Another Gnarly Festival – 2014

On April 26th, I had the pleasure of attending the second annual Gnarly Hops and Barley Fest in Culpeper, VA. There were over 28 breweries showing and over 67 beers being sampled. I had to purchase a few extra tasting tickets to understand the full scope of beer in attendance. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make and had to ask a friend for a lift home. The festival appeared to be twice as big as last year and there were significantly more people in attendance. Those that had the chance to visit the festival were in for a treat. Most of the more popular craft brews were showcased and a couple upstarts. The three breweries that stood out to me were Sunken City Brewing Company, Apocalypse Ale Works, and Three Brothers Brewing.

This was Apocalypse Ale Works second year bringing their unique style to Gnarly.

This was Apocalypse Ale Works second year bringing their unique style to Gnarly.

Jerome Parnell, creator of the Dam Lager, founded Sunken City Brewing Company in May 2013. Jerome originally created the Dam Lager while working out of Roanake brewery in 2010 before deciding to set out on his own. I sipped on this low-hopped American style amber lager while I spoke to Seth Johnson, one of his assistant brewers. Seth was quite passionate about beer and has been homebrewing for about 4 years now. It was refreshing to taste a lager at a craft beer festival, which are mostly dominated by ales because of profit differences. The Dam Lager was malty with an herbal aroma and clean finish. It was the perfect beer for a clear spring day.

Apocalypse Ale Works made their second showing to the Gnarly Hops Fest in style. Apocalypse has been in business a little longer than Sunken City Brewing and is showing well with classic styles, but with flair. These two breweries are showing each other stiff competition and the drive to make great beer is apparent. Having tried the Hoppocalypse, I gave a go at the Glorious Dead. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised with a mouth full of maltiness and a smooth and mellow finish. The folks at Apocalypse are not just showing a brand image, they are brewing it.

Jackie Pardee is the Brand Ambassador for  3 Brothers.

Jackie Pardee is the Brand Ambassador for 3 Brothers.

When I first sampled Three Brothers Brewing last year, I was greeted with warmness and hospitality. This year, I was similarly greeted with the same hospitality and still have yet to take a trip to their brewery and try the Tri Brathair. The ‘Three Brothers’ Scottish style ale was not on tap, but I got to try the Senantoa. At 6.5% ABV and 63 IBU, this ale has strong notes of chocolate with a nice spicy finish. Jackie Pardee, the Brand Ambassador, informed me that Three Brothers would soon be embarking on a Barrel-aged Program. I will have to compare my Scottish Ale that is currently aging in my basement with one of their barrel-aged brews.

What appeared to be the biggest hit of the festival was definitely not a local brew. Don’t worry… it wasn’t Budweiser. Although ABInBev made a showing, I really didn’t see anyone line up to waste his or her sampling tickets there. The longest line was not for traditional beer, but rather ginger beer. Crabbies, a United Kingdom based company, had both a classic ginger beer and a spiced orange ginger beer on tap. Both were refreshing and had a unique play on the palate. Perhaps Crabbies has introduced a new phenomenon to the States.

Some time ago, I discovered that a brewery would be opening in Culpeper. Beer Hound Brewery started as a nano-brewery in Barboursville VA, by Kenny Thacker, who had until recently operated a homebrewing store. Kenny has decided to expand his brewing operations to Culpeper near the train station. I was hoping Beer Hound would have a tent at the festival, but was disheartened to not see them there. I kept my eye out for Kenny and asked around for him because I wanted to introduce myself. Kenny was probably working hard to get things in order for his new operation. I will look forward to seeing Beer Hound as a highlight of Gnarly Hops 2015.

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Homebrewing Comes to Culpeper

A couple of weeks ago, I ventured onto Davis Street in Culpeper to purchase tickets for the upcoming Gnarly Hops and Barley Fest and sample some of the brews on tap at Culpeper Cheese Company. Soon after striking up conversation with owner Jeffery Mitchell, I was surprised and delighted to hear that Culpeper Cheese Company would start selling home brewing equipment! Now, I no longer have to travel an hour away to pick up needed equipment or supplies. Also, if I get into a jam while brewing, such as a hydrometer breaking, a quick drive will solve my problem.

Culpeper-Cheese1 I again visited the store once the new section opened to see all the available wares. Situated in the back of Culpeper Cheese Company, the brewing equipment is neatly displayed on elegant shelves. All the necessary supplies are well organized and easily viewed. If you are about to get into the hobby, this is a great place to get started and purchase your first kit. You can view the ingredients and the kit contents so you know exactly what you are getting before you purchase. Because the store does not over stock, you can be sure your ingredients are fresh. The staff is knowledgeable and can offer helpful advice and tips for those getting started. Jeffery Mitchell was kind enough to answer some of my questions to share with our readers:

Neal – What prompted you to start selling home brewing supplies?

Jeffery – We meet home brewers almost every weekend looking for bottle caps or replacement hydrometers – the sort of everyday items where the shipping cost (or delay) would put them off from starting a batch.  They all liked the idea of coming here for “reference beers” and home brewing supplies.

Neal  – Do you have any tips for new homebrewers?

Jeffery – Be patient with yourself.  If you are like me, I think that it’s important to map out each of the steps in advance and create a time to brew and bottle when you will not be interrupted.

Neal – What do you think is the most difficult part of homebrewing?

Jeffery – Beyond waiting for the reward – I think the most difficult part is accepting where you are in the learning curve.  It takes time and practice to master the tools of brewing – like cooking. Watching it on TV makes everything look easier (and faster).

Neal – Outside of what is required what is the most useful brewing tool in your opinion?

Jeffery – More than a tool or thing – I think a spirit of adventure and accepting adversity are the most useful tools.  Burnt grain? – Now you know the taste and can find it in any brew – Forgot the primer before bottling?  An oversight you won’t make again.   Seeing the positive is the most useful tool.

Neal – Other than the Gnarly Hops and Barley Fest, do you have any other special or big events coming up?

Jeffery – We are exploring some in-store and off-site events with local breweries.  Nothing to share just yet, but Facebook is the best place to keep up with us and what we are actually (not just dreaming about) doing.

Neal – What is your favorite beer and what cheese would you pair it with?

Jeffery – I love sour beers. Especially their interplay with foods is amazing. Cheeses like fresh chevre or pungent washed rind like Alsatian Muenster or Gres de Vosage come alive with sour beers.

Neal – What is your favorite cheese and what beer would you pair it with?

Jeffery – Gaperon is a French cheese from the middle ages. It changes character with age but is filled with garlic and black pepper.  Having Gaperon with a crusty baguette together with a Champagne Yeast beer like Deus is a delight.

Neal – What challenges have you experienced going into the business?

Jeffery – We are learning every hour what Central Virginia is looking to brew and what they want to help make it possible. For instance, we thought two different bottle cap colors was good, but guests have asked for more colors to make their individual brews easier to identify.  That, and we brought in specialty grain in one pound bags, but brewers are looking for 5 pound bags.  We are listening, learning, buying and growing to be what the region’s home brewers are looking for.Culpeper-Cheese2

Neal – Is there anything you would like our readers to know about your business?

Jeffery – We are tremendously excited to offer homebrew supplies and look forward to serving the region. If you don’t see it, ask – we are happy to order what you need.

The Brew Share is also tremendously excited to have this resource in Culpeper. So, if you are contemplating getting into the hobby and craft, be sure to pay a visit to Culpeper Cheese Company on East Davis Street in Culpeper. Thank you to Jeffery Mitchell and his team for making homebrewing products available and answering our questions.

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Humulus Lupulus – Part 2

This past Saturday seemed a good time to get my homebrewer’s garden ready for spring. It was sunny and in the mid-sixties.  Little did I know that a snowstorm would befall Northern Virginia late Sunday night! I had thought we had seen the last of the snow for this year and soon my hops would be springing out of the ground. So, I proceeded to divide my rhizomes and keep some trimmings for friends. Once again, my son volunteered to be my cameraman and I got to videotape parts of my work for Carboy College.

Last year, I did not give my hops the attention they needed and I let them get a bit out of hand. The hops spread outside my hopyard, under my trellis box, into the grass, and up behind the siding of my house. So, a trimming was definitely in order. Pruning the rhizomes is a pretty simple task. However, it can be a bit laborious if you have not done it in awhile.  You should not let your hops go more than three years without a good root pruning.  It also doesn’t hurt to prune the rhizomes every spring.

This trellis system supports four hop plants up to ten feet.

This trellis system supports four hop plants up to ten feet.

The trellis I built is still holding up strong. I built it using 10-foot 2x4s that were left over from another project.  The lumber was a bit warped, but after a few screws it straightened out.

There are numerous choices in building a hop trellis or pergola.  Two popular versions are the straight pole trellis system (used by most commercial producers) and the tent pole trellis system.  I decided to use a trellis of my own design because I wanted something more aesthetically pleasing and in agreement with the homeowners association.

My design provides for a sturdy structure to support multiple bines as well as a border for my garden. When building your trellis, be sure to allow room for the hills to be at least 3 feet apart.  My trellis consists of two planting squares with dimensions of 70” by 43” to support two hop mounds each.  There is also a small space in between the planting squares that I fill with marigolds. Using marigolds around my hops helps keep some unwanted pests away.

I decided to not make my trellis any higher than the 10-foot length of the 2x4s for three reasons. First, if I went any higher, I would have to use longer lumber or construct something more complex and requiring more materials. I wanted to only use the materials on-hand. Second, if it were any higher, it would have been less stable and harder to stand-up. If it was higher, it might not have withstood the Derecho that came screaming through nearly two years ago. Finally, my ladder is only so high. Therefore, running my jute twine and harvesting the cones would have been a bit trickier. I also did not want to have a ladder that needed to be laid against the structure.

Northwest facing view of my hop trellis.

Northwest facing view of my hop trellis.

To stabilize my structure, I drove a few stakes into the ground adjacent to the inner border of the trellis. I screwed these stakes into the trellis border itself. The stakes appear to have served as a good anchor for the system.

After erecting my trellis and feeling confident that it was stable, I painted it white to match my siding, once again keeping in spirit with the homeowner’s association by-laws. I originally fastened eyehooks to the top beam to run the twine through. However, after the first year, I decided it was easier and more practical to simply throw the twine over the top beam. During the first summer, by running it through the eyehook, the twine at that section wore away faster and I had to restring broken and fallen lines. It was quite frustrating hurrying out the door to go to work and seeing that my hop lines had broken over night.  Throwing the lines over the top beam made it easier to double up on the line and mend thinning twine.

In conclusion, be sure to site your hopyard and build your trellis system before putting your rhizomes in the ground. It could be disheartening to discover that where you planted your hops might not be the best location and then have to transplant them. However, don’t be afraid of using the wrong system. There is no single correct way to build a trellis. All your trellis has to do is allow a place for the bines to climb.  The rest is just personal preference.

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Humulus Lupulus – Part 1

Raising your own hops is easy. Hops grow like weeds and one of the hardest parts of cultivating these plants is keeping them from getting out of control. Its no wonder their botanical name refers to a small wolf (Lupulus) – they’re like a wild animal running through your garden. Hops do prefer a large amount of sunlight, frequent watering, and at least moderately fertile soil.

The yellow powder in the hop cone (Lupulin) imparts the aroma and flavor to beer.

The yellow powder (Lupulin) in the hop cone imparts the aroma and flavor to beer.

Humulus Lupulus is part of the Cannabaceae family. Yep, that’s right, hops are a close cousin of cannabis and this may account for some of its sedative properties. Like marijuana, it is the female hop plant that we use for consumption. Only female hops are used in beer making.  The Brew Share does not condone the use of cannabis in your beer making.

Telling the difference between male and female hop plants is easy. The female hop plant is the only one that produces hop cones. If you purchase your hop rhizomes from a homebrewing supply store, this is most unlikely to happen. The hop cones are what are harvested for brewing, but it’s the yellow powder inside called Lupulin that imparts the aroma and flavor to beer.

Hops grow as bines (not to be confused with vines) from what is called a rhizome. Bines are different from vines in that vines use tendrils or suckers. Bines grow in a helix using downward pointing bristles to support their grip.  The bines need something to climb on and will search out something to climb if nothing is provided. So, watch out they do not get underneath your siding.  Hop growers need to build a high trellis or pergola to support the hops because they can grow as high as 30 feet. Some home hop growers run twine or cable from the side of their house to the hop mound.  I personally do not do this because I do not want to ruin my siding.

Before purchasing your hops or taking trimmings from a friend, you will need to select a site for your hops.  I recommend placing your hop yard on the south side of any structure where they will get the most sun. Hops should also be planted where there will be good air circulation, but not a windy area. Stagnant air will encourage diseases and wind could break your bines. Conveniently, the south side of my house has the most sunlight and the house functions as a windbreak because the wind comes from the north. Finally, the hops require good drainage and are planted in hop mounds. Although they like frequent watering, hops only like to rest in moist ground and not wet ground.

In my next segment of Humulus Lupulus I will talk about constructing a trellis and pruning rhizomes.

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A Bottling Production

This past Monday I took advantage of a snow day to bottle a copper ale that has been fermenting in my basement. My son wanted to be involved and I decided to let him record the process on video to share with other homebrewers…He’s eight. Although I have bottled numerous times before, this was my first ever attempt to have a piece of my brewing techniques recorded on video and as a consequence I made several errors cleaning the bottles. Can you point them out? When editing the video, which I have also never done before, I placed several comments about my errors, awkward segments and certain distractions. I am sure many homebrewers face similar distractions that include young children running into the kitchen screaming, telephones ringing, babies crying, and the occasional near tragedy being averted. It is definitely not like many of the sanitized videos you will see on the process of bottling. But, don’t you think it is more real?

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Prime Dose

While struggling to carbonate my high ABV beer through bottle conditioning, this product caught my eye. It is called “Prime Dose” and is manufactured for the McKenzie Brothers. I found it interesting that it was manufactured for these people since the only brothers I know of the same name are those fictional characters from the SCTV sketch comedy “The Great White North” that first aired on CBC Television in 1980. If you don’t remember the TV sketch, then perhaps you remember the movie adaptation, “Strange Brew” (1983) staring Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas. If you have never seen the movie, then I suggest you get it right away and watch it…eh!

According to the manufacturer,  “Prime Dose is the prescription for perfect carbonation through simple delivery and consistent results. Trade a harsh dose of flat reality for a simple pill with the unmatched ability to produce perfectly carbonated bottle-conditioned homebrew.”

I decided to give Prime Dose a go on my high ABV winter brew that remained flat after trying to bottle condition. The bottle did not come with instructions, so being the scientist I am… I decided to guess on the right dosage. At first, concerned that I might over-carbonate, I dropped only 2 tablets in one of my 32 ounce Grolsch bottles. After checking a week later, there was only very minor carbonation and I decided to search for more instructions and found the following online:

Recommended Dosage:
12 oz. bottles: 2 capsules; use 3 in styles requiring high carbonation.
22 oz. bottles: 4 capsules; use 6 in styles requiring higher carbonation.”

Realizing the error of my measurement, while at the same time still not wanting to over-carbonate, I decided to add two more pills… and shake the bottle to aerate. Shaking the bottle may not have been the best move, but I thought that a lack of oxygen might also be a reason why my beer did not carbonate. Another week later, and I was pleasantly surprised to find my beer was well carbonated, had a decent head, and didn’t taste bad. Indeed, Prime Dose saved my flat beer and I decided to charge the rest of my remaining 12 oz bottles with 2 capsules each (but did not shake). In about another week or two, I will let you know how they came out. I will also forgo dissolving priming sugar in my next batch and instead try out Prime Dose from the get-go.

Have you had any experience with Prime Dose? Let us know.


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Ale to the Chief

This Monday is President’s Day in the U.S. and I thought I would share a bit about presidents and brew. Many of our presidents were beer aficionados and quite a few were home brewers. However, it was mostly their wives that did much of the home brewing. Perhaps First Lady Michelle Obama would be interested in taking up the science and art? However, it looks like the President’s chefs take on most of the work.

In the early years of our country, most beer not brewed at home came from local brewers (dare I say craft brewers) whose business was generally localized to the immediate area. It was not until the middle of the 19th century that wide spread distribution of beer took hold.

My brief article today compares the beer loving of our first president George Washington with our current president Barack Obama. Both gentlemen have great taste in beer and beer played some significant roles in each presidency.

President Washington was a fan of porters produced only in the U.S. and he was a frequent customer to the brewer Robert Hare. Hare specialized in brewing porters and may have been the first to produce porter in this country. A great account of Washington’s brew tastes, as well as other early presidents’, can be found in the book Brewed In America: The History of Beer and Ale in the United States by Stanley Baron (1962). Additional information about Washington’s love of beer is at George Washington would always serve beer at Mount Vernon and although many think Barack Obama hosted the first Beer Summit, it was more likely Washington who hosted the first Beer Summits. According to the Mount Vernon Website “Washington not only drank beer himself and served it to his guests, but it was also one of the items provided for voters when he was a candidate for political office.”

President Obama’s beer tastes seem a bit more varied. At first I thought his favorite would be one of the White House beer recipes (Honey Porter or Honey Brown). A choice of porter would have been a great similarity to Washington, but I was wrong. When the U.S. men’s hockey team lost to Canada at the 2010 Olympics, Obama sent a case of Yuengling to settle a bet with Canada’s Prime Minister showing the world his favorite beer.

Would Yuengling be George Washington's favorite beer as well?

Would Yuengling be George Washington’s favorite beer as well?

Of course, 2 years prior, the president did not seem to know a thing about Yuengling while stumping in Pennsylvania. But, not knowing about a beer for a long time does not mean it can’t be your favorite. I knew about Bud and Miller for decades before learning about Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA (my favorite).

Obama’s delivery and declaration for Yuengling demonstrated that he is like Washington in their regard for beer. Both were/are avid supporters of beer brewed in America. Yuengling is America’s oldest active brewery, to which Obama gravitated to right away after learning the brewery’s American history. Washington, who would drink only American beer, wrote in a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, “I use no porter or cheese in my family, but such as is made in America.”

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Breathing Life Back Into The Brew Share

After the baby was born in December, things have settled down a bit in at home allowing me more time and motivation to get back to The Brew Share. So, I have decided to call this article ‘Breathing Life Back Into The Brew Share’. During my absence from The Brew Share, I have not stopped brewing. Since the news of baby, things have been much sweeter…to include my beer. My system appears to be really efficient with an original gravity of 1.085 on my last three beers. On each beer, I grappled with adding more water or not and eventually decided to let things go as-is and see what happens. Two of the last three batches did fairly well with the yeast converting a good portion of the sugars into alcohol. But, after bottling, the yeast seemed to be spent since the beer did not condition and I ended up with flat beer. I theorized that I might not be aerating the wort well enough prior to pitching the yeast. So, I decided to invest in an oxygen injection system to breath new life back into my beer.

Oxygen Injection System

Oxygen Injection System

The system consists of an oxygen tank; valve to attach to the oxygen tank, tubing, and a stainless steel 0.5-micron air stone. Be careful not to handle the air stone with your bare fingers. As I learned, the oil from your fingers will clog the pores and ruin the air stone. Alas, I did not have the opportunity yet to use my new oxygen injection system. I started brewing an amber ale two weeks ago when temps were in the single digits. I was up until 1 AM, and when I moved the wort to the fermenter, and created a lot of foam.  I also did not cool the wort quick enough or well enough before deciding to pitch the yeast. Needing to get to bed because of a planned early morning and baby care, I decided this was not the time to try out my new oxygen system. Sorry I have been away for so long. Please be sure to share what’s brewing in your world to include recipes, reviews, and events.






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Used Bottles

I know it has been awhile and I am sorry to keep any readers waiting. Thank you all for waiting patiently while I took a break for a month.  To get back into the swing of things, I decided to prepare to bottle my black honey stout that has been aging in my basement. Of course, this means I need to have bottles to put the beer in.

Some labels are really hard to get off like this Trader Joe's bottle. These Trader Joe's bottles are nice bottles, but the labels are a pain to get off.

Some labels are really hard to get off like this Trader Joe’s bottle. These Trader Joe’s bottles are nice bottles, but the labels are a pain to get off.

Whenever your friends find our that you have started brewing beer, one of the things you can ultimately expect is for them to gift you with their used bottles. This is a great way to avoid purchasing new bottles. However, you should probably start conversations about your home brewing by mentioning the challenges of used bottles and what can be done to mitigate those challenges. If you are one of those friends who would like to recycle your bottles via a home brewer, here are three tips…recommendations…ah, requests:

1. Please don’t give us your twist offs unless the brewer actually requests a certain bottle type.  When capping a screw top, it is hard to trust there is a good enough seal. This is especially true if the brewer does not have a bench capper. The screw tops also tend to be thinner by the threads and there is a chance of hairline fractures that go unnoticed. It is best not to use them.

These bottles are soaking in warm water to remove the labels.

These bottles are soaking in warm water to remove the labels.

2. Foreign contaminants are the number one killer of beer. Please don’t give us bottles that have not, at least, been rinsed out. I have had to scrub many bottles with Petri dish type buildup. It is easiest to rinse your bottle out soon after it has been emptied either in a glass or in the stomach. Doing this helps get the residual sugars and yeast out of the bottle before it dries. I find that it helps to run them through a dishwasher after the labels are removed. This helps, but it does not get all of the sediment out.

3. Some may enjoy doing it, but for me, removing labels can be a real burden. You can leave your mark on your friend’s beer by soaking the bottles and removing the labels for them. This may earn you a few extra bottles back with the good stuff in it!

So, if you give your friends clean bottles without labels, they will most certainly be grateful and most likely reward you well.

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Stone Brewing Co.

Well, after doing some research, I stumbled across a press release from Stone Brewing. (You know that group of guys out in California with the witty bottles and awesome brews) Anyway, It looks like they are getting ready to break ground on their big plans. If you have never had one of their “Arrogant” ales, I suggest you hop on down to your local supplier, and get a bottle or two. You MUST read the whole label before drinking, these guys mean business (especially with their “Double Bastard Ale”).

This is one heck of a success story, where a craft brew is quickly on it’s way up the food chain.

Check out all their plans at:

I wonder if the staff at the hotel will have the same perfect blend of arrogance and taste that their ale has?

Good luck and much success to our friends over at Stone.


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