Northern California Homebrewers Festival 2015

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Our Malt Konocti Mashers’ booth on the right with a little waiting area in front of the dispensary.

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This year’s theme was Prohibition. Under the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, doctors could write prescriptions for alcohol. “You’ve gotta fever and the prescription is more beer.”

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Looking toward “Home” (left of photo) where you register and buy tee-shirts.

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Dr. Paul tasting a prescription to see if it meets his exacting standards.

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Patients could choose from a tasty array of medications.

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Next door to our booth was a “barber shop” where one of the aerosol cans of Barbasol dispensed an IPA.

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The D.O.Z.E. ([Mt.] Diablo Order Of Zymiracle Enthusiasts) booth was a Dept of Treasury office with soda up front and samples of forbidden beer in the back.

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Looking to the left of our booth.

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Evidence tags on illegal beer at the GBA booth.

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The Worts of Wisdom booth had soda in the front (self-serve). Word is that they had beer behind the curtain.

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GBA’s serving list being prepared.

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Almaden Brewers prove that tie-die is not dead, though it should be.

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Silicon Valley Sudzers had some cute names for their beers.

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The Silicon Valley Sudzer branch office of the IRS.

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The Doctor is in.

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GBA getting rid of the evidence by drinking it away.

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A wanted poster for Willie the Brewer on a trash can.

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Across from our booth. The lecture tent and stage on the left.

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The checkered awning is the booth for tasting the club competition beers.

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Lecture tent and stage on the right. More booths on the left.

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The “Library” with the faux stone walls had some amazing food.

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Dr. Jon dispensing medicine to needy patients. The sign in front says, “The Amazing Dr. Paul’s Healthful Elixirs: Good for What Ales You.”

These photos are from the Northern California Homebrewers Festival (NCHF).

NCHF was bittersweet this year, landing as it did, during the Valley Fire. When we set up our booth, we knew at least one member had lost his home and two others were not sure. To say it put a damper on our spirits would not be overstating it.

We thought we might just have a pile of burnt rubble instead of any booth. In the end, we set up and made the best of it.

The theme this year was Prohibition. Prior to the event we did some research (okay we Googled it) and learned that prescriptions were written for alcohol. So we ordered some toy stethoscopes and reflective mirrors for our foreheads, and printed up some fake Rx pads. We prescribed many of the following: Dr. Kam A. Sutra’s India Pale Tonic, Dr. Paul’s Chocolate Coconut Porter Elixir, Blanche’s Nutritive Cream Ale Tonic, Dr. Jon’s Mother’s Milk Stout, or Dr. Jon’s Three for the Road Tripel.

Next year’s theme is…wait for it…Belgium. So if you like beer that tastes like a barnyard with cloves and bananas sprinkled about, you’ll love the NCHF in 2016.

Observations from the 15th Northern California Homebewers’ Festival

NCHF 15 logo and theme, “Our Founding Fathers.” From left to right: Ken Grossman, Charlie Papazian, Michael Jackson, and Fritz Maytag

It’s ninety degrees in the shade, if there were any shade, and I’m carrying a four-ounce taste of beer and a paper hot dog carrier filled with pulled pork up a hill toward a wooden picnic table underneath some live oaks. There’s reggae music playing in the background behind me, and as I walk, on my right a guy wearing a kilt is talking on a smartphone, “Have you ever strapped on a kilt?” he calls into the phone; as though wearing a kilt is completely new to him and wants to know if someone else has had the same feeling that he is experiencing now.

I’m at the 15th annual Northern California Homebrewers’ Festival and the first I have ever attended. Though the first festival was held in Skyline Park in Napa in 1998,

it is now held yearly at the Francis Lake Resort in Dobbins, California on the autumnal equinox—a religious event, of sorts (that goes a long way toward explaining the chanting and drumming later on at midnight). The festival registrar, Paul Keefer, tells me this year’s attendance is around 500. There are 36 homebrew clubs, under an assortment of canopies, pouring homebrew and handing out food.

“Mary, the Queen of Beers” tells me, “If you can’t find something you like here, you may as well pack up your tent and hit the road.” She is of indeterminate age, somewhere between 50 and death. She wears bangles on her wrists and bottle caps serve as earrings. She is to this beer event what the Annie Savoy is to the movie Bull Durham—a true believer in beer. She has tried them all and the only one that satisfies her is the Church of Beer.

Mary is right. While many of the beers are styles that just don’t appeal to me–meads, bretts, sours, and the like–I found a lot to taste: American Pale Ales, India Pale Ales, lagers, etc.

We are an eclectic mix of geeks (the male/female ratio is about 60/40), who probably enjoy talking about beer and beer making as much as we do drinking our product. And, there is a lot of product. According to Mary, Queen of Beers, there are “278 different tastes on tap here.” She knows because she went around and counted them. One booth had a couple of low-alcohol session beers. The 2.8% ABV one tasted like a liquid pretzel, bready and delicious.  A friend loved the Kölschs and Milds and he said Berliner Weiss beers both straight as well as with the raspberry and woodruff syrups were delicious.

Tossing the keg competition

Tossing the keg competition

From the picnic table on the hill, I see a knot of people at the rustic resort’s baseball field. At first I think it could be a pickup game of softball but the spectators are ringed around the infield. I wander down to the field, stopping only to sample a few more beers and finger foods, to find that it is the brewers’ version of a caber toss from the highland games. Mostly guys, but some women too, are testing their strength and skill at tossing an empty 15-gallon beer keg as far as they can. At the time I checked, the farthest toss was 29 feet.

In addition to the keg toss there are other competitions. There is the club competition for historical beers (one of them used molasses and sunflower and pumpkin seeds) and one for beers using brown malt. A chalice filled with samples of all 278 beers sat on top of the trophy. After the finalists were announced someone was going to have to drink from it–whether that was the winner or the losers was not clear to me.

If you were at this or other NCHFs please leave a comment below. As always, regardless or whether you have experienced any NCHFs, your comments are appreciated.

For more on the Northern California Homebrewers’ Festival see their website (http://nchfinfo.org/)

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Nothing Common About “California Common”

English: San Francisco harbor (Yerba Buena Cov...

San Francisco harbor (Yerba Buena Cove), 1850 or 1851, with Yerba Buena Island in the background.

I’m going to submit this to our local paper as a “Brew Note.” Any suggestions or comments on how it might be improved are appreciated.

James Marshall’s discovery of gold on the American River near what is now Coloma, California in January of 1848 triggered more than gold fever; it brought the world a new style of beer.

Word soon leaked of Marshall’s discovery and what had been a trickle of immigrants to California became a flash-flood. By the end of 1849, the Forty-Niners had ballooned California’s population ten-fold from around 8,000 (non-native) to nearly 90,000. From 1848 to 1855, the pueblo of San Francisco swelled from 1,000 to 25,000. They needed something to drink. They needed a beer.

Transporting beer  from the east coast to quench the Forty-Niners’ thirst was too expensive.  In those days shipping meant a long boat trip of 15,000 miles around the southern tip of South America, or an 8,000 mile journey that meant stopping at the Caribbean side of the Isthmus of Panama, going by canoe and then mule through 80 miles of jungle to Panama City where steamships anchored infrequently, and finally reloading the cargo if a steamship happened by (though later the trip became somewhat less harrowing).

Obviously, to be affordable, the beer had to be made nearby. Enter ‘Steam Beer.

No one knows why or how this unique beer style came to be known as steam beer. The stories do agree that many breweries sprouted in the west during the Gold Rush days making “steam beer.” Possibly the fermenting beer, which in those days sat in shallow open vats on rooftops, wafted clouds of steam in the cool morning air or, perhaps it was called steam beer because when opening the beer barrels, after a long trip over rough roads, they shot geysers of “steam” in a way that reminded people of a train’s engine venting steam.

But the most plausible explanation (to me) was not that it looked like steam but that it acted like steam. In 1849, to say something was steam powered meant it was fast and good. Steam was new and exciting in those days; similar to the way “atomic” was used in the 1950s, “steam” brimmed with revolutionary changes. It meant hip, cool, new, and exciting—no boundaries existed for steam.

Charles Babbage tells the story of a friend and he in 1821 calculating the answers to numerous and tedious equations:

After a time many discrepancies occurred, and at one point these discordances were so numerous that I exclaimed, “I wish to God these calculations had been executed by steam.”

He went on to design a steam-powered computer, but that’s another story.

The gold-rush era California brewers weren’t trying to be revolutionary; they were trying to meet a demand for lager beer. Lagers were the latest craze in beer styles at this time, and many of the German immigrants who had come west quickly learned that they knew more about brewing lagers than panning for gold.

But, lagers need cold temperatures (48F-58F) to ferment properly. But And, lagers when brewed at the proper temperatures, take a month or longer to be ready—too long for thirsty miners to wait. So the brewers cut corners. They used cold-loving lager yeasts at temperatures that were more appropriate for brewing ales (60F-68F). The yeast produced lots of esters, giving steam beer a slightly fruity taste.

The warmer temperatures meant the yeast finished fermentation faster, which was just fine with the brewers who were looking to make something that tasted okay to the miners. Brewers were not worried about handcrafting artisanal beverages; “good enough” was good enough for them.

“The original steam beer was cask fermented and conditioned,” Brad Smith notes, “and often delivered to the saloon in a ‘young’ state.”

“Young” means the yeast were probably still fermenting, sending carbon dioxide into a sealed container. No wonder the cask “steamed” when they tapped it!

While steam beer dates back to Gold Rush Times, the Anchor Brewery, which is now synonymous with Steam Beer, came along nearly a half-century later.  In 1896, Ernst F. Baruth and his son-in-law, Otto Schinkel, Jr., bought an existing brewery and renamed it Anchor Brewing. And, after nearly a century of their making steam beer, Anchor Brewing Co. trademarked the term Steam Beer in 1981.

After Anchor trademarked a term that had been around for 130 years to describe a distinctly Californian-style beer, a new name was needed. Contemporary brewers have selected “California Common” to describe a beer that uses lager yeast fermented at higher temperatures. Anyone who has sampled a California Common beer would agree it is anything but that. It is unique. How about Atomic Beer?

Once a nickname for any West Coast beer brewed  under these conditions [i.e., fermenting the beer on San Francisco’s rooftops in a cool climate], today the name “steam” is a trademark of Anchor Brewing and applies only to the singular process and taste of our flagship brand – San Francisco’s original Anchor Steam® Beer – Anchor Brewing Statement

Steam beer and San Francisco are intertwined.

It was Sunday, and, according to his custom on that day, McTeague took his dinner at two in the afternoon at the car conductors’ coffee-joint on Polk Street….On his way back to his office, one block above, he stopped at Joe Frenna’s saloon and bought a pitcher of steam beer. – McTeague: A Story of San Francisco by Frank Norris (1899)

For More on Steam Beer see:

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Drying hops.

Hop cone in the Hallertau, Germany, hop yard

Hop cone in a commercial  hop yard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zeus hops drying outside on a window screen. Today’s temperatures are in the high 80’s to low 90’s.

I received a call yesterday from a friend. “Would you like to pick some hops today?” You cannot say no to free hops. Though the task took about 3-4 hours from beginning to end–drive over, pick hops, drink a beer, drink another beer (must stay hydrated after all) pack hops into car, drive back, separate hops flower from hopbine, and spread out on screen to dry–it was fun and odorific. It was also completely uneconomical.

While drinking homebrew, we picked individual hops and crushed them between fingers and thumbs to smell the resins and oils. We talked about what we would make with these hops.

I wound up with Zeus, Nugget, and Cascade hops (no telling how much until the hops dry–but less than a pound no doubt). If you figure how much your time is worth (economists call this an opportunity cost) it makes more sense, form an economic point of view, to buy the hops and pay the shipping charges. That said, it was so worth it and I would do it again in a New York heartbeat.

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California Craft Brewers newest video: Support Your Local Brewery

Great to see one of my favorite breweries (Triple Rock of Berkeley at around the 1:50 mark) on this new video, Support Your Local Brewery,” produced by the California Craft Brewers Association.

I do support my local brewery, Kelsey Creek Brewing. The brewer, Ron Chips, has a new wet-hopped beer, the Wet Willie, (named after?) that tastes great. I was a little hesitant to try it, since I thought it might be like drinking fermented grass clippings (wet-hopped beers can harbor vegetal flavors). Those worries ceased with the first sip. It’s a great West Coast style ale–hop forward. Try it while supplies last!

There are a bunch of great craft breweries in California. Support them all.

This Week on BrewZasters: Brewing a Single-Hopped Ale

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The hop plant with cones. The cones hold the hop oil which give beer its bitterness. (Photo credit – Flickr)

This week on BrewZasters, we brew a beer using a single type of hop–in this case the Falconer’s Flight hop.

Many in the Lake County Homebrewers club are brewing these Single Hop Experiment (SHE) ales this month with the plan to compare, contrast, and exchange the beers at our meeting next month (which should occur on August 2o–the 3rd Monday of the month–at 6pm).

The recipe is very simple. The grain bill is: 9.5 lbs of 2-row malted barley, 0.75 lbs of crystal 60L malted barley, and 0.5 lbs of crystal 15L malted barley. Mash at 152F (this should give a specific gravity after the boil of 1.050).  Then the amount of hop added at 60 minutes is calculated to deliver 25 International Bittering Units (IBU–I calculated 0.68 oz of Falconer’s Flight would give 25 IBU), then 1 oz of the hop at 10 minutes and 1 minute before the end of the boil, and 1 oz of the hop in the fermenter as a “dry hop.” The yeast is White Labs California Ale WLP001.

Other than slightly scorching the bottom of my mash tunand ripping a gaping hole in my BIAB bag that I use for my mash…oh and raising the mash temperature waaaay too high again, and I’m a gallon short (4.5 gallons yield), the brew went swimmingly. The wort tastes great. Now, we wait for 14 days….

Demonstrating how to make beer without taste

Or, at least, demonstrating how to make beer without tastings of already-made home-brewed beer.

Two weekends ago my friend (and prez of the Lake County Homebrewers) Paul and I manned a booth for our homebrewing club at the  Lake County Home Wine Makers Festival in Lakeport, CA. It was the first time in at least five years that the booth for the Lake County Homebrewers’ group did not provide tastings of home-brewed beers. We decided to not pour our beers due to an opinion given to us by local officials of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (CABC) that pouring any of our homebrew at public events violates State law (at least as the local CABC interprets their regulations–regulations transform squishy language found in legislation to more concrete, hence more quantifiable language, then officials charged with enforcing the regulations interpret what the regulation’s language actually means). So, our group decided, we just could not risk losing our equipment to a CABC raid of our homes. Some of our group are going pro and will be opening nano-breweries soon and cannot risk pissing off the people reviewing their liquor licenses.

Consequently, Paul and I demonstrated the steps necessary to make an all-grain batch of India Pale Ale called Hoppiness is an IPA. Its (10 gallon) recipe is available here as a PDF.

Technically, we did not have beer until we added yeast. We split the 10-gallons of wort into two 5-gallon fermenters and took our half home where we added White Labs WP005 British Ale Yeast to the cooled wort.

I bottled my portion today (two weeks later). The starting original gravity was 1.061. The final gravity was 1.014 SG. That calculates to an attenuation of 76.5% and an ABV of 6.3% (almost a session beer by today’s IPA standards). It has ample piney bitterness and not citrusy.