Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

Tag: Homebrewing

Greatness brewing in Gardner, MA

As I wound around corners on Rt. 2 in Massachusetts heading towards Gardner, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have made friends with several homebrewers who are brewing excellent beer, but I’ve never actually attended a homebrew festival or competition before, let alone been asked to be a “guest judge” for one. I decided, as I drove up the little gravel driveway at the Garnder Deer Club that I’d just be open-minded and hope that the rain held out.

Organized by Dave Higgins and his comrades from Wachusett brewing, this was the festival’s second year. Busy staff members in bright orange shirts worked to set everything up. A ring of tables held brews of all shapes and sizes, some in bottles, some in kegs, and some in innovative delivery systems (including one that was made by a former cabinet maker and housed in a rubbermaid garbage can)…

There were two prizes to be had – a people’s choice award (people could vote using blue marbles that they received at the festival’s entrance – and a “best in show” chosen by the guest judges.

A great group of Homebrewers in Gardner!

A great group of Homebrewers in Gardner!

For us, the judging was arranged in flights – so there were 4-6 beers in a heat, and one was selected to move onto the final round. There were probably about 25-ish beers to try, so we had a good job ahead of us to pick our favorites.

We had some really innovative and interesting beers, and all of it was high quality! I’d like to call out a few that were memorable: A Tripel made with black cherries, a coconut IPA, an impressive, I-can’t-believe-its-a-homebrew Belgian Ale, a raspberry cider, a smoked red ale, a Chocolate Raspberry Porter and the best Watermelon ale I’ve ever had.

The judge’s “best in show” ended up being the Belgian Ale with the Watermelon and Chocolate Raspberry as close runners-up. The crowd favorites were the black cherry belgian (1st) and the raspberry cider (2nd).

I got a chance to talk to some of the brewers, and got encouraged and inspired by their creativity. What a great way to remind myself that there are tons of great things going on in the backyards, kitchens and cellars of ordinary folks (if you can call these brewers ordinary, that is!). A cheers to all the brewers who participated. I might have to drop by a few more of these fests in the future. You’ve inspired me!

The Aleuminati

What does a fledgling craft beer enthusiast, brewer or novice beer drinker need to “tap in” to the craft beer-drinking community? A site filled with hundreds of like-minded and welcoming people!

While twitter and other online communities are now more commonplace, that wasn’t always the case. When I first started exploring craft beer, one of the community sites that I hung around the most and highly influenced me was “The Aleuminati – The (not so) secret society of better beer drinkers.”

The Aleuminati is a Ning-based social networking site, and has more than 1,300 members who share photos, write blogs, post videos, and probably most helpfully, post thoughtfully in the site’s forums. The environment on the site and the members in it are extremely welcoming and friendly, inquisitive and supportive. I felt immediately like I was part of the group, and made more than a few friends there. I still think this is a great place to meet some great online beer-loving folks and read some ecclectic and interesting content. Check it out!

Check out “The Aleuminati” at :

Homebrewing Adventure – Pt. 1

So, after putting this off for FAR too long, I finally had my first Homebrewing Adventure this weekend. I think it’s a great way to kick off American Craft Beer Week – though our beer won’t be ready to drink for several weeks. I got together with Mike and several friends (there were 6 of us in total) and finally took the plunge into brewing.

There was much online and on the phone consideration of the recipe – grain or extract? IPA or dark beer? How much? Where to get the stuff? In the end, Alex went to the local home brewing store (I’ll post the name once I find it out) and spoke at length to one of the people there. He came home with an EZ Brewing kit for an IPA – and lots of fun things.

Because of a math error (darn unit conversions!) we ended up not having a pot that was big enough to brew in. We considered buying one – but on short notice, a big pot is hard to find. While trying to find an answer to the pot problem,  I then ignited a bit of controversy on twitter when I asked whether or not aluminum was a good choice for a brewpot (vs. stainless steel). I touched a nerve of what seems to be a roaring debate but I was happy that so many supportive online friends were there to give me their (strong) opinions.

After doing some last-minute phone searching with family and friends, Alex’s parents produced a 22 qt stainless steel stockpot that would be perfect for the job.

We spent time sanitizing everything and set up the pot on top of a turkey fryer propane burner outside. It was a gorgeous spring day, so it was nice to sit outside and watch the fire burning (plus, my friends kind of like fire, so it was a good excuse). Once we hit the boiling point, we all gathered around and each added an ingredient into the pot. The scene was fun – each of us taking turns to add what we were adding, hoping not to have to leap back from a boil over. It reminded me, too, of a video of a collaborative brew between Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head where they each put special ingredients into the brew – a truly collaborative process. We watched as the wort bubbled like witches brew and started to smell absolutely delicious.

When its time was through, we extinguished the flame and brought it carefully inside. With oven mitts and a bit of bravery, the wort was transferred into a large plastic fermenter, and water was added to cool it down. We left the dredges of stuff from the wort behind in the stainless steel pot, and after it had cooled enough, each sampled a spoonful of wort. Despite all the brewery tours I’ve been on, I’ve never had the opportunity to sample wort before, so this was a new and interesting thing for me to experience. It was immediately bitter from the hops – but that bitterness quickly was replaced by the super-sweetness of the unfermented wort. I thought it was delicious, though I wish I had taken a picture of everyone’s initial sour face!

After cooling enough so that the yeast wouldn’t face instant death upon being added, the yeast was activated and added, sealing the fate of all those delicious sugars just waiting to be turned into alcohol. Later that night, the fermenter was moved to its final resting place (the basement rec room) to work its magic. Now, the hard part is waiting…. it’ll be several weeks but I promise to post an update as soon as I can. Check out the gallery from our evening of brewing below.

Homebrewing adventures : potty talk

So, I made my first step towards becoming a homebrewer today. I went and scoured my house to see what I had hanging around for equipment. 

“I have a stockpot big enough!” I said to myself. And after pawing through the kitchen cabinet that I never use and coming up dusty… and empty handed… I realized that I was totally wrong. I have no idea how I survived cooking spaghetti and meatballs in something so small all these years, but I digress. So, even if I was going to look at beer kits or complie the rest of my equipment, I was going to have to invest in the most basic of things… a pot.
I have now ordered a shiny new pot, which I will be recieving on my doorstep in several days. In the meantime, I’m going to be debating the relative merits of several different beer kits and supplies, whether to scrounge and gather my materials or buy them in one fell swoop, and finally what recipe I’d like to start with (including whether or not to use malt extract). ‘
With the choices that lie ahead, I also have a lot of excitement! Stay tuned for more updates!
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