Grain-Stuffed Cornish Game Hen on Brown Ale Rice Pudding

I decided to get a little decadently rustic tonight . . . my first full day at home in weeks – and time to prep!  Chocolate Stout Grain-Stuffed Cornish Game Hen on Brown Ale Rice Pudding with Carrots, Cranberries, and Mushrooms.

Roasted Game Hen on Ale Rice Pudding

Roasted Game Hen on Ale Rice Pudding

Okay, so I did this at the beginning of June and never finished the post…just found the unfinished draft (thought it was up weeks ago!)…guess it’s time to finish it up!

As this was a bit of an experiment (and just serving myself), I stuck to a single bird.  Start with thawing and unwrapping your Cornish game hen (really, just a small chicken).  Rinse it thoroughly, inside and out.  Check for giblets (not usually included in a game hen, but often held in plastic if they are there).

Soak the bird in a beer brine for 2-3hrs, tossing or rebasting regularly.  Use 12-16oz brown ale, 2-4 Tbsp malt vinegar, and a few whole cloves and peppercorns with some bay leaves.

Brined Hen in Roast Pan

Brined Hen in Roast Pan

Season inside and out with salt and pepper (I also used some bay leaf, paprika and a small amount of granulated garlic and onion powder).

Seasoned Stuffed Game Hen

Seasoned Stuffed Game Hen

Pin or sew the neck opening shut, upend, and stuff with dried spent grains (I used grains from my Black Imp Quintipple Chocolate Stout).  Pin opening shut (don’t sew this one just yet) and set aside to let rinse water and meat juices start soaking into the grain while the rest is prepped.

Game Hen Stuffed with Spent Grains

Game Hen Stuffed with Spent Grains

I used Basmati rice for this recipe, as it has a nice light, neutral flavor and does not get super-sticky…wild or long-grain domestic rice works quite well too (although more hard and will make more of a rice-side than a rice pudding texture).  Try to avoid super-soft or super-sticky rices, like jasmine…also try to avoid strongly-flavoured ones, such as domestic brown rice (we’ll be adding more than enough flavor).

Measure your rice by pouring it dry into the bottom of your roast pan until 1/4″-3/8″ deep (which will end up coming close to halfway up the side of the bird, when all is said and done).  Mix in some light seasoning, maybe 1-2 tsp.  I used whole black peppercorns, a pinch of Herbes de Provence (a French blend of green herbs mixed with lavender), and a small amount of crushed coriander.  Avoid adding salts to the rice at this point – salt will make the rice “skin up” in the hot liquid and make a harder rice than we want (some salt will come off of the bird, anyway).  I also added 1 Tbsp of brown sugar.  Mix the dry ingredients thoroughly.

Add in 1 can of sliced carrots, perhaps cut in half if large.  I know, I know, canned carrots don’t taste nearly as good as fresh ones (and are missing most of the nutrients), but for soups and quick-bakes, I don’t have the patience to blanch/parboil them ahead.  The canned ones give that nice carrot sweetness and a nice soft texture.  This is primarily a soft-textured dish, so I really didn’t want anything too crunchy involved.  Add 1 can sliced mushrooms or 1/2-3/4c sliced fresh mushrooms.  Throw in a handful or two of dried cranberries for some bits of zip (again, if they are large, you may want to cut them down a bit).  Mince up a fresh garlic clove or two and stir it all together thoroughly with 1-2 Tbsp heavy cream.

Adding Beer Brine

Adding Beer Brine

The first time I made this, I had placed the bird, poured the brine and more beer over it, then added the rice mix back in.  While it worked, I tried it differently the next time and it worked much better.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo the second time around.

Push the rice mix into a mound in the center of the baking pan.  Here’s the fun part.  Hold your game hen neck-down over the mound and gently open the stuffing-flap.  Slowly pour the beer brine into the ass end of the chicken so that is flows through the spent grains, drains out the neck hole, and pours down onto the center of the rice mound.  This can take a few minutes, depending on how tightly you packed the grain and how sealed the neck hole is – the slower it goes (as long as it DOES go), the more flavour you will get from it.

When the dripping has (mostly) stopped, set the bird down and sew the buttflap shut.  Push the rice mixture to the edges of the pan and nestle the bird into the center.  Push the rice mix back down to form a fairly level layer all the way around the bird, covering the entire pan bottom that is not in contact with the chicken.  The liquid level should be about halfway up to the level of the top of the rice.  Remember that more liquid will drain from the bird and carrots, while some will be soaked up by the grain and cranberries.  Accounting for this, add a little beer or water if you’re concerned it’s too dry (but remember that if it’s too wet, your rice will be a soggy mess…and if it’s too dry, it’ll burn).

Cover the pan and roast at 375*F for 45 minutes.  Pull the pan out and uncover.  Brush a little melted butter or olive oil over the bird.  Sprinkle on a little smoked paprika or dark chili powder.  Visually inspect the rice.  If it looks like it needs it, lightly fluff with a fork (VERY lightly) and/or add a little water.  (If it looks too wet, there’s not much you can do to fix it, so start thinking about another quick side dish.)

Return to oven uncovered for another 15 minutes (until skin is crisping, juices run clear, and the thickest part of the meat measures at least 165*F).

Game Hen Nicely Crisped

Game Hen Nicely Crisped

Remove from oven.  Lift bird from the rice and set on large cutting board.  Unpin/unsew neck and butt.  Scrape out the spent grains and toss away (we want the flavours and scents, not the crunchies).  Using large chef’s knife or cleaver, Cut bird in half down the breastbone and spine.

Game Hen Split with Grains Removed

Game Hen Split with Grains Removed

With a large fork, lightly toss the rice mixture to break it up and separate it from the bottom (there will generally be a little burned down that you don’t want to mix in).

Place half game hen onto each plate.  Spoon rice pudding on the side.  Drizzle edges of plate with Sriracha.  Accompany with a small dish of Pub Pickles.  Serves 2.

Cornish Game Hen on Brown Ale Rice Pudding with Carrots, Cranberries, and Mushrooms

Cornish Game Hen on Brown Ale Rice Pudding with Carrots, Cranberries, and Mushrooms

Complimentary Pairings:  We need rich, malty ales to enhance earthy root vegetable notes – everything in this dish lives within +/- 8-10 inches of the soil line and we want our compliment to bring out the full, rich darkness of the soil itself and the warmth of the sunshine.  I would serve with an English brown, Vienna/Märzen, Belgian dubbel, Roggenbier/Rauchbier, Scottish ale, or sweet/oatmeal/imperial stout to bring up the caramelly/melanoidin, chocolatey, and roasty/smoky notes, all of which have fairly low carbonation levels to allow the flavours of the beer and the dish to mingle freely.  Be careful of going too far into the same flavour spectrum.  An English mild, alt, or bock would just get lost next to the dish.  A full-on Scotch ale would be sickeningly sweet and cloying after a few bites/sips.  A dry stout or schwarzbier would seem sharp and acrid/astringent next to the umami-heavy flavours and oils in the dish.

Contrasting pairings:  To contrast flavours, we need crisp, light ales/lagers to offset the dark, earthy notes with brightness and palate-scrubbing carbonation to reset the palate.  I would serve with a not-too-hoppy pale ale, Kölsch, Berlinerweisse without syrup, or a Bohemian pilsner.  A Belgian golden strong could be interesting, but the carbonation of a tripel would be more appropriate.  A bready ESB or a malty Belgian singel or English pale ale would not have the right crispness to offset the flavour profile, but too much hoppiness could make for an unpleasant pairing.

Complex Pairings:  This dish could be enhanced by pairing with:  earthy funkiness to let the root veg flavours shine; enhancing spice, roast, or toffee to boost the seasonings; sweet/tart/sour notes to balance the very umami-heavy flavour profile; and some nice carbonation to reset the palate.  I think any of the following pairings would give an attentive diner/imbiber plenty to ponder and experience:  saison/biere de garde (enhancing spice, contrasting citrus, high carbonation), Flanders red (enhancing berry and oak, contrasting sour, low carb but acidity serves similar purpose resetting the palate), gueuze/lambic (earthy funk of course, sour/tart brightness, high carb+acid), barleywines/old ales (each is so uniquely complex….).  The flavours of a dunkelweizen could certainly take the entire dish in a new direction.  I think an oud bruin or weizenbock would run afoul of the same “getting lost” problem of the mild and alt to properly stand out.

Seasonal Pairings:  This would make an excellent dish at any time of year, however, root vegetable flavours are most reminiscent of autumn and winter cooking.  This would pair beautifully for Thanksgiving with any of the autumn seasonal beers such as harvest ales, pumpkin ales, and oktoberfests (avoid the fresh-hop IPAs/IPLs, though) and a side of cranberry sauce instead of the pickles.  Christmas ales provide a rich, dark maltiness and loads of spices and preserved-fruit flavours, which would certainly suit a Christmas dinner (as would a Belgian dark ale).  Likewise, later in the season, the maltiness and spices of winter ales would suit as wonderful pairings without the decadence of the fruits from the Christmas beers.

I hope you enjoy (I certainly did!)

Let me know what you think – if you give it a go yourself, send me tasting notes and a pic of how it came out!

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Homebrewing a New eIPA

Finally found time for another brew day at home!  I have a nzIPA ready to bottle and need to recycle the yeast for today’s batch (more on that later).  Continuing one of my experiment series, today I am brewing another full-flavor, light-bodied India Pale Ale.  Today’s IPA is focused on earthy English IPA flavours.

The grain bill includes a majority of Maris Otter malt for full English flavour.  There is a bit of domestic 2-Row too keep it from being too rich (remember I’m shooting for a light-bodied beer).  A small portion of Crystal 60 to round out the flavours and scents while enhancing the viscosity and some White Wheat Malt to add a balancing tang and aid the head rounds out the grain bill.  To ensure a drier, more complete fermentation, the entire grain bill is reduced slightly and replaced with a portion of post-boil dextrose.

The grains sat through a long lower-temp mash before a combined vorlauf/mashout.  The tun was drained onto Fuggles first wort hops for 6 gallons of 1.038 first runnings.  Another 4 gallons were added as a batch sparge and drained for 1.018 second runnings.  Pre-boil collections came to nearly 11 gallons at 1.034.  Roughly 8.5 gallons was left in my 10gal kettle (that spans 2 burners on my natural gas range) and the remainder of the second runnings was reserved in my 5gal side kettle.  During the boil, all additions were made to the larger kettle, as the smaller one was left to caramelize a bit with only the FWH floating around (and later, a small bit of whirlfloc).

A fistful of Fuggles and Columbus went in at the start of the boil for bittering, followed up by some Hallertau Tradition (with the whirlfloc) at the 20 minute mark for some noble flavor.  I inserted the immersion chiller some time between the 10 and 15 minute marks to sterilize in the boil.  Yeast nutrients, dextrose, and more Fuggles dropped at the 5 minute aroma mark . . . followed by a bit more Fuggles right after flameout (just to be sure – LOL).

At flameout, both of my kettles had reduced in volume due to boiloff evaporation and I was able to combine them into the larger kettle, leaving me with slightly under 9 gallons of wort.  Before combining, the larger kettle (with the sugar addition) was at 1.051, while the smaller caramelizing kettle (that is pure second-runnings) had concentrated to 1.032.

My 50′ immersion chiller is running now and a final OG reading will be taken after whirlpooling and separation to fermentors.  Now, off to get some bottles filled and wash some yeast real quick!  Have a good night, y’all!

Distribution Sales Begin!

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to write a new post.  Time for a quick update on the Stark Brewing Company activities!

We are currently shipping out Milly’s Oatmeal Stout and Mt. Uncanoonuc Cream Ale.  We have TTB labelling approval for kegs of Milly’s, Mt. U, Tasha’s Red Tail Ale, and Bo’s Scotch Ale.

Three shipments of kegs (15gal half-barrels and 5gal logs) have gone to the warehouse at Amoskeag Distributors.

Amoskeag is still getting their inventory/sales software updated to include our products, so distribution has been slow to start and we are relying on marketplace rumour to find where kegs are ending up.  The TAP in Manchester and Penuche’s in Nashua are confirmed to be serving Stark brews.  Todd is updating the Stark Brewing Company page on Facebook as accounts are confirmed.

Even more exciting, we have received labelling approval for 22oz bomber bottles of both the Milly’s Oatmeal Stout and the Mt. U.  We have black Stark logo collar labels and full-sized bottle labels.

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We have also shipped out 40 cases (12 bottles per case) of each beer to Amoskeag to start delivering to retail accounts.

(After a lot of trial-and-effort, our bottler is finally working right…the auto-labeller, not so much.  How long do YOU think it takes to hand-wipe, -label, and -package that much beer?)

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We have another 50 cases of stout and 70 cases of cream ale packaged and mostly labelled at the brewpub.  We are proud to announce that in addition to growler fills of anything on tap (generally 17 or 18 house beers to choose from!), we now have bottles available to take home from the brewpub (cool new shirts too).  Tentative price point is $6.99 per 22oz bottle.

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In fact, the first bottles have begun moving!  Pictured above are the buyers of the first direct sale of Stark Brewing Company bottles.  Amoskeag has started moving them into stores.  As might be expected from anyone who knows the Manchester area, Bert Bingle of Bert’s Better Beers in Hooksett was one of the first in line to be stocked.  Again, Todd is updating on the Stark Facebook page as accounts are confirmed….I think were past 15 accounts a few days ago.

I’ll to put up a few short posts about our new in-house releases before I get back towards the backlog of 40+ posts I owe y’all that are half-written.  😉

Until next time, raise those pints high and drain ’em low!

Rhizomes Arrived!

I decided to start up some new hop plants this year.  (My previously-documented Cascade, Fuggle and Willamette plants were destroyed in their fourth year by a vindictive ex a couple of years ago.)

At a spur-of-the-moment decision during a quiet spell at the brewery, I placed a fresh order for some rhizomes on Tuesday.  Once again, I ordered my rhizomes through Vickie Olson at RNV Enterprises.  Robert Olson is the former CEO and Vickie ran the analysis lab at HopUnion.  They source 100% fresh-cut Yakima Valley hop rhizomes and ship amazingly quickly (I received my rhizomes via UPS in NH in less than 48 hours from placing the order!)

Tettnang Rhizomes

Tettnang Rhizomes

Opening the box and unwrapping the bubble-wrap with eager anticipation, I was (again) not disappointed.  I had placed an order for 1 Tettnang, 1 Golding, 1 Amallia, and 2 Cascade rhizomes.  Once again, Vickie hooked me up and I received 3 Cascades and 2 each of the others.  (Last time, I had ordered 1 each of the Cascade, Fuggle, and Willamette and received 2 of each.)  Thank you Vickie!

Cascade Rhizomes

Cascade Rhizomes

Not only were there extra rhizomes packaged, they were all showing significant early sprouting with numerous shoots off of every rhizome (some a couple of inches long).  They were also quite large, including a MASSIVE Golding root.  These photos can be a little deceiving – I should have added in something for a size reference.  These are GALLON ziploc bags, if that helps…and the big Golding rhizome is nearly the full width of the bag and over an inch thick!

Golding Rhizomes

Golding Rhizomes

There was also two new hops from New Mexico on their list and I decided to try one.  RNV currently carries rhizomes for Neo1 and for Amallia.  Amallia is described as:  “Has an earthy smell.  Great for a brown style beer or darker style ales.  Estimated alpha is 5.5-9% with a beta of 4.2-8.3%.”  Sounded interesting, so I added some to my list.  (The Neo1 is lemon and citrus….and I have been playing with Citra, Falconer’s Flight, Falconer’s 7C’s, Galaxy, Motueka, etc….all set on citrus right now.)

Amallia Rhizomes

Amallia Rhizomes

After an inspection (and some pics), I needed to store the rhizomes until I can plant them.  I don’t currently have the containers, soil, or soil amendments to get them going – I’ve been on the run for the last three weeks (as my lack of regular posts lately attests).  To make sure they don’t dry out, each bag was opened and the rhizomes were gently wrapped in two damp (but NOT dripping) paper towels.

Wrapping Rhizomes in Damp Paper Towels

Wrapping Rhizomes in Damp Paper Towels

After wrapping, they were carefully placed bag in their bags.  Each bag was gently rolled and the excess air squeezed out (again, GENTLY…don’t break those young shoots!) before being sealed shut.

Rhizomes Wrapped and Bagged

Rhizomes Wrapped and Bagged in 1-Gallon Ziploc Bags

All four bags are currently being stored in the deli/crisper drawer in my refridgerator.  Hopefully I can source some containers this weekend and get them in some dirt next weekend.  Stay tuned for updates on how they’re doing…by late June, these babies will be popping up to the tune of 12-18″ PER DAY!

Quick Lunch: Chicken IPA Salad

I’ve been pretty busy for the last few weeks (hence my recent lack of posts) and my home larder is starting to get a little low.  I suppose that’ll happen when it’s been nearly a month since I did a grocery shop.

As I’m pondering between the merits of the reasonably empty, but instant, gratification of oatmeal or pasta weighed against the time delay of thawing some meat for something more substantial, I spotted a can of chunk chicken in the cabinet.  Far from a favorite, probably loaded with unpleasant things if I dared to read the label, but a handy staple in moments such as these.  On the next shelf sits a box with a few sleeves of saltine-type crackers.  Jackpot!  Quick, easy, and filling…if somewhat flavorless.

Out came some so-so pickles (won’t be buying that brand again, but they’re edible) and sweet onion….to season, to season……  Eureka!  HOPS!  Here is what I came up with, and it’s pretty darn tasty, even if I am saying so myself.

Hopped Chicken Salad

Chicken IPA Salad before Mayonnaise

RECIPE:  Chicken IPA Salad

  • 10oz drained shredded chicken (I used 1 can)
  • equal amount diced sweet onion (1/3-1/2 an onion)
  • equal amount diced sweet pickles
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp dried parsley
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder (to taste)
  • 2 Tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1/8-1/2 tsp ground pellet hops (I used Galaxy)
  • sea salt (to taste)
  • 1/4c blue cheese salad dressing
  • 1/2-2c mayonnaise

Drain and shred chicken with a fork in large bowl.  Add pickles and onions to form a mix of equal parts by volume.  Add all spices, sugar, and hops, with an extremely light sprinkle of salt.  Toss thoroughly and allow to rest for ten minutes.  This will let the salt and sugar start to dissolve, which will release the juices from the ingredients to rehydrate the parsley and hops.  Stir in blue cheese and 1/2c mayonnaise.  The hops will accentuate the pepper, garlic, and especially the salt.  Let rest for two minutes before stirring and tasting.  Adjust salt, pepper, garlic, and sugar to taste.  Add more mayonnaise until desired consistency/flavour is reached.

Serve on the cheap with plain crackers, or dress up in a sandwich with lettuce and tomato slices on toasted spent-grain sourdough bread.  Serves 2-4.

The parsley and leafy/grassy notes of the hops serve to enhance one another, as the spices bring forth the spicier notes from the hops.  The rich umami notes from the garlic, chicken, and crackers/bread create an impression of bready hearth warmness.  I am quite pleased, as the overall effect is of a chicken-based IPA with the cracker/chicken standing in for base malts, brown sugar for caramel malts, garlic/onion for slight meaty yeast notes (and the blue cheese/mayo for a light tanginess), and of course the parsley/hop flavors cutting over the top with a complex pickle/vidalia sweetness layering into the garlicy hop-bitter dryness.

Pair with an IPA and you’re rockin’!

Brewery Intern: Day 12 (I Wanna Mount U)

It was another brew day today, so we started early at 9.  I started to hook up hoses, but the burner was being ornery again.  Bryan had already been trying to reset it for 20 minutes or so and passed it off to me to watch the lights on the box and walk around to hit the reset every few minutes.  Not really long enough to accomplish much of anything else.  After about half an hour of tapping the igniter tube, adjusting the flue venting and blower fan, and resetting the box, it finally fired up and got the water heating.

The hoses and pump were set up and then we dragged the grain sacks into position.  It was an early morning and the coffee hadn’t kicked in yet, so some of the hoses needed to be moved around.  The sacks were opened up and the grain augur lowered.  The water wasn’t nearly up to temp, so some time was spent moving kegs around, straightening up the Grundy Room, and preparing some backup kegs (the smaller 5 gallon logs to fit into the kegerators out in the bar) of the Chocolate Stout and the Crabby Apple Ale (which includes some apple cider).

Once the water was close to strike temperature, the input hose was attached to the side of the hydrator and the flow was turned on.  As in the past, we preheated the mash tun and filled it up to just a bit above the false bottom before was started sending the grain up the augur.  The augur chute dropped into the top of the hydrator and the wetted grains fell down into the mash tun.  The oar was constantly moving to avoid any doughballs in the mash.

After the water was shut off, the mash was let to rest.  Then recirculated by pump through the sparge head to set the grain bed.  Once the sight glass ran clear and clean, the sparge water was turned back on and the pump started to move mash to the kettle.

The Mt. U (short for Mount Uncanooc) beer is a cream ale. It has a fairly light grain bill and hop schedule, so it is correspondingly light in colour and intensity.  It is a pleasant introductory beer with a bit of flavor that is good for wooing macro beer drinkers into craft beer.

With the light recipe, the boil, chill, and transfer went very smoothly without any memorable complications.  This time, Karen ended up cleaning out the mash tun while I clambered into the boil kettle to clean it out.

The kettle is much more awkward to get in and out of than the mash tun for a few reasons.  The manway hole is much smaller – and much closer to the ceiling.  Although there are lots of pipes and such around, nothing is strong enough to use to brace yourself, which makes it awfully hard to get your feet and legs up through the hole without becoming unbalance and tipping over.  This effect is significantly magnified by being tall, as I can attest.

For an extra bonus, there are no handholds or footholds inside the kettle, and the opening is above your head.  The one safe brace is a bolt through one of the old mill ceiling beams.  Attached to it is a length of plastic-coated steel cable that is clamped in a loop at the end to drop through the kettle hole and use as a step to get high enough to pull yourself out.

That awkwardness of getting in and out aside, I much prefer cleaning the kettle to the tun.  I can stand up inside, it’s much less claustrophobic, not nearly as hot, and much less messy.

Tired from a long day, we cleaned up everything else, paused for a few pints and went home to rally for the next day’s cleaning.

(Once again, catching up on posts – photos will be added soon.)

Brewery Intern: Day 11 (Russian Imperial Moves)

A busy day today, we started by firing up the kettle with some warm water left in it from yesterday.  Thankfully, the machine spirits of the burner flame were appeased to ignition by the application of sacred unguents and the sacred rubber mallet of correction, as the appropriate holy words were chanted over the box of indicator lights.

As soon as the ritual had concluded successfully, I set about getting the hoses down and hooking them up to brew kettle through the pump and to the Grundy Room access pipe (that goes through the walls and over the hallway).  I also ran the second pump into the Grundy Room and set up hoses for both transferring water from the kettle to fill the tank and to recirculate the cleaning solutions.  We ran through the cycles of caustic, acid, and iodine (with all of the appropriate rinses) as quickly as we could.

As soon as some CO2 pressure had blown out the last of the iodine, we moved the hoses in the Brewhouse to move the half batch of Russian Imperial Stout into the newly cleaned Grundy tank.  A few switches and levers and off she went.  It was a beautifully quick and complication-free transfer (although the fact that we don’t filter our stouts helps a lot).

The moment the FV was empty, we immediately swung things around again to use the tap water feed and the kettle water to alternately rinse and clean the FV through all of the caustic, acid, and iodine cycles.

After packing everything up and handling a couple of brewery tours, we sat down for a few pints….and swapped out an empty keg or two while we were there, talking with the customers.

Sorry I’m so behind on posts…I’m trying to catch up with some content – I’ll come back and add some photos soon.

Brewery Intern: Day 10 (Hosing Everything Down)

Back for Monday and the routine starts again.  Craig already had the kettle heating up when I got in and were out of sight, so I got to work clearing space in the Grundy Room, moving kegs around, and pulling out the keg washer.

As I was gathering up hoses and tri-clamps to hook up the pump and keg washer, the guys were busy in the office.  While finishing up rigging the pump (to pull the outflow of the kettle over the hallway into the Grundy Room for the washer’s basin), Karen showed up.

Being the detail-oriented person that I am, I’ve developed the habit of shutting off the gas and beer valves on each keg tap on the washer before connecting or disconnecting a keg.  Bryan and Craig don’t bother, happy to save a few seconds of effort in each cycle.  All three of us have a habit of draping the taps off the sides where they are easily located.  Today, they gave Karen a quick run-down of the washer and she and I got started washing kegs.

After disconnecting the first set, I did not notice that Karen had left one of the taps draped over the front of the keg washer….with the valves left open.  Not thinking about any cause for concern, I brought in the next set of kegs and hooked up the first one.  I opened the valves to what was theoretically a closed system (except for the drain) to have the keg empty its tepid, stale contents directly onto my denim-clad crotch from point-blank range.  As it was under pressure, it blasted right through the paltry protection of my jeans and soaked me to the skin – from hip to hip and down to my right knee.

By late afternoon, the liquid was finally maintaining my body temperature….and finally started to dry 7-8 hours later.  Thankfully, my jeans were dark and didn’t show much after the first hour or so (which of course had to be during the lunch rush)!

We finally got through cleaning all of the kegs and Karen had to take off.  Bryan and I stuck around to empty out the bright tank of John Stark Porter into the newly-washed kegs.

Had a few pints and headed for home….hopefully will add some photos soon.

Certified Cicerone Exam Day

The morning of Thursday, February 27, I woke up early and had a big breakfast on my way out of town.  Driving into the sunrise, the song “Daybreak” by a friend of mine, Dave Osoff, was a perfect soundtrack.

Arriving at Merrimack Valley Distributors in Danvers, MA, I made my way upstairs to the conference room to find a number of somber-faced people awaiting the start of the exam.

Although there was not much talking going on, a couple of things were quickly apparent:  first, that most of the people there worked for MVD – and second, that the majority of the test-takers were re-taking the exam.  Two were on their third re-take.  Obviously, this is NOT an easy exam.  One examinee had come up from Pennsylvania for the exam!

The sheets on our desks restated the fact that discussing the contents of the exam in any sort of detail is grounds for revoking your certification.  We also had to pick a seven-digit “blind number” to go on each page of our exams.  This unique exam id # lets the graders split up the exams page-by-page to send out around the country for impartial grading.

The written portion of the exam is closed-book and scheduled for three hours.  It is mostly shorter write-in answer questions with a couple of longer ones and three full-length essays to write.  For many of these questions (and especially the essay ones), partials credit is available for imperfect answers . . . but not having taken the exam before, I’m not sure how generous they tend to be.

While I can’t discuss the specifics of what was on the exam, I will say that I was shocked at how much of the exam aligned with the practice exam available on the Cicerone web site.  Yes, there were some of the same questions (and many that were VERY similar), but more than that, the style and type of questions were consistent with the actual exam.  The biggest difficulty of this exam isn’t the individual questions – it’s the breadth of knowledge that you are expected to know in-depth and not knowing which of the details will be asked.

The was one question that actually stumped me – on long-draw draft line troubleshooting.  I’ve asked the question of a few brewers since (without mentioning the source) and they’re stumped too . . . one suggested it is a Kobayashi Maru scenario.   The one that really got me was a simple blank-out.  I’d studied the list of Trappist abbeys and when called upon to name a number of them, I blanked out after writing in Westvleteren and Chimay.

I finished the written portion in a little over two hours, a little less than halfway through the pack.  A couple of the examinees worked right until the last minute.  After a short bathroom break, I amused myself doodling until we were ready to start the tasting portion of the exam.

The Cicerone tasting exam consists of three parts.  You are expected to complete all three parts in 45 minutes.   For the first portion, you are presented with a sample beer that is your undoctored control and four samples of the same beer.  One is a control sample that matches the original and the other three have been doctored with adulterants to mimic common off-flavors in beer.  It was not hard to separate the doctored samples from the control, but the the levels were subtly low and it was difficult to pick out WHICH off-flavor we were tasting.  (We got to talk about the samples in the period after the tasting was over – the same sample had as many as three or four people detecting something different!)

The second portion of the tasting exam involved four more samples.  For each, we were told it was one of two styles and had to select the correct one.

The third portion of the tasting exam was the trickier real-world scenario of evaluating a returned beer.  Each of four samples was given to us.  We we told the brand of beer and whether it was from bottle or draft.  Our task was to decide it was worth serving – and if not, the reason why and probable cause.  This was very tough and it seemed nearly everybody got at least one wrong.

Finally, was the much-mysterious demonstration portion of the exam.  This is the part that had me pretty well freaked out – with the amount of material, I really had no idea what to expect and searched the net exhaustively for hints.  The best I found was a vague comment that it *might* have something to do with draft systems.  Yes, it did, but I won’t tell you what we had to do for our demonstration.

We each had three minutes alone in a small meeting room in front of a recording digital camera to demonstrate and explain our given task.  If you are concerned about this portion of the exam, take a good long look at the Draft Quality Manual – know your systems and parts, their names and what each part does, and ideally you should have taken apart each piece of equipment mentioned.  If you’re comfortable with that material, the demonstration will be a breeze.

Overall, it was a great experience that really tested the limits of my knowledge in the fringe details.  I’m positive that I didn’t ace it, but am equally confident that I didn’t bomb it either. I definitely know that I made some mistakes – with the partial credit possible, I honestly have no idea whether or not I’ll end up with a passing score, but am confident in how I did overall.  Fingers are crossed that I won’t need to re-take, but I’ve got a 1-3 month wait to find out.  At this point, I’m glad I can stop studying so hard every night and can relax a bit more for a while.

Time to brew something!

Brewery Intern: Day 08 (Smoother Runnings)

Today’s brew day proved much smoother (and much shorter) than last week’s for a number of reasons.  Rather than doing a partigyle brew to produce two different beers in half batches, today we were doing a single full-size brew.  It also helped that the kettle burner decided to be cooperative today.

The plan was to re-brew the Milly’s Oatmeal Stout to replace the batch we had drained from the fermentor the day before (which was now serving on tap, replacing the batch that had kicked just a few days before).  This stout is one of the eight flagship beers that will be promoted through the Stark Mills distribution agreement – and will even have its own custom tap handle (we are supposed to see a prototype tomorrow)!

We arrived and got the warm water in the kettle from last night heating up again and positioned our pumps and hoses.  While waiting for the grain delivery truck (actually, our biggest delay of the day), we took apart and cleaned the fittings on a few corny kegs and tested the fittings.  Once the truck arrived, we brought two pallet-loads of grain sacks in by hand, checked them in, and separated the ones that we needed for today.

Once the grain was set, we started moving quickly, getting the mash tun heating up with hot water through the hydrator.  I dropped the grain augur to the floor after the specialty grains were measured out.  Karen and I switched positions this time and she dumped the grain sacks into the augur with Bryan’s help while I stirred the mash and talked with Craig.  That is, until we got through the barleys and the oats started to come up the augur . . . and quickly jam it.  Yee-haw!  The rest of the oats were hauled up to the top and dumped in directly while I stirred.  Then (after disconnecting the power) I unclogged the augur with a screwdriver.  A four-inch diameter pipe was clogged with nearly a foot-long mass of flaked oats compressed into a near-solid cork.  By the time I was done, I had filled nearly half of a brew bucket with oats to stir in.

Milly's Oatmeal Stout in the Boil Kettle

Milly’s Oatmeal Stout in the Boil Kettle

The lovely roasty dark mash settled nicely, recirculated nicely, and (other than a brief near-stick during sparging) lautered evenly until our brew kettle was filled.  We drained off a bunch of the remaining sweet wort to play with while the kettle finished heating up to a boil.  We all had half a glass or more of the syrupy roasty chocolatey malt candy goodness.  I mixed up a chocolate Malt Cola that I passed around. We passed a pitcher off to the kitchen to have fun with – with Bryan reporting hearing the word “marinade” being muttered before he exited the kitchen.

RECIPE: Malt Cola


30-60% sweet wort (bolder British malt flavors work best)
40-70% cola soda (the more citric Coke works better than Pepsi)


Add cooled wort to soda and gently stir before adding ice. Adjust blend to taste.  I like it best with a bit more soda than wort.

Dark roasty worts such as stouts and porters make it more of a chocolate cola, while worts from bitters/milds/browns will be more of a caramel cola. More caramelly worts would also be appropriate blended with a traditional root/birch/ginger beer.

Raking the Spent Grain out the Manway

Raking the Spent Grain out the Manway

I measured out the 75 and 60 minute hop additions, and we got to raking out the now-drained mash tun.  The spent grain was loosened from above with the oar and pulled out of the manway with a heavy-duty garden hoe to fall into plastic 55-gallon drums and trash cans.  The grains were packed down in each bucket to compress them as much as possible.  As each bucket was filled to within inches of the brim, it was loaded on a hand cart and wheeled through the twisting path of ramps and tight corners through the function room, kitchen, and back of the house areas to exit at the back door near the dumpsters.  As the buckets began to pile up, a call was placed to our regular farmer to come collect it for feed for his farm critters.  There is so much heat stored in this amount of grain that even at the below-freezing temperatures that we’ve had lately, it will take days to cool off enough to start to sour.  (We filled about 9 of these big barrels with the heavy, wet, spent grain – which had weighed close to 1,100 pounds while dry before the mash . . . I hope I don’t need to break out the thermodynamics equations for you to get the idea that there’s a LOT of hot mass in each of them.)

I measured out the next additions of hops and put the boxes away before climbing through the top hatch into the mash tun with a bucket, a green scrubby, and the garden hose.  I sort of lost track of time for a while, drenched with sweat and water spray, not able to hear much of anything outside except when I occasionally stuck my head out of the top.  Eventually, I got the four panels of the false bottom turned up and everything inside the tun sparkling and shiny and clambered out with surprising ease.

Top Hatch of Mash Tun

Top Hatch of Mash Tun

Once on the floor, I could see that the others had finished up carting out the spent grain and had gotten the yeast from the Grundy Room to warm up for pitching.  I measured out the Irish Moss and Bryan dumped it in the kettle, along with a couple of gallons of older yeast that we weren’t going to pitch to act as a nutrient.  The final hops went in a bit later and we started the whirlpool.  After the whirlpool was allowed to rest, we started draining into the fermentor.  I opened the manway hatch on the FV and popped the lids off of the two corny kegs of yeast we were to pitch.  The yeast that we had pulled the day before proved much more frothy than we had thought – after overnight settling, the kegs were only half full.  While I was working the yeast loose and dumping it through the hatch, a third keg was retrieved and depressurized to find similar settling.  The third keg also went in before the hatch was sealed up and the blowoff hose was rigged to the top port.

As the kettle drained, we could see that unlike the brew day last week, this brew had formed a nice, solid cone of trub.  Actually, once we had filled the fermenter, drained some to a bucket for gravity readings, and let the rest down the drain, the pile of hops and break was very solid.  It took quite a bit of force to blast it away, layer by layer, with the jet blast from the cleaning hose.  Bryan climbed in this one for the cleaning while we took apart and cleaned the yeast kegs.

Cone of Trub from Whirlpooling

Cone of Trub from Whirlpooling

After everything was cleaned up, we checked on the status of kegs with the bar, replaced the root beer keg, and were done with our brew day.  When possible, we try to have the brewers stay at least through the end of the happy hour.  The staff likes us to be on hand to swap kegs and taps . . . and the management likes us around to answer questions and give brewery tours.  So, dutifully performing my role, I had a pints of the oatmeal stout that we transferred yesterday (decidedly less over-roasted and much more balanced than the previous batch) and mingled amongst the patrons before heading home.

Tomorrow is the Certified Cicerone Exam, time to do some last-minute studying!