Pumpkin ale brewday and other project updates

If you’re a general beer geek and follow commercial releases you’ll know that pumpkin beers have been on shelves since July.  I think this is crazy and refuse to drink any pumpkin beers before September, it’s just plain wrong to have a pumpkin beer in July.  It would be nice if craft beer could stay away from the seasonal creep of other consumer products but it looks like that ain’t happening, I’m sure next year I’ll get some pumpkin ale from the Easter Bunny.  But now we’re into the cooler evenings that mark the end of Summer and we’re officially less than a week away from the start of Fall, which means it’s cool to commence consumption of Autumnal ales.  And also to brew them.

Our pumpkin ale was inspired by Southern Tier’s Pumking which for my tastes is one of the best pumpkin beers I’ve tried.  The spices are just right with a noticeable nutmeg front, there’s a sweet milkiness reminiscent of whipped topping and a buttery graham cracker crust – there is some Willy Wonka magic going on in this beer.

Pumpkin ale brew day in review.

Pumpkin ale brew day in review.

After drinking and analyzing Pumking we set out on a search for clone recipes, we found several but none seemed to capture all of what we were looking for.  So we mashed a few together and made our own tweaks and we’ll see what we come up with.  Our recipe included two lbs of fresh roasted pumpkin, typical pumpkin pie spices, a bit of lactose, and we’ll use graham cracker and bourbon vanilla extracts in secondary.  It tasted great going into the fermenter, but it’s basically a soup of sweet wort, pumpkin and spices so what’s not to love?  Let’s see how fermentation treats it, we’ve got high hopes.

Pumpkin ale going into the carboy

Pumpkin ale going into the carboy

Update on hop farming, Domain of The King stout, and Tornado Warning triple chocolate porter.

So here’s the update on our hop farming…. it failed miserably.  The shoots never got more than about 6′ tall and we didn’t get a single cone on any of them.  I’ve heard that 1st year Centennial can be picky so we’ll see what happens next season.

Our Domain of The King stout is in a keg and stuck back to age for a while.   The mouth feel on this one is light and definitely not what we were going for.  Other flavors were pretty good but I still think we’ll do this one again to get it exactly where we want it.  We also left it on the oak too long and there’s a woody bitterness to it, I’ve heard that can calm down some with age so we’ll sample again in a month or so and see.

Tornado Warning triple chocolate porter got some bugs in it, this was totally our fault.  We had it in a fermentation chamber with a 1 gallon batch of Sparge of Darkness, an experimental batch we had going with some leftover wort and dregs off a bottle of Tart of Darkness.  The pellicle on top of both jugs looked identical so I’m thinking we got some cross contamination there.  Since this isn’t a wild strain we may actually end up with something decent in the end.  We’ve transferred this one to another carboy to age for a long time and then we’ll sample to see if it’s salvageable.

Sparge of Darkness (L) Tornado Warning (R)

Sparge of Darkness (L) Tornado Warning (R)

Gooooolden Pint Hefeweizen Brewday

With Germany recently winning the World Cup and us having never brewed a German beer style we decided this would be a great time to do just that.  We decided to start with something quick and simple, and appropriate for summer temps in the Dirty South, so we chose a hefeweizen.  In keeping with tradition we sat down one Saturday and drank through a handful of the most highly rated examples and made notes on what we liked and didn’t like about each one.   To be honest they were all pretty close in terms of flavor and body, with some clove and banana on both the nose and palate.  I discovered that hefes aren’t my favorite style, but still thought it would be fun to brew one.  Plus a lot of my friends love them so it will be a great one to share.   Since Brian is both extremely witty and hilarious he came up with the name Gooooolden Pint to tie in with the World Cup but I’ve dubbed it Hefe Five-O, because I am also witty and hilarious.

Crushing It

Crushing It

After all our diligent research we built a recipe of 53% wheat and 42% German Pilsen with 5% Munich thrown in for a touch more flavor and body.  We used a small amount of Perle hops to bring us in at 14 IBU’s at fermented with Wyeast 3068, the Weihenstephan strain.  The brewday itself ran quite smoothly with the only hiccup being that it took a long time to get the wort chilled as we didn’t have any ice for the recirculator and relied on ground water temps to get us cooled down.  We should have gone to the store and grabbed a bag, but we didn’t, and there’s nothing we can do about that now.

Sparging It

Sparging It

OG was within 3 points of target so we sealed it up and put it in the fermentation chamber at 58% to work its magic.  We kicked it up to 60°F after 24 hours and then to 62°F after another 24 hours, this method was chosen after I read some notes from Gordon Strong on starting them a bit cool and moving the temps up but staying in the low 60’s.  It’s said the lower temps produce a very clean fermentation with nice clove and banana notes without being overpowering.  Good, that’s exactly what we want.

Boiling It

Boiling It

Fermentation started slower than we usually see but after 24 hours it started to kick up and by the 2nd day the blow-off tube was playing us quite a song.  I checked it after 10 days in and gravity is at 1.008 with an original target of 1.009.  That puts ABV at Five-O… it was meant to be.  Initial samples indicate this is going to be a great beer.  As I said I’m not wowed by hefes in general, but the sample was really tasty.  This will go into the keg soon and should be ready to go as soon as it’s carbed up.

We also did a little work on our Domain of The King Stout.  After aging it on cocoa nibs for a couple weeks we transferred it onto some dark toasted oak chips soaked in Four Roses Small Batch bourbon and added some cold brewed coffee.  For the coffee we went with a blend of locally roasted beans from Batdorf & Bronson that were incdredibly smooth with some dark fruit and chocolate notes.  We’re aging it in the carboy at 55°F and we’ll check it weekly to see how it’s coming along, we expect this one to take a few months to be ready.

Bourbining and Oaking It - OK, that was lame, but I felt the need to keep with the theme.

Bourboning and Oaking It – OK, that was lame, but I felt the need to keep with the theme.  Sorry.

Brewday: Domain of The King Imperial Stout

Domain of The King is our most ambitious beer to date.  We’ve been working on the recipe for this for quite a while and knew that now was the time to brew it to have it ready for Stout Season.  Oh who am I kidding, it’s always stout season at MHB but I know some of the less dedicated drinkers prefer them in cooler weather.  You see the trick to enjoying a big imperial stout in the summer is to do as little physical activity as possible while sitting in a well air-conditioned house.  There’s your pro tip of the day.  You’re welcome.

I forgot to take pics on brew day so here's Brew Dog Boo in a hop hat.

I forgot to take pics on brew day so here’s Brew Dog Boo in a hop hat.

DoTK tipped the scales at 25 lbs of grain for a 5 gallon batch, more than our mash tun could handle.  We decided to brew this one with a split mash, doing two identical mashes / sparges then marrying them together for the boil.  In addition to the grains we also added toasted pecans and cocoa powder to the mash.  Our dark roasted specialty grains were mixed into the mash just before batch-sparging and allowed to rest for 10 minutes.  This method was something we’d never tried before and we were sure exactly what to expect out of it.  In the end we were a bit under our target gravity but still hit 1.092 so it’s still a pretty big stout.

It's always important to assess the gravity of a situation.

It’s always important to assess the gravity of a situation.

We made a starter with WLP002 and pitched that once we’d cooled our wort.  Checking in at two weeks we hit 1.020, giving us an ABV of 9.6%.  We added 4 oz of cocoa nibs to the fermenter and once we’ve achieved the desired results there (~2 weeks probably) we’ll rack onto some bourbon and oak and add some cold-brewed coffee.  From there we’ll let it age for a few months before kegging it.  We’re also toying with the idea of pulling off a couple 1 gallon batches for some experiments with toasted coconut, chiles and spices.

The samples I’ve tried on this so far are excellent.  It’s a tad hoppier than I would have liked but still quite balanced, and as the hops fade with aging I think it will be perfect.  All hail The King!

Homebrewed Eats – Beef and Stout Stew

When we have a brewday at Mostly Harmless there are a few things that are gonna happen.  We’re gonna brew some beer (duh), we’re gonna drink some beer (duhhh), we’re gonna smoke some cigars, and we are going to eat.  Most of the time we just hit up a local pizza joint or sports bar but occasionally we throw down some home cookin’.  OK, I throw down some home cookin’, Brian’s the type that makes scrambled eggs in a mug in the microwave and would likely starve to death if not for his wife.  Scratch that, he’d just live off beer and multivitamins.  Anyhow… this week I decided to make up some beef stew to go with brew day.  While Brian was tending the strike water for our session IPA (Rainy Day IPA, stay tuned for more info on that) I got to cooking.

Homemade Beef and Stout Stew

Homemade Beef and Stout Stew

Most beer geeks have had, or at least heard of, Guinness Stew – beef stew brewed with Guinness.  This is my take on that recipe using a bottle of our HOTDOS Oatmeal Stout.  I did some Googling and looked at a few recipes and then threw this together from what I found, most closely based on this one.  In all honesty making a good pot of stew is pretty easy, here’s what you need to do.


2 Lbs lean stew beef
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash of cayenne
2 large onions, diced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp tomato paste dissolved in 1/4 cup beef broth
* If you don’t have beef broth you can use 1 tsp powdered beef bouillon in the flour mixture and dilute the tomato paste with water)
10 oz of your favorite stout
2 cups baby carrots or large diced carrots
1 lb diced potatoes
8 oz sliced mushrooms
1 tsp dried thyme


  1. Toss stew beef with 1 Tbsp of the oil.
  2. In a bowl, combine the flour and all dry seasonings.
  3. Toss the meat with the seasoned flour.
  4. Heat remaining Tbsp oil (use a bit more if needed) in a large skillet over high heat.
  5. Brown the meat on all sides.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions, garlic and tomato paste diluted in broth or water.  Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
  7. Transfer the beef and onions to a crock pot and pour 1/2 the stout into the skillet.
  8. Heat to boiling and hold for 5 minutes, stirring well to deglaze the pan.
  9. Pour the sauce over the meat and add the carrots, potatoes and mushrooms.
  10. Cook on high for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally.
  11. Approximately 30 minutes before serving add the rest of the stout to the pot and stir well.

When done the stew should have a nice, heavy sauce on it without being too thick.  If sauce is too thick you can thin it with a bit of water.  If sauce is too thin dissolve 1 tsp of corn starch in 1 cup of cold water and add in small increments to the stew, stirring and allowing the sauce a couple of minutes to thicken.  Serve with fresh-baked crusty French bread and more STOUT!

It was cold and dreary and rainy here yesterday and after a long brew day in the elements this was just what we needed.  It came out great and I’ll definitely make it again.  If you try it out let me know what you think.

Cooking the beef and onions with tomato sauce

Cooking the beef and onions with tomato sauce

De-glazing the pan with the stout.

De-glazing the pan with the stout.

Into the crock pot.

Into the crock pot.

A triple brew day and more lessons learned.

This Friday we had another brew day here at tMHBC.  We’d planned to do two brews – a Lemon Wine and an Imperial Stout.  On the way to the “brewery” Brian called me to ask if I had cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.  I’ve learned not to ask why so, I just told him I did and left it and that, I figured I’d discover what kind of craziness he was up to soon enough.  It was a nice day for a brew and we had a couple of friends join us as well for some cigars and sharing of some craft brews.  We’re living the dream over here, folks.

Brian showed up and started plopping jars of honey, citrus fruits and raisins on my counter and busted out a little Fleischmann’s action to boot.  While diving into the recesses of the interwebz, he’d stumbled on a recipe for Joe’s Ancient Orange Mead and decided to try it out.  It’s a very, very simple recipe that is said to produce a very good mead.  It’s drinkable after a couple months and supposed to be excellent at about 6-7 months.  Starting it now should have this ready for us at the holidays.  We’ll keep you posted.

Joe's Ancient Orange Mead

Joe’s Ancient Orange Mead

Next up for the day was some Horse Pop.  “WTF is Horse Pop?”, you ask. (Some of you likely know the reference already, for the others… enjoy. PS – NSFW) Horse Pop is our version of Skeeter Pee lemon wine.  While I love the concept of Skeeter Pee I really hate that name.  I wanted a classy name, one you’d be proud to serve to your pastor or take to the yacht club.  “Pardon me, but might I top off your Horse Pop, good fellow?”  “Oh yes, it’s quite delightful… merci.”  It’s going to be awesome.

So after fighting with Brian about adding malt or hops or berries or whothehellknowswhat to the recipe we finally made “by the book” Skeeter Pee.  This is a quick fermenting wine and should be ready to bottle in about a month, just as the heat of summer hits us hard here in Atlanta.  I hear it’s a very sneaky drink and comes in at 10% but drinks like Kool Aid, easy to get out of control if you’re not careful.  Fermentation can be tough to get going with lemon-based beverages but I made a yeast starter and it started up nicely not long after pitching.  I look forward to bottling this one and getting stupid on it.

Horse Pop.  Some assembly required.

Horse Pop. Some assembly required.

The final brew for the day was V1.0 of our Signature Stout.  Brian and I both love a good stout so we decided this is the first style we want to perfect.  We’ve come up with a recipe that puts us in the right range of where we want to be with ABV and bitterness and using some malts we know we love.  This sucker has 18 1/2 lbs of malts in a 4 gallon batch.

This one, of course, is a bit more involved than the mead or the lemon wine.  We have to watch mash and sparge temps and time hop additions, etc.  We followed the recipe to the “T” and we’re dumbfounded when we missed our OG by 0.020.  A HUGE number to be off, and we know we followed the process dead on.  BUT… one thing we missed was how much wort got stuck in the deadspace of our mash tun.  The answer is “a lot”.  That much grain held a lot of water and we should have given it longer to  drain, we also need to upgrade the MLT drain hose as it’s quite possible even with the supports that amount of grain and water restricted our flow.  We didn’t notice how much was trapped right away but the next day, while cleaning it out, there was a lot of liquid that had settled.  A lot of delicious, sugary gravity that we missed out on.  Lesson learned.

The stout still looks very good and the wort tasted great.  Hopefully we’ll get a nice brew out of it but we’ll have to go back to the drawing board to get a perfect and reproducible recipe for our stout.

Black Gold, Texas Tea, Imperial Stout

Black Gold, Texas Tea, Imperial Stout

A Mostly Harmless Brew Day – 04/27/13

A gorgeous day here in Georgia and today we’ll be bottling our Wife Beater ESB and brewing our White House Honies Honey Ale.  We’ve still got our Hair of the Dog Oatmeal Stout fermenting.

We’ve turned brew days into a party up in hurr.  We’ll be sampling a few brews (duh) and there’ll be burgers and dogs on the grill, we might even fire up a cigar or two.  Y U SO JELLY?

Mostly Harmless Ales WBESB

Mostly Harmless Ales Wife Beater ESB

Mostly Harmless HOTDOS

Mostly Harmless Ales HOTDOS