May 21, 2011

Greenpoint Harbor Brewing & Barrier Brewing Co.

We have to thank DJ Swanson and Greg Doroski of Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. for letting us stir their pot.
Thanks guys. You were gracious hosts. We had a great time hanging out in the middle of your brew day.
Interestingly, they were in the middle of brewing a 2nd batch of Greg's rye-based "Spring Turning Saison".
Some of you may recall that as a home brewer, Greg won the First Place Judge's Choice award at the very first Brooklyn Wort home-brewing competition at Sycamore Bar, last August with the very same beer. Now he is producing it professionally at Greenport Harbor Brewing Co.
Make sure you keep an eye out for it in bars near you. You should be able to find it at Bar Great Harry, in Brooklyn as well as other bars around the city.
Speaking of the Brooklyn Wort competition, registration for the 3rd competition is now open to brewers. Since the event will be at the end of August, it will again be held at Sycamore Bar & Flowershop, so we can all enjoy their beautiful backyard space. We have changed things up just a bit this time around. It is free to register on Brown Paper Tickets, and there is no limit to the number of brewers that can initially register. HOWEVER, we will then hold a random drawing at Sycamore Bar on June 1st at 8pm, to choose 25 brewers to compete in August.
We have had so much interest in the event, that we wanted to find a way to give equal opportunity to everyone, so some new blood can potentially compete.
We also want to congratulate Evan Klien and Craig Frymark of Barrier Brewing Co. , for receiving the prestigious honor of Best Brewery in NY State, at the 14th annual TAP New York Brewers Festival. We want to thank them as well, for letting a few of us here at Brooklyn Homebrew get in the way during their brew day a few weeks back. We had a blast!

Check us out on WNYC's Niche Market, and our very own Kyler Serfass, our friends Josh Bernstein, Chris Cuzme, the New York Homebrewers Guild, and some of our loyal customers also featured in a WNYC story!

January 23, 2011

The Happiest Place on Earth

Cantillion: Founded in 1900, now the last traditional brewery still operating in Brussels, Belgium.

I won't name names, but that artificially sweetened "framboise" stuff so commonly seen in the United States is not really Lambic. There are no legislative mandates in Belgium regarding what can and cannot be labelled as such. Pictured above is one example of the real deal! Rosé de Gambrinus: 2 year old Lambic is blended with fresh raspberries and aged another 5 to 6 months. Finally, it gets some young Lambic added to it before bottling, which provides enough sugar to carbonate the beer. The distinct flavor difference between Cantillion's traditional creations, and what many mistake for lambic is a bright, tart, acidic taste. Traditional lambic is practically devoid of any residual sweetness. Its light, effervescent, and complex. Which makes it very easy to drink, and an excellent beverage to drink with rich foods.

If you would like to replicate what Cantillion does so so sooooooo well, then you should do it by god! You will need 65% malted barley (German or Belgian pilsner malt), 35% un-malted wheat, and aged hops (1.69% of the total weight of the combined grains).

The malt is poured through a chute on the floor above, passes through a grain mill, then falls safely into the mashing vessel. The grain mashes for 2 hours, starting at 113°F and ending at 161.6°F. This process, as most of you already know, converts the starches in the grain into fermentable sugars.

Cantillion still uses most of the original brewing equipment. Using very "low-tech" methods, they create some of the worlds best beers. The sweet "tea" created in the mash tun, is boiled in these large copper kettles. The boil takes about 3 to 4 hours, which evaporates 25% of the original wort volume. It is durning this boil, that the aged hops are added. Lambic brewers use hops not for flavor or aroma. They are primarily using hops for the naturally preservative tannins in them. By using aged hops (a.k.a. "de-bittered" hops) the lambic brewers can add a larger quantity of hops to the beer without making the beer excessively bitter.

Steam heated, belt driven. Very steam punk!

Here is the place where the real magic happens! The attic. Somewhat contradictory to what brewers are taught, that you should cool the wort as quickly as you can for fear of contamination from wild organisms, this "contamination" by the airborne cultures of Brussels is one key element to the flavor of traditional lambic. After boiling, the hot wort is pumped up to the copper "cool ship" in the attic. The cool ship is a wide shallow vessel in which the wort is left overnight to cool to between 64.4°F and 68°F. Because Cantillion uses naturally occurring cold night air to cool the wort, they only brew from the end of October through the beginning of April. In the far bottom left of the photograph you can see the vents that allow the air outside to blow in and cool the wort.
Even more importantly, as the cooling progresses, the indigenous yeast and bacteria in the cooling room, and blowing in the window, inoculate the beer once it has cooled below 104°F.
No additional yeast is needed. You can attempt this in other parts of the world, but don't expect the same (or even drinkable) results. If you want to increase your chances for success, simply inoculate your wort with the Wyeast Lambic Blend #3278.
The brewers consider this room a sanctuary of sorts, and they take precautions to protect the unique micro-organic fauna within the brewery.

The wort is then placed in oak or chestnut barrels with a capacity of between 59 to 132 gallons each, where it undergoes its spontaneous fermentation. The barrels must be left open on top for the CO2 to escape safely. Otherwise there would be some pretty violent explosions of wood and wort. As much as 1 to 2.5 gallons are lost from each barrel during the early stages of this violent fermentation.

Now the waiting begins. "Time does not respect what is made without him." The wort transforms into lambic in the barrels. It will rest quietly in the barrel room for between 1 and 3 years. The concentration of sugar in a 3 year old lambic will drop down to 0.2%. In the course of the maturation period, a good deal of evaporation takes place. After 3 years, 20% of the liquid evaporates away. And unlike wine makers, lambic brewers DO NOT top off the barrels to compensate for evaporation. To protect themselves from the air space in the top of the barrel, some yeast form a flora or pellicle at the top of the lambic which isolates the beer from the air above. After three years a barrel of a 105 gallons will have reduced to about 84 gallons! One of the reasons it is an expensive product to make.

Before being bottled the lambic is pumped from the barrels through a 5 plate filter, then into steel tanks seen in the background. These tanks sit above the bottling room below.

Though the straight unblended lambic can be ready to drink in much less time, fruit lambic uses the 2 year old lambic which has even more acidity. In the summer months of July and August, 132 gallons of the 2 year old lambic is placed in these tanks with 330 lbs of fresh raspberries (Rosé de Gambrinus), cherries (Kriek), apricots (Fou'foune), merlot grapes (Saint-Lambvinus), or white muscat grapes (Vigneronne) to macerate for at least 3 months. At that point the lambic is blended with 1/3 part young lambic, which provides enough sugar to carbonate the beer. After lightly filtering the fruit lambic, its bottled up for conditioning and aging.

The brewhouse pest control incudes a cat named "Cat," and lots and lots of spiders. There are cobwebs hanging from everything. Obviously in the summer months it is inevitable that fruit flies will try to get there dirty paws on the precious lambic. However, using toxic chemicals is not only bad for humans and the environment, it would likely destroy or alter the valuable airborne organisms that inoculate the wort in the attic. The FDA in all of its devine wisdom would never allow that in this country. Spiders are far more dangerous to our health than fecal spinach, prescription drugs, shit-filled meat from cannibal cows, teaching kids that ketchup is a vegetable in our school cafeterias, or imported seafood high in mercury that every other port of entry in the world previously rejected first. Right?!?

On display, an example of a bottling machine no longer in use.

The relatively small but effective bottling line operated by 2 or 3 brewers can fill, cork, and cap 1,200 Champagne-style bottles in an hour.

Cantillion's Gueuze is perhaps the best example in the world. The brewer blends 3 year old, 2 year old, and young lambic together in one bottle. The straight unblended lambic is always still (un-carbonated) because the oak and chestnut barrels allow the natural carbon dioxide to escape. In a gueuze, much like the fruit lambics, the addition of the young lambic provides sugars for re-fermentaion in the bottle. After bottling the lambic, the bottles are stored on their side for several months or more. This cellar when full contains 11,000 bottles. On average though, the brewery permanently stores 60,000 bottles. A well made traditional gueuze stored in a proper cellar can be matured for up to 25 years.

The best part of the tour..... the tasting. After smelling the sour oaky beer aroma that fills the building, we are ready for a drink! The Cantillion bar is simple and charming, and they offer plates of delicious gueuze cheese and tasty charcuterie to snack on while you drink.

Included in the price of the tour is a glass of traditional gueuze, and a glass of either the raspberry (Rosé de Gambrinus) or cherry(Kriek) lambic. Don't stop there! Order a glass or bottle of some of the other lambics. The Mamouche is a magical and aromatic beer made by maceration of elder flowers in the lambic. Faro is a fantastic and unstable lambic that is better to taste in Brussels, rather than trying to take a bottle home with you. Caramel candy sugar is added to sweeten the beer. It is ever so slightly tart but the sweetest of all the lambic beers. But because of the added sugar, the re-fermentation in the bottle is very strong, and risk of exploding bottles is a real possibility. They should be consumed within 3 to 4 weeks at most after bottling.

Raspberry lambic.

Mamouche (lambic with elder flowers).

Look for these other Cantillion beers: Grand Cru Bruocsella, Iris, Marmalade, and "Lou Pepe."

Our sincere thanks to Cantillion, for doing what you do, and for providing the information and much of the text used above.

November 17, 2010


What a delay since the last posting! Thanks to all of our great customers! We have been fighting to keep up with demand since the weather has taking a turn in the right direction. We are selling about 160 packs of yeast liquid yeast per week (and who knows how many dozen packs of dry), which definitely helps keep it fresh, but makes it really hard to have the ones you need, when you need it. It may be time for more refrigeration! We've been selling tons of whole leaf hops from this years harvest as well. Fortunately for the brewers who prefer pellets, the hop-gods have begun pelletizing many varieties from this years hop harvest, so we will have Amarillo pellets again! Yipee! We really are grateful for your business, and your patience while we expand and train our staff to keep up.
Some fantastic news: As of Friday Nov. 19th, brewers will be able to sign up for the 2nd edition of Brooklyn Wort! Thanks to the guys at Sycamore Bar & Flower Shop for their help
getting this event together. This time around will be even better than the last. We have many news sponsors, like Valley Malt, Wyeast, Beer Sessions, Greenport Harbor Brewing Co., and many more to be announced, as well as all of the great sponsors that made the 1st Brooklyn Wort possible.

Because the competition will take place on February 26th, and its likely to be cold as f#%k. So in order to accommodate 25 brewers (that's right, 25 brewers this time) the event will be held around the corner from Brooklyn Homebrew, at The Gowanus Studio Space. Brewers should be on the lookout this Friday @ Noon if they want to sign up! Go to for details on participating.

We never had a chance to share some photos from Jamil Zainasheff visit to Brooklyn Homebrew. It was a great time, and a fantastic way to kick off another crazy NY Craft Beer Week. Many thanks to our friend Jaclyn Elder for taking these great photos. She is available for any type of beer related event you need!

We now have some hop teas available (blended in house!), which would make a great gift. We also have our equipment kits available in boxes, to make them easier to gift wrap. And maybe some bows will be added as Christmas creeps closers!

We have reorganized our grains, and added even more information to the grain bins to help you learn about the ingredients in your beers. When buying beer kits to give as gifts (from us or online) keep in mind that beer ingredients ARE perishable. Malted barley can keep very very well when it's un-cracked (un-crushed, un-milled, etc.), but beware of buying beer kits in which the malted grains have been pre-crushed. Once the tiny grain has been cracked open, exposing air and moisture to the center of the malt, it not only loses its delicious aroma, but its flavor will quickly fade. Even worse than loss of flavor, if the grain oxidizes or hydrolisis of the lipids (fancy words!) within the grain takes affect, then you may end up with an unpleasant or even metallic taste in your beer. So if you buy a beer kit as a gift, make sure the grains are crushed for you at the time of purchase and not in advance, because you have no way of knowing how long ago the grain was milled. Or, when you buy the kit, make sure they are not milled at all. By the time you give the "gift of grain" to the brewer on your Christmas shopping list, a full month may have nearly passed already..... and who knows when they will have time to brew the beer. Let the person you give the beer kit to either mill the grain themselves if they have a way to do so, or let them take the grain to the friendly neighborhood home-brew shop (Brooklyn Homebrew) and ask them (us) to mill the grain for them right before they brew.

And finally, we want to congratulate our good friend Mark Zap (who played a big part in helping us get our store up in running last January) for his amazing creation that he recently unveiled. Brewing as Art. Mark and his co-creator and metal sculptor friend, Scott Van Campen have been working hard through the summer months to get this done. A hand-made mobile sculpture piece that actually functions....... it can make 10 gallons of beer! My photograph (below)
doesn't do it justice. You really need to see it in person to appreciate the amount of work that went into every detail of the brew sculpture. Hopefully he will be blessing us with his sculpture at the next Brooklyn Wort!

August 22, 2010

Brooklyn Wort Season 1

Congratulations to all the winners! And a big thanks to all the brewers who participated, all of the guest who attended, the judges & sponsors, and most of all to the owners and staff of Sycamore. It was a blast!

Quaffing homebrew.

Deliberations at the judges' table.

Greg Doroski - "Wry Saison" - Rye Saison
1st Place - Judges' Choice

Clinton Stauffer - "Wallonian Summer" - Farmhouse Ale
2nd Place - Judges' Choice

Brad Hillman - "Suspicious Package" - Dark Farmhouse Sour Ale
3rd Place - Judges' Choice

Jonathan Moxey - "Electric Blanket Saison" - Saison
1st Place - Peoples' Choice

Christopher Pagnotta - "Rager's Revenge IPA" - IPA
2nd Place - Peoples' Choice

David Elder - "Spur of the Moment No. 1" - American Amber
3rd Place - Peoples' Choice

All the Votes are in......... let's do this again!

July 10, 2010

Adventures in New Glarus, WI

The gorgeous new Hilltop, New Glarus Brewery (in the town of the same name) Wisconsin.

The beautiful new brewing facility allows visitors to wander about, taking a self-guided tour at your leisure free of charge, and without getting in the way of the brewing in progress.
As you enter the brewery, you get a glimpse into New Glarus' brewing prowess and a little history of the brewery. Above: The many medals the brewery has won are proudly on display.

The brewery is complete with their own waste treatment facility at the bottom of the hill.
Happily, many breweries are taking steps to reduce or reuse their waste in ethical ways.
You know, like monks have done for centuries. Feed your left over yeast to your livestock, and your grains can be composted or fed to chickens and pigs.
Beautiful and shiny copper kettles for mashing and boiling! If only we had room in our garage for a couple of these puppies (if only we had a garage :(

This place is really state of the art! SO MUCH Stainless steel and healthy yeast at your fingertips.
Guest that visit the brewery are discouraged from drooling (for sanitation purposes of course).

From the left: the Weiss beer room (separate tanks from everything else), more steel tanks whose only purpose is to make homebrewers jealous, and the "stairway to heaven" as the brewers have affectionately dub it. It seems like an alright way to die... a 4 story fall into vats of fermenting beer. Will that get us into heaven though? I think so, but consult a priest for more details before attempting this!

Check out the bottling line in action!

The tasting room/gift shop is, hmm..........well, tasty! For $3.50 you get any 3 tastes of their standards on draft or
the bottled specialty beers.
And you get to keep the glass when your done. We were lucky enough to score an extra taste from a nice women
who had had her fill, so we got to try everything.
While you sample, you can stroll around outside and enjoy the beautiful rolling green hills in the distance.

One last stop at the brewery... the "Beer Depot." We must buy some bottles for future sampling. The "Enigma Unplugged," "Golden Ale," "Raspberry Tart," "Cracked Wheat," "Moon Man," "Fat Squirrel," "Two Women," and the "Wisconsin Belgian Red."

Before leaving town, you may notice the original New Glarus Brewery (referred to as Riverside) down the road just a bit.
This humble building is still functioning today, and within its walls are GIANT wooden barrels used for
some or the breweries more "wild" beers.

As we drove out of the town of New Glarus, we were surprised to find ourselves back in Brooklyn almost instantly. Wormhole? Maybe, but this doesn't look like the Brooklyn we know?

Finally, we made it back to Chicago... to have some beer flights at the new brew-pub there, Revolution Brewing. Really delicious beers. We were happy to be back in Chicago, and not be drinking Old Style (or Molson, like we had to on July 4th)! Boy, those residents of Wisconsin are mighty kind and really do enjoy some amazing Brats! Thanks Matty!