrew supply,” I figured.
Day of the brewout arrives and like most brewouts, it’s a party with an excuse to drink with friends, eat great food and also make some homebrew. Minimal attention was paid to my brew in between beers and conversation (along with the poor placement of a plastic bucket which was left too close to my kettle and ended up with a hole melted in it – I said I wasn’t paying much attention!) As the day progressed a friend arrived with a fresh pull of Belgian Ardennes yeast offered up to anyone who might like to have it. I kindly accepted (again, having not planned well). I pitched the yeast and went back to drinking.
Six days later my brew was fermented and I moved it to a keg for conditioning. CO2 was applied and within a few days I have new beer to drink… yay! That first quaff and sip made me say the strangest combination of words… HOLY SHIT BALLS! It was perfect. My dream beer had come true… and was aptly named as well.
42 Without a Medal
By now, the Bloatarian Brewing League’s annual homebrew competition was coming up and as usual, I entered what I had on hand. I’ll brag a little to say that this particular beer, entered as a 16e Belgian Specialty Beer (per the BJCP guidelines ) scored a 42 of 50. Unfortunately it did not even medal, due to being such an unusual entry. I didn’t care… I was stoked! A score like that is hard to come by. My dream beer was validated.
Two years on and 5 more batches of HSB were made in between countless other IPAs, Porters, Stouts, etc… I had been tweaking the recipe over time to see if small changes were better or worse. Funny enough, sticking to the original recipe and paying the littlest attention to the brewing seemed to be the key. I made batch 6 much like batch 1, by paying only the slightest attention to it, specifically to enter it in the Cincinnati Malt Infusers annual ‘OktobersBest’ Homebrew Competition in October 2013.
Welcome to October 19, 2013. Fourth Best Day of My Life!*
I entered with no real expectation other than I thought it was another really good batch and hoped that it might score well again. (It did, 39 and 40 from two judges whose opinions I highly respect.) Although, I didn’t know it scored that well at the time because, on the day of the competition, I was up north camping with my family. The phone call from my friend Scott LaFollette came in while I was chilling at the campfire (with a beer of course). “The feds won’t take too kindly to naming a beer Holy Shit Balls,” he stated. “HUH?!” I had no idea what he meant by that statement. “You just won Best of Show at the CMI comp,” he replied. Cue my dancing around the fire while onlookers thought I’d totally lost my marbles.
Let that sink in. Best of Show. Guys I know have brewed beer their entire lives, most because they love it and enjoy the process and results. A good majority enter competitions regularly. Many score well with good beers and come away with a few ribbons or such. But, Best of Show? Only one brewer is awarded that honor and when that highly experienced panel whittles down the 24 first place entries from each category, from some 300+ initial entries, to just one winner. That’s the stuff dreams are made of.
Welcome to August 23, 2014. Fifth Best Day of My Life!
As an extention of that October day last year, August 23, 2014 became arguably the Fifth Best Day, a day that I will remember forever. I was invited, as a reward for winning Best of Show, to brew my recipe at a local brewery. It happens that that brewery is owned by my good friend, the aforementioned, Scott LaFollette of Blank Slate Brewing Company located near Lunken Airport. Scott scaled up my 5 gallon recipe to 250 gallons, and sourcing one of the ingredients proved difficult, so I’d like to give a shootout to Madtree Brewing for the Amarillo hops. Thanks guys!
But it’s funny though, after 10 years of making beer at home, I found brewing at a real brewery to be very much like what I do at home… just with much bigger toys! The grain mill, mash tun, kettles, hoses and pumps, fermenters, etc are all similar just larger. There are some differences such as hop utilization due to the volume differences, but as far as procedure, it’s amazingly similar and very hands on.
Crushing grains before the mash
There is no automation in this brewery. Mashing 350lbs of grain in a 300 gallon kettle takes some serious work… as the kettle fills with 120 gallons of heated water, we added the crushed grain and began mixing it with a canoe paddle. Stirring to achieve a consistent temperature throughout and be sure there are no ‘dough balls’ or clumps of grain all while the consistency becomes like thick oatmeal — for a solid 15 minutes — with hot steam pouring over you is a serious workout. I was breaking a sweat and hadn’t even been there 40 minutes! But I loved every bit of it.
While the grains were going through their conversion of starches to fermentable sugars and extracting the malt flavors, we had a chance to chat with some visitors. After an hour we began the transfer of the wort liquid to the boil kettle. The liquid in the mash tun is pumped out as another 150 gallons of heated water is sprayed over the top of the grain bed to rinse the grains and pull any remaining sugars and flavors and produce our boil volume of 270 gallons.
At the beginning of the boil we added 2 pounds of Hallertau hops to produce 30 IBU’s (International Bittering Units) which is a medium bitterness level to just balance out the sweet wort. The goal with this beer is all flavor and a pleasing bitterness, not a palate killer. That’s where the Amarillo hops come in. I typically add them with 15 minutes to go in the boil, and again at flameout. In this case, because contact time of hops with the heated wort will increase bitterness while the wort is being transferred instead of adding the flavor and aroma we want, the schedule must be adjusted. We added the first dose of Amarillo when we started the whirlpool.
Sweet wort after the whirlpool
This process creates a centrifugal effect and as you can see in the photo, all of the solids move to the center of the kettle, and settle there. This is an important step which helps produce a clear beer and also won’t clog up all of the pumps and hoses. As the beer is pumped from the kettle we used a ‘hopback’ which has another dose of hops to allow the hot wort will make contact with the hops but only long enough to pull the oils contained in the hops so they will produce aroma, but no additional bitterness.
As the liquid continues through a serious of hoses, it is chilled to fermentation temperature — a cool 60° — and also oxygenated to give the fresh yeast, which has been waiting in the fermentation tank. Adding pure oxygen at this step is essential for a healthy fermentation. After that, it’s all up to the yeast to do it’s thing… chewing up fermentable sugars and spitting out alcohol and carbon dioxide. In the case of this Belgian yeast strain, it will also produce phenols and esters. The phenols will be a spicy peppery flavor and the esters with a fruity marmalade flavor to complement the citrus of the Amarillo hops.
As I’m writing this, my beer is finishing up the dry hop stage (adding even more hops for additional aroma after fermentation is complete) and will be moved to the bright tank sometime this week. Kegged next week and the plan is that I will tap my beer, titled simply after my nickname “HARK!”, to be served at the Fountain Square Beerfest on Sept 12-13 in downtown Cincy. Being able to serve a beer that I dreamed up and eventually made with much of my own sweat in a local brewery, under the guidance of a friend whose work I have high regard for… well, it doesn’t get much better than that. That’s the stuff dreams are made of. Here’s to dreams coming true!
Recipe to Make HARK! (aka HOLY SHIT BALLS) Yourself
5 Gallons of HSB
10 lbs Breiss Pale Ale Malt
NZ Pacifica (preferred) or Hallertau to make 30 IBUs
1 oz Amarillo @ 15 mins remaining
1 oz Amarillo @ Flameout
Whirlpool (or stir) and rest 15mins before chilling
Belgian Ardennes Yeast
I usually let my ferm temps go with this yeast to help bump the phenolics
*Married with two children, you can do the math.