Hop Update – Early Growth

I’ve been doing a lot of running around lately and haven’t had much time at home.  Thankfully, my bucket reservoir system (see my previous post on Preparing Hop Boxes here) has been keeping the rootstock at a nice level of moisture – never too dry and never too flooded.

On May 18, the first shoots broke ground, all reddish-pink mini phalluses (phallusi?) poking through the top layer of peat moss almost obscenely:

First Tettnanger shoots, May 18

First Tettnanger shoots, May 18

First Cascade shoots, May 18

First Cascade shoots, May 18

A bit of time, and a nearly two-week road trip later, I returned home on June 18, to find some nice bines stretching out and rigged some short climbing lines out of some cheap twine I had kicking around.  As I want to be able to move if the fiscal opportunity arises, I really don’t want the bines to wrap the porch railings too tightly.  Side shoots I can untwist later, but the main shoot needs to avoid being woven through the wooden structures – I can lower the line and gently coil the bines on the buckets if need be to move.

Tettnanger Hops, June 18

Tettnanger Hops, June 18

Cascade Hops #1, June 18

Cascade Hops #1, June 18

Golding Hops, June 18

Golding Hops, June 18

Amallia Hops, June 18

Amallia Hops, June 18

Cascade Hops #2, June 18

Cascade Hops #2, June 18

Two days later, the lines already needed extending as these hungry gals climb for the sky:

Tettnanger Hops, June 20

Tettnanger Hops, June 20

Cascade Hops #1, June 20

Cascade Hops #1, June 20

Golding Hops, June 20

Golding Hops, June 20

Amallia Hops, June 20

Amallia Hops, June 20

Cascade Hops #2, June 20

Cascade Hops #2, June 20

They are starting to take hold solidly in their buckets.  They will soon be ready for some ground cover in the form of creeping thyme and oregano.

I noticed that one plant (a Goldings) had a single leaf well-chewed up by some itty critter, but no sign of the critter.  There are no signs of mildews, root rot, or other possible bugs. Nutrients from the M-G dirt are still holding strong – I’ll probably dose a little fertilizer near the end of the month.

I also noticed that there was a 1.25″ hole extending into the dirt on my last bucket (Cascade #2).  It’s possible that my neighbor bored the hole with the garden hose (he just told me that he’s watered lightly a couple of times…but he can be rather uncoordinated when he’s drunk – which is most evenings), but it extended past where I could reach with my finger with pretty parallel sides…thinking maybe a mouse…also thinking it may have munched the Golding rhizome that was in that bucket, as it’s the only one that didn’t sprout yet.  Seriously debating a thorough flood of the bucket – see if I can flush out the bugger before the bucket drains (if I do, I’ll have to remember to fertilize to replace whatever nutrients I flush 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!

Preparing Hop Boxes

I am an apartment dweller, and am trying to keep my mobility options open, should the right brewing job upgrade suddenly require relocating . . . <whine> but I wanna grow hops!

My first hop bines - Cascade, Willamette, and Fuggles

My first hop bines – Cascade, Willamette, and Fuggles

I previously grew some hops in 24″ round pots on a second-floor west-facing porch with moderate success.  They only got direct light from early afternoon on.  After three years, they were still going great.  Some upheaval and a move and they are gone . . . but I’ve ordered new rhizomes and they have arrived!

Now, I need someplace to grow them.  Hops have a number of needs to grow properly, and I have a few wishes of my own, so my background in engineering has me screaming for a “requirements list” – something no engineering design starts without.  So, let’s see:

  1. Cheap
  2. Large volume
  3. Durable
  4. Potentially portable
  5. Reliable water supply
  6. Good drainage through soil
  7. Enough nutrients
  8. Soil that remains loose
  9. Hop bines must be supported
  10. Pest protection
  11. Mildew/root rot protection
  12. Ground cover

So taking a look at this list, some ideas started to take shape.  I don’t have a lot of extra cash, so would much prefer to scrounge from what I have and put on my Handyman cap.  After getting some Red Green episodes playing in the background for inspiration, I discovered that I had (with minimal dumping/recompacting) several Rubbermaid storage buckets that were not being used (the lids of several were in use under fermentors to protect my hardwood floor).  They were definitely cheap (#1) and larger than the 24″ rounds that I had used before (#2).  As far as durability (#3), they were certainly able to withstand weather and wet conditions – but have you ever filled one to the brim with water and just stepped back?  They tend to bow out and half-collapse (NOT something I wanted to happen to my hops).  Trying to move one (#4) filled with wet soil and fragile roots without flexing it all and snapping roots is also difficult.

Returning to the cheap scrounging, in my woodpile was a large number of narrow slats cut from quality cherrywood.  They were from a project that was not finished when 1/3 of the raw materials were stolen from me (I’d been cutting small cubes for my smoker since, but hadn’t used it for much else).  Using these and a couple of wider planks, I built support frames for each of the buckets.

Wooden support frame for hop buckets

Wooden support frame for hop buckets

Every connection is double-tapped with 2-3″ outdoor-grade drywall screws.  All of the holes were pre-drilled.  I built the frames to be tight just under the rim and the bottom to just brush the ground when empty.  To make it nestle in, I had to cut the handles off of the ends of the bucket (a set of wire cutters made short work of them).

Hop buckets framed up

Hop buckets framed up

Now that I had containers, the next step was to consider their contents.  A huge problem with potted plants of any kind is water management.  Potted plants cannot rely on the root systems of other plants, hidden aquifers, etc. when they get dry – and it is all too easy to forget about them for a few days on the WRONG few days.  It is equally disastrous when potted plants can’t drain and simply sit in a flood of stagnant dirt-water – the plant literally rots right off of its roots.  I’m planning to have these hops in the buckets for a couple of years, so I want this to work right.

My plan is to build is a holding reservoir with a wicking siphon system.  It sounds impressive in engineering terms, but in practice it is quite simple once you understand how it works.  To make sure that my plants don’t go dry, I am setting aside the very bottom of the containers specifically to hold water (#5).  This means that instead of putting my drain holes on the bottoms of the buckets (like most plant pots), I drilled them partway up the sides.  Also, since I am intentionally storing extra water (and will be supplying it back to the soil), I can let new water drain quickly from the soil to the reservoir or out of the bucket – in other words, I can use MUCH bigger drain holes (#6).  There are 2 holes on each side and one on each end – all are 1/2″ diameter and approximately 2″ up.

Drainage holes above water zone

Drainage holes above water zone

To isolate the water reservoir and prevent it being filled with soil, we need some sort of separation.  There are fancy screens and false bottoms (sound familiar?), hydroponic rocks, and expanded stone fillers that all work well and have their strengths . . .  price is not one of them.  However, the kitchen at work had some equipment come in packaged in odd-shaped beadboard (white styrofoam) – an inert buffering substance that does not break down in wet conditions and would otherwise take up space in a landfill . . . and (dum- da-da -dum!) free (#1).  I broke the styrofoam into mid-sized odd-shaped pieces and layered them into the bottoms of the buckets, making sure that there were at least 2-3 layers.  As these layers settle under the weight of wet soil, they will press down without crushing, creating a coral-like network of water caves.

Water zone buffer with cotton rope wicks

Water zone buffer with cotton rope wicks

To seal it off from the soil that wants to drop through, I will be covering the beadboard with a thick layer of peat moss.  The peat moss will act as a filter bed – it is porous enough that it tends to stick to itself and allow the liquid to drip through.  It can also trap some nutrients that the soil can wick back up from direct contact.  However, the soil can’t get to the water at the bottom in the reservoir (#5).  A wick is one of the simplest forms of on-demand siphons.  A rummage through my camping gear (#1!) turned up a chunk of nylon-cored, cotton-wrapped 1/4″ rope.  I cut a few lengths and coiled some across the bottom of each bucket, under the beadboard.  In each bucket, I pulled both ends up through to make two wicks.  The nylon threads at the core will help keep the wicks in place all the way up through the soil while the water will slowly travel along the cotton fibers as the soil drys and absorbs more water from the wick (#5).

Cotton rope wicks

Cotton rope wicks

Once the wicks were in place, as mentioned, a 1-2″ layer of broken-up peat moss was layered over the beadboard and wetted down.  Once the layer was more cohesive and less dusty, alternating layers of soil and peat moss were layed in, always making sure to continue keeping the wicks penetrating each layer (#5).

hops-soilwickBy using good-quality pre-mixed potting soil (on a budget, so I used Miracle-Gro Potting Mix), I ensure that I have a solid set of both quick-use and long-term nutrients in my soil (#7).  Alternating 1-1.5″ layers with peat moss distributes the nutrient-rich soil to all areas for roots, while preventing any compaction or “rocking up” that would present problems for the roots (#8).  Each peat layer creates a buffer drainage zone where over-wet potting soil may find close drainage relief that can transfer it across the layer to a drier area.  The peat also acts as buffer filters, helping to retain more of the nutrients being leeched by drainage or being added with watering later in lifecycle (#7).

Hop bines need to climb and this is a good time to consider how your are going to support them.  If you need to mount a pole, ring, tiedown, etc. to your bucket or frame, it is easier to make those modifications now than when you have a big plant in your way.  I will be letting them climb the railings along the 3-story outdoor stair on my apartment building, so that’s done-and-done (#9).  (I have wool twine ready if I need to direct it more).

Two of the biggest threats to hops are bugs and molds.  In NH, the bugs are relatively a non-issue (for the plants, anyway – we have tons of mosquitos and blackflies).  Some birds munched the first couple of shoots and I think a mouse or squirrel was digging for seeds, but I covered the tops with a thick layer of peat moss as a mulch and that stopped (#10).  Downy and powdery mildew are concerns even here in New England.  Having my plants isolated in pots, starting high above the grass and not near any other shrubs gives them an advantage, as does the steady light breeze (#11).  Once the bines reach a few feet high, it is also good to strip the leaves off of the bottom 1-3′ for further isolation.

Once the bines have become established strongly, I will be adding some ground cover to protect from critters and heavy rains/dry spells.  I have seeds for ground-cover-style thyme and oregano.  Neither of these plants reach down more than a couple of inches, and create an aromatic (i.e. anti-pest) layer of edible greenery that also acts as a mulch (#12).

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’!