The BJCP Project

Today, the professional brewery Brew Dog scaled all of their recipes for your average homebrew system and released them online. It's such a super cool thing, particularly for fans of their beer and is another new resource that every homebrewer can use. They did this free of charge. It is just another example of the inclusiveness of this community. So, with that as inspiration, I've decided to begin sharing more recipes. 

Friends of mine will tell you that for some time I've been meaning to write and release a recipe for every style in the BJCP Style Guidelines. I'm about half-way through writing and brewing these recipes and have enough of a head start at this point that I am going to begin publicly sharing my recipes now. 

I waited to do this until after the guidelines were finalized and when I felt I had a firm grasp of what those changes were. I finally got the opportunity to judge using the 2015 revisions and I feel it's the right time to roll this out publicly. 

A few notes on the format: 

1. Whenever I brew, I make a yeast starter and I use the Mr. Malty yeast calculator. 

2. I've chosen malts that are readily available to me at my LHBS. You may have access to different malts.

3. These recipes are only meant to be a resource and a jumping off point for your own brewing. Feel free to adjust any of these ingredients to suit the profile of your intended beer. 

4. These are all-grain recipes. I've been an all-grain brewer since batch #4. If you want one of these recipes in extract form, just email me and I'll do the conversion or point you in the right direction to a calculator. 

5. I'll be releasing all of these recipes over the next few months and I'll be going in numerical order.  Have patience ye olde fans of Belgian Dark Strong beers.

So, my recipes can be found here and I'll have frequent updates in the coming months.

Take a look and let me know what you think!

Airlock Activity Is Not Necessarily A Sign Of Active Fermentation

I have been on a fairly aggressive brewing schedule recently. With some great events and competitions coming up in the next few months, I've had to brew fairly frequently to keep up with the beers that I've already promised or plan to enter into competition. One of those beers I waited until the last possible moment to brew so that it would be ready for the style showcase at this month's Brewminaries meeting. The beer style I was assigned was American Stout. It is one of my favorite styles to brew. Added to that, it's always a hit at this time of year. It's partially for that reason that I was excited to brew it. I'm also excited to share the beer at our meeting in about a week and a half. 

I waited until the last minute because I felt that super fresh was the way to go in order to highlight the citrusy hops and dark malty notes of chocolate and roast.  Given that I waited until the last minute, the fermentation schedule had to go according to plan. 

American Stout wort being lautered into the kettle. 

American Stout wort being lautered into the kettle. 

With an original gravity (OG) of 1.070 and with the alcohol by volume (ABV) of the beer projected to be north of 7%, I wanted a healthy pitch. I began 3 days before brew day by propagating some Wyeast American Ale II (1272) yeast in a 1.5 liter starter. I kept it on a stir plate for 48 hours before cold crashing overnight in my lager chamber, decanting, and then bringing up to room temperature to pitch. 

I'm a big fan of Wyeast 1272 which is rumored to the strain Anchor Brewing uses in Liberty Ale. I find that pedigree can begin to explain why, in my experience, I find it to be super tolerant in its temperature range without developing significant off-flavors. This is especially helpful in the summer when temperatures in my ale chamber can hover in the upper 70s. It's for that reason that 1272 has sort of become my house strain for most American-style ales. Since I ferment with it often, I know to affix a blow-off tube to my fermenter in anticipation of vigorous fermentation activity. 

My brew day went as planned, though my mash efficiency was a bit lower than I expected. I ended up with an OG of 1.066 and think the cause was from a last minute decision to fly sparge instead of batch sparge. Other than that, I didn't deviate from what was otherwise a pretty routine brew day. I got a late start to my brew day so when I finished brewing that night I transferred my wort to the fermenter, oxygenated it with a stone, pitched the yeast, covered it with a lid, attached the blow off tube, and put it away.

American Stout in back with blow off tubing attached. 

American Stout in back with blow off tubing attached. 

In the morning, there was no airlock activity. Not a single bubble. I usually see airlock activity within about 3-4 hours since I developed the habit of incorporating yeast starters. Odd, I thought to myself, but nothing to worry about just yet. When I came home that night, I opened my chamber and... still no activity. And no sign of activity either. The sanitized water that the blow-off tube was in was not foamy or bubbly. I pressed on the lid there was no air pushing out. The next day, I really began to worry. I knew I had started with a fresh pack of yeast. I had also used the Mr Malty yeast starter calculator to get the right starter size. I even oxygenated the wort with pure oxygen. It just didn't make sense to me.

I began to panic. As I said, this beer had a limited window in which to ferment and was expected to be ready for a club meeting. I quickly revised my yeast starter schedule to move another starter of 1272 and use to re-pitch. It was such a bummer too as I was going to use that starter for a double IPA that I plan to enter into Homebrew Alley. This mystery was throwing the whole schedule on its head and very well might eliminate a beer I planned to make given deadlines.  

Then it occurred to me to take a gravity reading. It's advice I often give to panicked homebrewers who are in situations similar to the one I had found myself in. I grabbed my test jar and pulled a sample from the bucket's spigot. I was immediately hit with citrus and chocolate and the jet black, inky liquid was effervescent, a sure sign of yeast activity. I dropped in my hydrometer and sure enough I was at 1.020 on day 3. 

Everything is right on schedule! 

Everything is right on schedule! 

My panic ended up being a hilarious reminder that airlock activity can be but is not always a sign of active fermentation. It's not lost on me that it hadn't occur to me to follow the advice I frequently give as an employee of my local homebrew shop (LHBS). With any luck, it should be ready just in time for me to be able to share it at the showcase.



Homebrew Alley X

It's finally getting cold here in NYC which means that most local homebrewers I know are beginning to focus on the beers that they will be entering into Homebrew Alley. Now in it's 10th year, Homebrew Alley (an AHA/BJCP sanctioned homebrew competition) is rivaled in size only by the 1st round of the National Homebrew Competition. Homebrew Alley is put on by the New York City Homebrewers Guild, the oldest homebrew club in New York City.

Entries from Homebrew Alley IX (Photo: NYC Homebrewers Guild Facebook page)

Entries from Homebrew Alley IX (Photo: NYC Homebrewers Guild Facebook page)

I try to enter beers into this competition every year and I encourage anyone serious about their homebrew to do the same. This event is one of the rare opportunities in NYC to get critical feedback on your beer from objective, trained palates. That, to me, is the real value of this competition. Your friends are always going to like your beer. It's just true. These judges are going to evaluate your beer based on its merits, not on your friendship. 

As a judge I've sat across the table from National judges, professional brewers, and local tastemakers to evaluate homebrew. That has also been enormously valuable to me and I wish there were more events like it in our metropolis. 

(Photo: NYC Homebrewers Guild Facebook page)

(Photo: NYC Homebrewers Guild Facebook page)

There are a few ways you can get involved in this year's Homebrew Alley:


Michael Laplante (Photo: NYC Homebrewers Guild Facebook page)

Michael Laplante (Photo: NYC Homebrewers Guild Facebook page)

If you are a BJCP judge, you can register to judge (even if your rank is pending from the most recent NYC tasting exam).


(Photo: NYC Homebrewers Guild Facebook page)

(Photo: NYC Homebrewers Guild Facebook page)

If you've not taken the online exam or the tasting exam, you can register to steward. Last year, Eric Feldman and I had an amazing steward when we were judging Belgians. He learned a lot that day and tasted a lot of beer with us. My buddy Xavi still refers to that time he stewarded a few years ago as instrumental in his path to becoming a judge and how it continues to influence the respect he has for the judges he learned from that day. 


Jason Sahler, of recently opened Strong Rope Brewery, taking first in his category at last year's competition. (Photo: NYC Homebrewers Guild Facebook page)

Jason Sahler, of recently opened Strong Rope Brewery, taking first in his category at last year's competition. (Photo: NYC Homebrewers Guild Facebook page)

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you can brew. There won't be beer to taste if you don't make it. There is an entry fee of $7 per beer entered but the value of the feedback you get is well worth the entry fee.  Another thing to note is that, as of now, there are no limits to the amount of beers a single brewer can enter. 

A sidenote that should be mentioned, last year's Best In Show winners of Homebrew Alley were Peter Salmond, Erik Norlander, and Oskar Norlander (having also swept the sour category). If their names seem familiar, it's because they are also team that currently hold the title of AHA Homebrewer of the Year. 

Peter Salmond and Oskar Norlander (Photo: NYC Homebrewers Guild Facebook page)

Peter Salmond and Oskar Norlander (Photo: NYC Homebrewers Guild Facebook page)

Homebrew Alley X is now accepting entries until January 29, 2016. Given the popularity of the event the past few years, entries are once again capped at 750. Knowing that, it would be wise to get your entries in sooner than later.

Judging for Homebrew Alley X will take place at Alewife in Queens on February 12th and 13th, with the awards ceremony to follow to completion of judging and the tallying of results on the 13th. You can register for homebrew alley here.

Best of luck in the competition. Now go win this thing! 

Not Just Clean, Also Sanitized

There are only a few ways you can really mess up a beer that is made from a good recipe. A lot of it has to do with how you handle your beer once you turn off your flame and begin cooling your wort. Now for those advanced brewers out there, this post is going to be a little boring, but after having recently joined the team at my LHBS, I think it's important to share some basic principles in how to make your good beer great and that starts with having equipment that is clean and sanitized.

You can not sanitize dirt.
— John LaPolla

Many batches go wrong because of a lack of clean and sanitized fermentation equipment. Once you've begun cooling your wort it is no longer in a sanitized state. At that point anything that touches your wort must be treated with sanitizer. There is no all-in-one cleanser and sanitizer. So in order to make certain that your equipment is not just clean but also sanitized requires a 2-step process in my brew house. John LaPolla co-owner of Bitter and Esters, has a saying I've heard him repeat in his brewing classes, "You cannot sanitize dirt." So, once I've emptied a fermenter I add 2 tablespoons of Five Star Chemicals' Powdered Brewers Wash (PBW) to 5 gallons of hot water. I let it sit for about 30 minutes allowing the combination of heat and PBW to loosen the dried krausen remnants before giving a gentle scrub and a rinse. A bonus use for PBW is that it makes an excellent beer bottle label remover. Just soak the bottles in the same solution ratio and temperature for 30 minutes and all but the most stubborn labels simply slide off. (I'm looking at you, Southern Tier.)

The downside to PBW is the price. It is more expensive than other cleaners but, in my opinion, it is well worth the price point given how effective it is at removing even the most stubborn gunk. If you want to save the bucks, there are a few options available. You can mix a cleaner (like Oxiclean Free or Sun Oxygen Cleaner) with TSP/90 (Sodium Metasilicate) in a 70/30 ratio. It's not a perfect match, and you will still have to deal with scaling if you have hard water, but it's fairly effective if you need to save that money for your next brew.

The next step is sanitation. Add 1 oz of Five Star Chemicals' Star San, a concentrated phosphoric acid based sanitizer readily available at your LHBS, to 5 gallons of water in the fermenter and let it sit for at least 1 minute. When you empty the fermenter, save the sanitizer in a food grade bucket and seal with a lid (or a spare keg, if you have one handy). That sanitizer can be used weeks later when you package (bottle or keg) your beer. You can also keep a spray bottle of the solution handy while you're brewing, transferring, and packaging. A small amount of star san covering the whole surface is enough to do the trick.

One more thing about Star San. The solution will get foamy and some of it will remain on your fermentation equipment. Do not rinse this foam. A common phrase you'll hear from those in the know is "don't fear the foam". In small quantities it doesn't affect the taste of your beer and is not harmful.  Rinsing after you've sanitized can reintroduce bacteria to your fermentation equipment negating the whole process. I repeat, do not fear the foam.

Another sanitizer that you can use is Io Star Sanitizer, an iodine based sanitizer. Used in its proper concentration, Io Star can be used as a no-rinse sanitizer as well, but you have to be careful with the solution ratio as iodine can impart flavor to your beer if too much is used. Also in high concentration, it can stain your plastic parts and tubing but that is mostly a cosmetic issue. Io Star is also available from Five Star Chemicals, and I swear they're not a sponsor! 

Finally, always inspect your fermenters once they are clean and dried. Even the smallest scratch in your plastic can be a place where bacteria can grow and, unless you're intentionally making a sour beer, you don't want bugs fighting with your yeast for sugars. If you notice an off-flavor in your beer and see a scratch in your fermenting bucket your best bet is to throw it out and buy a new fermenter.

Following these and other better brewing practices (like using a stir plate) will ensure that your yeast has the proper environment for the feast you've so lovingly made for them. And happy healthy yeast properly housed in an anaerobic environment (at the right temperature) that is both clean and sanitized will make great beer each time.