Fermentation on Wheels

November 21, 2014

Fermentation on Wheels

It was a real treat to have Tara Whitsitt and Fermentation on Wheels parked outside our store this past weekend. Bitter & Esters did a series of fermented beverage workshops on Saturday and Tara taught people all about fermentation on her bus.

People would ask me, what is up with the bus? What does Tara do? My answer is that she drives around the country fermenting stuff on her bus and teaching people about fermentation. Although that is indeed what she does, there is so much more to Fermentation on Wheels. We met Tara when Bitter & Esters opened in 2011. She lived right next to the store! Tara used to come into the shop and talk about her projects, making mead and wine and fermenting food, plus she would show us her artwork (she is a great artist). One day she told me she was moving back to Eugene Oregon, to live and work on an organic farm. We were sad to see her go, Tara has a positive energy and a passion for what she does. Fast forward to 2013 when she had the idea to renovate a huge bus and travel the country to share her passion for fermentation. She visited B&E in 2013 and again this past weekend.

Our free fermented beverage workshops were a hit. I taught beer and cider making, Eric from Kombucha Brooklyn taught Kombucha making and Mary Izett of Fuhmentaboudit! taught a class on Mead making. The highlight of the day was Fermentation on Wheels. People came to see Tara and the bus because they were into fermented foods and sustainable living, others came out of curiosity. Tara welcomed everyone on the bus, gave samples and spoke about her projects and travels.

Hanging out with Tara and visiting the bus it occurred to me that what she is really doing is showing people that this can be done. You can live a life according to your passion and beliefs. It takes hard work, courage and support. When you visit Fermentation on Wheels the first thing you feel is a sense of calm. Everything is alright on the bus. You smell the delicious smells of fermented food, you feel a life lived with purpose. She has dedicated her life to opening peoples eyes to living sustainably and healthfully. Fermenting food and beverages is not just something you can do, it is something you should do. It’s not just about fermentation, it is about living well. Tara is an inspiration.

I am so impressed by the fact that Tara does this. It is the type of thing that people will say, “I would do this if I had the time”. You do have the time. You don’t have to travel the country in a bus, but you can follow your passion. Tara is living proof of this. And you should learn more and more about the foods you eat, where they come from and how to utilize them. This is a big part of Tara’s mission, helping people learn about our world.

We had a great time during her visit. I even chopped wood on the bus for her stove! (I was not so great at it, but I got it done). Tara is a friend and someone I really admire. It’s not always easy living on a bus, teaching all over the country, but Tara does it. And we are all the better for it.

Thank you Tara. Good luck on your life’s journey.

John

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All About Apples

November 6, 2014

These things start the same way, with an idea. When Anthony of Rowan Cider importers asked me if Bitter & Esters would like to do some sort of cider event for NYC cider week, I said of course! Some sort of cider event sounds great, but what kind?

It was Anthony’s brilliant idea to get me in touch with Joy and Jeremy, two friendly home cider makers who make awesome cider under the name Proper Cider. Proper Cider is cider made from fresh crushed and squeezed apples. No sulfites or additives. Just apple cider with yeast pitched. Joy and Jeremy make many batches with a different yeast in each and then blend the cider to taste. That’s the proper way.

It was Joy and Jeremy’s idea to do a Community Apple Press day. They wanted to allow people to bring their apples to them and they would crush and press the apples into cider, for free! The thing that got me about this idea was the word Community. Bitter & Esters is all about fostering community.

Joy and Jeremy graciously offered to bring their grinder (which is like a huge food processor) and their two-20 ton presses to our store. We only had ten slots throughout the day to actually grind and press (it’s a time consuming process!) and they filled up quickly as folks were eager to try their hand at fresh pressed cider.

It was a beautiful fall day and from noon on people brought their apples. We ground them outside and pressed them inside. Grinding is just like food processing, the idea is to get the apples ground down to small bits, but not too small. After grinding we brought the ground apples inside to be pressed. When you press you put about 3 quarts of the ground apples into a piece of mesh, fold it, put a grooved plastic plate on top and then add another mesh of apples. You can do about 8 layers per press. Joy and jeremy put everyone to work pressing their apples, this was a day of community after all. After the 8 or so layers are done, a large heavy slab of wood is put on top and the press comes down and squeezes the apples. Delicious juice flows out of a spigot into a bucket. Each bushel made around 3 gallons with the entire process taking around 45 minutes. What struck me was the incredible freshness of the juice. I could drink it all day.

Once the apples were ground and pressed you took your cider home and added yeast. Primary fermentation is around one month and then you transfer to a secondary for about 5 months. The leftover apple stuff is called pumice. Andy from Aaron Burr cider took the pumice home to feed his cows! During the day, Andy and Joy and Jeremy poured samples of their delicious ciders for everyone to enjoy.

It was a great day. A chance for New Yorkers to get the freshest cider possible, be involved with the grinding and crushing process and ask questions of three awesome cider makers. Thank you Joy and Jeremy, Andy and Anthony. It was such fun and a great community experience. Plus Joy and Jeremy got an amazing NY Post article out of it!

I hope we get to do it again next year. It was a real highlight of the fall. The next step is to try everyone’s cider! Hopefully in 6 months or so we can get everyone back together for a proper cider tasting.

John

P.S. Thanks to Carla Coria for all the wonderful photographs!

Charlie Papazian at Bitter & Esters

October 31, 2014

Charlie Papazian taught me how to homebrew. Good chance he taught you too. When I first started homebrewing there was no other reference book but the Complete Joy of Homebrewing. It was just me and Charlie in the kitchen making beer. Just hearing his name makes me thirsty!

The title of the book alone gives you an insight into Charlie’s attitude. Joy. Homebrewing is a Joyful experience, you should relax and not worry, and you should definitely have a homebrew. Here’s a quick video explaining the origins of his famous phrase.

Charlie visited Bitter & Esters for one of our monthly bottle swaps to sign copies of the fourth edition of the Complete Joy of Homebrewing and the second edition of The Homebrewers Companion. He visited 508 Gastrobrewery the night before. I was lucky to have lunch and dinner with Charlie and to spend a little time with him at the shop before the swap. Just talking and drinking homebrew. A dream come true. I also did a short interview asking Charlie about his famous phrase and about National Pie day (which he started! It occurs every year on his birthday, January 23rd).

We all know Charlie’s famous line “relax, don’t worry. have a homebrew” Spending time with Charlie taught me that wasn’t just a phrase he says, he lives it. Charlie loves what he does, loves homebrewing and doesn’t stress. It all works out in the end. As the people at the swap can tell you, he puts you right at ease. And yes, he still homebrews!

We had dinner right before the bottle swap. I left early to check on how things were going and the shop was packed! Everyone was sharing and tasting beers and were in a very festive mood. Charlie arrived at 7 and everyone burst into applause. The love in the air was palpable and Charlie felt it, he was grinning from ear to ear. At one point I counted 70 people in the shop! All there for Charlie.

After a brief talk and q&a Charlie got down to signing books. We had set up an area for him to sign but instead he just walked around the crowd, signing, talking and trying everyone’s beers. We were all having a blast and Charlie was one of us. Around 8 we picked four beers for Charlie to try and declare who would win a Brauler and one of Charlie’s books. We shouted out nominations and then pointed to the nominees we felt deserved the chance (very scientific I know). The four nominees were Robert Sherril, Brian DeAngelo, Will Reder and Sheri Jewhurst. I was right next to Charlie as he judged. At one point he turned to me and said,”I don’t know who to pick! They are all so good!” He deliberated for some time and announced Robert as the winner. Congratulations Robert!

Charlie told me all of the beers he tried at the swap were very good. He was impressed and I was happy he got to see a slice of NYC homebrewing. By 8:30 Charlie’s publicist Maria told me they had to go soon, Charlie had a 6am flight! I could tell he would have stayed all night. We were all having such a good time.

What an amazing experience, something I will never forget. Thanks to Aisha, Maria, all of the B&E staff and all of our wonderful friends and customers. Our community is the best.

And of course, Thank you Charlie.
John

Glacier

October 24, 2014

This is fourth in a series of posts about lesser known hops that we’ll be featuring in our upcoming Hops class.

Glacier

When most people hear the word “Glacier” it usually conjures heart-wrenching images of polar bears on tiny ice floes, the spawning point for icebergs that result in intercontinental tragedies (and by that I mean Celine Dion ballads), or even Bill Nye the Science Guy arguing facts backed by empirical data against some dude who just isn’t convinced on Fox News. But we’re not most people, we’re brewers!

As brewers, we should be thinking about this low alpha dual purpose hop. Glacier was released in 2000 by Washington State University right about the same time that the high alpha dual purpose craze was really starting to hit its stride. This may be part of the reason that this outstanding hop has flown somewhat under the radar.

For a lower IBU beer, Glacier’s balanced bittering and low cohumulone levels have got you covered. It yields a peachy/apricot stone fruit flavor which can border on the more pineapple-like tropical qualities in higher concentrations. That is all well and good, but where Glacier really shines is in its usage beyond the 15 minute mark. The aroma it imparts goes right back to that peachy stone fruit thing when used late in the boil, but when used as a flame out/dry hop it brings out earthy, pear-like qualities.

Glacier’s versatility lends itself to any brew with a need for lower alpha bittering (but its higher beta acids should garner some consideration if it is something you plan to store for an extended period) and for just about any pale ale you can conjure up. It will perform well as a later addition in any I.P.A., especially when used in conjunction with more unique hops like Galaxy and Mosaic, or as a contrast hop to round out the flavor of something more citrusy and floral like Centennial. My suggestion is tossing it in as a dry hop in your favorite pale ale. Our very own Resistor, Mystical Cap No. 6, and Paradise Pale Ale are the ones that immediately come to mind, but however you decide to use Glacier, I really don’t think you can go wrong.

Bobby B

Bobby Bendily

Pride of Ringwood

October 17, 2014

This is third in a series of posts about lesser known hops that we’ll be featuring in our upcoming Hops class.

Pride of RingwoodPride of Ringwood … let that sink in for a second. As names go, that sounds more likely to be the title bestowed upon a Game of Thrones character than on a hop variety, but when Pride of Ringwood established itself in the early to mid 60’s it accounted for more than 90% of the hop production in the land down under so it’s more than earned that moniker. Named for the suburb of Melbourne where it was originally grown, Pride of Ringwood is a cross breed of Pride of Kent and a wild Tasmanian variety. Primarily used as a bittering hop (back when 7-11% was something to brag about), this hop found its way into virtually every Australian brewhouse. However, as the alpha acid arms race has sped well past Pride of Ringwood’s ceiling, it has been relegated to more of the flavor/aroma usage these days.

The aroma of Ringwood has a robust pungency to it, a kind of subtle resin quality in the realm of a slightly more muted Simcoe. While the flavor does have a little citrus and even some berry-like qualities; they are slight. What’s really pleasant are the earthy notes and the hint of spice that follows. I would describe it as cedar-like, in the very best way.

If you plan on using this Tasmanian devil in your next brew, of course I would recommend it as a middle alpha bittering hop in a pale ale or hop-bursted I.P.A., but you could easily play to those earthy cedar notes as an accent in a hoppy fall amber or even as a middle/late addition in a winter warmer (maybe toss in a little spruce essence?). Truth be told, I started jotting down a recipe where I will do just that as I was writing this, so plan on me asking for feedback come the December swap.

Bobby B

Bobby Bendily

Reaching the Summit

October 10, 2014

This is second in a series of posts about lesser known hops that we’ll be featuring in our upcoming Hops class

Most of us have at least heard of SuSummit Hopsmmit, and the obligatory follow-up question is always the same, “Isn’t that the garlicky one?” Last time I wrote about a hop which seemingly had no reputation to precede it, so I figured this time it would be fun to talk about a hop which has a reputation that it just can’t seem to escape.

First off, pop open an ounce of summit, give it a sniff and yes, there is very clearly a garlicky aroma. However, this hop has a lot to offer. A low trellis hop that shows its parentage well, it gets some of its herbaceous notes from Nugget and its citrus and resinous qualities from Zeus. It is celebrated as being quite clean for bittering with relatively low cohumulone comparative to its alpha acids. Summit’s oil content makes it very desirable as a late or dry addition.

As a flavor hop it imparts a certain juicy tangerine quality. The aroma is also notably citrusy, specifically orange peel, and somewhat earthy to resinous/hemp-like. It fits well into the pantheon of American citrus hops and can be used in conjunction with any of them with great success. I don’t get a ton of the garlic when I taste it, but there is a hint of onion (more specifically red onion) to me. Some people seem to be more sensitive to those qualities than others (kind of in the same way that some folks love cilantro while others find it inedible.), but I wouldn’t describe it as unpleasant.

Overall, I’d say that Summit is a hop that demands a degree of thoughtfulness and a subtle hand in use. It is definitely not an all-purpose hop that works however you use it (e.g. Mosaic) and while I wouldn’t suggest it for a single hop beer, I would readily use it in just about any west coast IPA. I’d also happily find a place for it in a vegetable/spiced beer (like our very own Blood Red Beet Ale). Hell, I intend to toss an ounce or two into the 10% American IPA I have going right now, and I look forward to ya’lls feedback come the next swap. If you still find yourself a little leery about using Summit in your next brew, just pick up a can of Oskar Blues’ Gubna Imperial IPA, and see what you think. As a commercial example I can’t think of a beer that better exemplifies what you can expect from this incredibly interesting hop.

Bobby B

Bobby Bendily

Let’s Talk Topaz

October 2, 2014

Our guest blogger Bobby Bendily is the newest addition to the Bitter & Esters crew. He hails from the great state of Louisiana and has been brewing heartily for the past three years. He likes to keep his mash temp low.

TopazSo you come into the shop and begin putting together the recipe for that seasonally appropriate amber or a nice rich porter and you get to that inevitable point we all eventually reach. You open the cooler to grab those reliable old East Kent Goldings and you see the myriad of hops with the cool names you’ve never used before and you ask yourself “Why am I not brewing an I.P.A.?” They have names like Summer, Glacier, Phoenix, Admiral, and Vanguard. The descriptions read something fairly mundane like “Fruity” or “Unique.” Not enough to tell you anything that might sate your curiosity, just enough to fuel your imagination to begin usurping your current plans for that highly drinkable English Mild. You could very rightly say this is obsessive behavior yet here you are reading a beer blog so welcome to the club friend; see you at the meetings.

I recently had this very same problem. You see, I reach into that cooler several times a day, and the hop whose siren song has been calling to me for the past couple weeks is Topaz. Hailing from the land down under, whose main export is iron ore and actors who play comic book characters, this dual purpose hop is an alluring choice for a 7-8% percent I.P.A.. The flavor it imparts fits the ever popular “Fruity” description in earnest, but it comes off more subtly as berry-like on the palate (specifically blueberry). I’m told it comes off as resinous when used aggressively as a dry hop, but I found Topaz’s aroma to be almost tropical, with notes of lychee (but in a more subtle way than say Nelson Sauvin).

To be sure, Topaz ranks highly amongst the high alpha dual-purpose hops from Australia and New Zealand which brewers can’t wait to use like Galaxy and Motueka, but if I had to suggest a way to use it, I would play to its more subtle nature. Using Topaz as a late addition or dry hop as a supporting character to a more standout hop like Galaxy, Mosaic or even something piney and dank like Chinook may be the way to get the most out of it. Whichever purpose you end up using it for, I just hope you end up bringing it to the beer swap because I am really into this hop.

Bobby Bendily

Bobby Bendily

Filtering Your Beer

filtered beers 1Beer is sensory. Smell, taste, mouthfeel and sight.

The first thing you will notice in your glass of beer will be how it looks. Expectations are funny things and if the beer you get doesn’t match them, it will have an effect on the taste. A muddy looking beer could give you the impression that the beer tastes muddy.

The funny thing is that clarity is usually just aesthetics, rarely does it have anything to do with the taste. Sometimes cloudiness is because the beer is yeasty, which would affect flavor, but generally its just protein/tannin haze that will make your beer cloudy.

Since this is a sensory experience shouldn’t all of your senses be rewarded? (Not so sure about hearing, although I do love the sound of a cap coming off the bottle. Fizz!) The beer should look the way you desire.

There are different ways to clarify your beer. Using carrageenan like whirlfloc or irish moss at the last fifteen minutes of your boil will help bind and precipitate cold break proteins that can cause chill haze when your beer is chilled. Cooling your wort quickly (a wort chiller always helps) will also help bind these proteins and straining your cool wort when adding it to your fermenter before pitching your yeast will also get some of the hot and cold break proteins that form during the boil.

Hoppy beers, especially dry hopped beers, tend to be cloudy because of the tannins that are naturally in hop oils (polyphenols). Yeast that are less flocculant can also stay in suspension giving your finished beer cloudiness. This is desirable in some beer styles, e.g. Hefeweiss.

If you are looking to clarify your beer post fermentation you can use gelatin or isinglass ( which is made from fish bladder, who the hell thought of that?). Added after fermentation is finished but before packaging, these finings attach themselves to the stuff in suspension and help them drop out of solution. After a week or so you then have to rack the beer into your secondary, keg or bottling bucket.

Or you can filter your beer. Filtering beer is fairly uncommon among homebrewers because of the mess and potential oxidation and contamination that can occur. But it works well and faster than post fermentation finings as long as you are careful. I recently made an esb (extra special bitter) that was cloudy. It tasted great but it was just too murky, probably from chill haze. I had already transferred it to kegs so I decided to filter it.

Filtering SetupThe best way to filter homebrew is with a plate filter. It’s a plastic contraption that holds two paper filters inside it. You slowly push the unfiltered beer using co2 from one keg, through the filter, into another keg. Of course before you do anything, everything must be sanitized. I soaked the filter and hardware in starsan at first and then pushed some starsan through the filter to make sure I got everything. It is also a good way to check for leaks. One thing about these plate filters, they leak a little. Especially if you push the beer at too high of a psi. It is rated for 8 psi but I rarely go over 5 psi. I put the filter on a bucket to catch any drips.

There are three micron sizes of filters available, coarse, polish and sterile. You have to start with coarse to get the big stuff filtered. Usually one pass with the coarse filter is enough to get some good clarity, but if you want really clear or even sterile beer, you have to filter them again with each size. You do lose some flavors with filtering, especially some hop compounds. I would never do this to my IPAs. They will be cloudy from dry hopping. You also will lose some beer, but not a lot.

It took me about an hour and a half for a 5 gallon keg of beer! It is a slow go but worth the wait. I did one coarse filter pass of each of my kegs and am very happy with the results. I swear, now that the beer looks clearer it tastes better. Senses!

I hope I made myself clear.
John

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The Importance of Branding Your Brew

September 27, 2014

Brand Me!

Guest Blogger Tamara Connolly is the Principal & Creative Director at We Are How, a branding, design, and web development studio. She has over 14 years of experience helping clients from the retail, publishing, news, foundation, brewing, and health & wellness sectors implement well-conceived and effective branding and design solutions that help their organizations succeed. 

The Business of Branding Your Brew

If you are in the beginning stages of starting your own brewery, chances are that naming, branding, and design are on your list of things to do. Just having them on your list though, without knowing more about how to proceed down this path in the best possible way is setting yourself up for some unfortunate things to happen — aggravation, larger than necessary expenses, increased demands on your already limited time, and/or design that isn’t great or cohesive. Here are some tips for how to approach this process in a way that yields the best results with the least strain.

Naming

While it might sound easy, naming is typically a very involved process. From my own informal observation of start-ups engaging in this process, it takes about 4 months, on average, from start to final name. Some people get lucky and it will take less, some people wrestle with it for much longer. Because that can be such a difficult process, I recommend that you start at least 6 months before you anticipate signing a lease. Don’t fall in love with any name until it checks out with a search on the USPTO trademark electronic search system, the Beer Advocate, and a general Google search. Hand in hand with a name, should be some kind of story or description of your brand attributes — the two should work together, and should be appropriate for your audience. Once you have a name that is firm and not likely to change, I recommend you engage a trademark lawyer to file an Intent-To-Use application with the USPTO, in order to hold your name until you can file a trademark when you are actually using the mark in commerce. What makes a good name? That’s a separate conversation, worthy of it’s own blog post.

Weaving Branding into your Business Plan

How you plan on funding your brewery start-up costs will influence when and how you begin to think about branding and design. Self-funding vs. seeking investors will dictate a different timeline for this process. If you are funding the start-up on your own, you can probably put off branding and design until you’ve got a lease signed, but once that lease is signed, it’s go-time (remember, you’ve already got an Intent-To-Use application filed for your name at this point). If you are seeking investors, you’ll want branding and design reflected in your investor document — most investors want to see it, and you’ll stand a better chance of wooing them. It is an important piece that shows you’ve thought about the market for your product, and how to appeal to them. That investor document, even though it’s not for public circulation, is your first piece of marketing collateral. If you are working with a very limited budget, you might not be able to include a fully fleshed about visual brand identity in your investor document, but you can, and should, have it be well designed and convey the essence of your brand.

Beyond the logo

When you engage with a design agency or consultant it’s important to be thinking beyond a logo. Many start-ups will hire an agency or consultant to fill that specific need, without realizing that the logo isn’t an end point — it’s really a piece of something much larger, your whole brand identity. While it may seem like more work, creating a strong brand style guide, including your logo, as the first phase of work is going to save you a lot of agony and cost later down the line. It will inform everything you do in the short-term and long-term future so there is cohesion with less guesswork, less rounds of “getting it right”, and less time explaining what your brand is all about to anyone that you hire to create brand touch-points (interior designers for your tasting room, tap handle designers, packaging design, etc). A good style guide doesn’t just list color specifications and fonts, it should clearly convey your spirit and style with visual and written content. Having a style guide doesn’t mean that your brand can’t change over time, but if and when it does, it should be intentional, not a byproduct of shooting from the hip. When you do evolve your branding and design, you would change your style guide accordingly to ensure it’s carried out with consistency.

Want to learn more?

If you are interested in learning more about effectively branding your brew, I’ll be going into more detail in my upcoming class: “The Business of Branding Your Brew” on Saturday October 25th. Book it here! Hope to see you there!

Happy Branding!

Tamara

What is Brewnity?

September 19, 2014

By now you might have heard me talk about Brewnity. So what is Brewnity? I can tell you what Brewnity is not.

Brewnity is not a homebrew club. There are no officers, no dues.

Rather it is a gathering of the homebrew clubs and homebrew shops in the greater NYC area. The goal being that there is strength in numbers. Our objective is to promote the great hobby of homebrewing through charitable events, club to club competitions and anything else we find fun and beery. At Bitter & Esters we are currently setting up a friendly competition with one or more of the clubs in the area with our monthly beer swap.

New York City has some of the greatest homebrew clubs and homebrewers, Brewnity brings them all together for the greater good. By being a member of one of the participating homebrew clubs, or a customer of one of the participating homebrew stores, you are a member of Brewnity.
Just recently Brewnity helped organize and contributed homebrew to Kegs and Kluckers. An annual event at Brooklyn Brewery that raises money for JustFood.org. The event also allowed homebrewers and chicken farmers to meet and organize getting spent grains to farmers as feed.

Coming up on November 2nd, 2014, Brewnity’s NYC area brewers will gather at the Bell House in Gowanus Brooklyn to celebrate the burgeoning home brewing scene in New York City. It will be a party to benefit a local charity of your choosing! You get to vote for your preferred local charity, or write one in that you would like considered. The organization with the most votes by 5pm, Wednesday October 8th will be first choice. 100% of proceeds from this annual event will be donated to the organization. Please vote here. Tickets for this event are scheduled to go on sale Friday September 26th. More info coming soon to www.brewnity.com.

If you want to be part of the event, come to Bitter & Esters beer swap on October 1st at 6:30. I’ll be laying out more details then about how you can be involved. If you can’t make the swap, drop by the store and we’ll chat.

Brewnity is a great thing. It gives the clubs and shops a way of communicating and organizing awesome events. With all of us combined we can really get the word out about our homebrew community here in the greater NYC area and do some good in the process.

For more information on the homebrew clubs in NYC check out last weeks post (just beneath this one or click here!).

Brewnifyingly yours,
John

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