arkansas, Beer, craft beer, Uncategorized

Earl Grey ESB, an Arkansas collaboration

Another 3:30 AM alarm, another large coffee made, another moment of thought “why didn’t I pack more the night before?” Where’s my wallet? I can never find my wallet. And also, don’t forget the tea!

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Don’t leave the tea Moody!

Wiped the snow off the car, a rarity this time of year in Little Rock, and on the cold road by 4. I have become somewhat of an audio connoisseur for these road trips. This American Life, Planet Money, and the latest This American Life spinoff Serial has become my latest obsession for the road (No, Adnon didn’t do it, something is still fishy with Jay, but there’s something else to the story, in my opinion).
Strange looks from the gas station attendants (I wore my brewer’s boots and shorts in sub freezing weather) who nonetheless filled my bad coffee and worse egg burrito order. Still figuring out the best stops on I40 — nights at Alma gas stations are a no go by the way.
To Apple Blossom Brewing Company in north Fayetteville, AR by 8 and ready to get the brew day started. I had been talking with the owners (a great group of guys) and the then Head Brewer Nathan Traw (now at Core Brewing Company) about a collaboration for some time now. I had been drinking more tea than I usually do, some for research, but had been steadily sipping Earl Grey tea. The more I drank, the more I wanted. And so, I brought up the idea of doing a beer with Earl Grey tea, and the boys were on board. Yes, that’s right, a tea beer. Has an Arkansas brewery made one yet? Not that I recall. We agreed to maintain the British theme and settled on an earl grey Extra Special Bitter.

Apple Blossom's bakers toasted these oats perfectly!

Apple Blossom’s bakers toasted these oats perfectly!

As in cooking, brewing great beer starts with great ingredients. We wanted to retain the identity of this truly classic style, so we kept our target ABV to a sessionable mid 5% ABV, used floor malted British Maris Otter base malt, pulled the resident Apple Blossom Bakery’s help to lightly toast oats the day before to lend a big body and nuttiness to the malt profile. I thought, let’s make the best ESB base we can make, really emphasize the malt characteristics of that style.

We used British Kent Goldings hops because we really thought their earthy nature would play well with the earthy black tea. For once, I held restraint on the amount, keeping it traditional, because we wanted the aromatic profile to be all about the tea. Not just Bigelow or Kroger brand tea that I usually get–Davidson’s organic with real Bergamot oil. Derived from the Bergamot tree native to Calabria, Southern Italy, Bergamot oil and black tea make up the English favourite Earl Grey tea. Cold pressed, real Bergamot extract has an intense aroma of citrus fruits lemon, orange, and grapefruit. A couple of pounds were added at the last minute on the hot side (again, we wanted to imbue some real tea flavor in the bitterness and flavor of the brew), but we reserved the lion’s share for dry hopping. What I mean by dry hopping, is that in about a week or so, once the ESB has been fully or nearly fully fermented, we’ll rack the non-carbonated beer onto a new, sanitized vessel filled with about a pound per barrel of tea. This will, over the course of about a week, imbue the flavor and aroma of the tea without adding bitterness to the beer.
I digress. We still had to brew it.  Brew day went swimmingly!

weighing out hops

weighing out hops

MASH IN

MASH IN

MASH OUT

MASH OUT

No stuck mashes (oats can give some systems hell), no boil overs, we hit our target gravities, I ate a great lunch from the kitchen (Apple Blossom kitchen staff knows how to cook!), had a smooth knockout to the fermenter.

Merlot barrel aging Trippel

Merlot barrel aging Trippel

I got to sample some of Apple Blossom’s experimental ales conditioning in their wine barrels. Whew! An oaked trippel that tasted like delicious Cognac, and a rustic, funky, soured, oaked Pale that was developing some really complex flavors.

very complex and very tasty brews coming from these guys

very complex and very tasty brews coming from these guys

The only hang up was that couple pounds of tea clogging up the floor drain during clean up. Sammie and I spent a solid hour on hands and knees, scooping and straining tea leaves from the trüb by hand to help it drain. Next time, we agreed: we bag the tea.

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I spy the correct original gravity!

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the most important job in the brewery: cleaning

And so there we had it! Arkansas’ first Central – Northwest AR collaboration ale was in the fermenter, wort becoming beer.

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now fermenting: Moody Brews + Apple Blossom’s Earl Grey ESB

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A victory beer of Half Seas Over was as fitting as it was refreshing.

VICTORY

VICTORY

  Then we were off to our other friend’s brewery across town, Fossil Cove. We were to attend the Arkansas Brewers’ Guild’s first tap takeover, where nearly all AR breweries donated beer and the proceeds from the sales went toward our legislative efforts at advancing the local craft beer movement in Arkansas. You know, I can only think of other people’s professional gatherings, like a stuffy doctors association or what a computer programmers’ conference might look like. Brewers are usually some of the most relaxed people in the crowd. They march to a slightly different beat. It was special to share a pint with those guys who share similar outlooks, motivated by similar passions.

Arkansas Brewers Guild fundraiser at Fossil Cove

Arkansas Brewers Guild fundraiser at Fossil Cove

I had plans of staying in Fayetteville that night, as I had planned on being completely knackered. But I got to hold one of the brewer’s 6-month old, and I could only think of getting back to my girls. And that was it: on the road back to home in Little Rock.
Now, in my haste, I forgot to do two things. I forgot to change out of my brewing shorts and boots ensemble, and I forgot to pee before I left Fayetteville. I suddenly realized the latter 10 miles in to the 40+ mile 540 to 40 leg of the drive home. By the Alma exit, I was hanging. The nearest gas station wasn’t quite Trainspotting bad, but its patrons seemed on par. I didn’t care.

Relieved, recaffeinated, it was a quick drive back home just in time to help Katchiri give our baby girl her nightly bath.

There are days in this new to me gypsy brewing life that I am still getting used to. The planning, the coordinating, the daily meetings, the endless emailing. It’s work, but of a different sort. I miss the brewing, the cellaring, wearing the boots every day. I feel better about myself when I come home physically tired. I certainly did that night, and all was right in my little world.

Much love to my dear friends at Apple Blossom. They are truly kind, doing things the right way, and it is a great feeling to have friends and peers like that in my home state. Expect our collaboration to be on tap at Apple Blossom’s beautiful brewpub, possibly on their nitro line! We are still working out distribution, but I hope to see our Earl Grey ESB pop up at other taps around Northwest Arkansas and Little Rock.

Moody Brews + Apple Blossom's collaboration ale, an Earl Grey ESB, to be available mid December

Moody Brews + Apple Blossom’s collaboration ale, an Earl Grey ESB, to be available mid December

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arkansas, Beer, craft beer

Sixes and Sevens

So it began, my third brew day, in the wee hours of 3:30 AM. A sleepless night previous, parting kisses to my lover and child, out the door and on the road by 4 AM. I’m getting better at making time, and by 8:15 I was in Krebs, OK, ready to start Moody Brews‘ second beer, an Imperial Belgian-style Porter named Sixes and Sevens.

I drove over 4 hours to get to work

I drove over 4 hours to get to work

Milling barley

Milling barley

Weeks before were filled, once again, creating the label with my sister. An old photograph was rendered down, transposed, and drawn in digital form set against an art deco inspired backdrop of alternate shadings. Images were redrawn and second guessed. Is it minimal enough? Until it was. I always want the beer to speak for itself. Too much can be too much.

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The Gambling Gent

The Gambling Gent

But I digress.

This batch was to be the largest volume of grain Choc has ever fit into their 50 barrel brewhouse. Over two tons of Maris Otter, Biscuit, Aromatic, Caramel, Black, and Chocolate malts were mixed with Oats to make one complex and high gravity (concentrated) wort.

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The Vourlaf

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Mash Mixer. If I can do one thing, it’s work a mash paddle. Oats can be a pain to mash, and sometimes its best to do it by hand.

in the belly of the beast (bottom floor of brewhouse)

in the belly of the beast (bottom floor of brewhouse)

Big Brew

Big Brew

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pH check Specific Gravity check

  Mixed and lautered, it was sent to the kettle to boil. We exceeded our target original gravity, and I found myself much more comfortable with this brew.

   Brew days are in truth rarely perfect, especially so with new brews. Countless pieces of equipment have to function in unison, a millimeter of difference in the size of the barley kernel can have major, deleterious effects on milling and brewhouse efficiency…and we haven’t gotten to the human component yet. This brew day was exceptionally smooth, and we were all in good spirits throughout the day.

 I felt less like an outsider there. I was learning more and more about the machinery and Choc staff. “Mikey,” one of Choc’s brewing assistants, had even made my (Belgian) lover a purse from a bag of Belgian barley we had used in our very first Moody Brew of Half Seas Over.

Katchiri's new purse made from a grain bag of Moody Brews' very first brew.

Katchiri’s new purse made from a grain bag of Moody Brews’ very first brew.

Before I knew it, we were mashing out and moving the wort to the whirlpool. And at this point, my friends, is when you know you are on the downhill slide, not out of the woods just yet, but getting there. Another trailer was loaded with 5 tons of wet, spent grain. 5 tons! It’s still the most incredible part my brew days at Choc, actually seeing the amount of grain we use. I come from brewing on a small brewpub system (3.5 barrels), and there I would manually rake out the grain into large garbage tubs. All two of them. It’s a different sight altogether seeing a whole trailer filled with grain.

Moody Brews: making cattle happy since 2014

Moody Brews: making cattle happy since 2014

IMG_8682  The fermenter was prepped, loaded with my favorite Belgian yeast strain before we “knocked out,” chilling and sending aerated wort to the fermenter. And then, without a hitch, Moody Brews’ second offering began to ferment, in brewer speak “wort” began its process of becoming “beer.”

Where Sixes and Sevens will live, breathe, and become beer.

Where Sixes and Sevens will live, breathe, and become beer.

IMG_8696Using appropriate British malts for a Porter, increasing them to an estimated 10% ABV concentration, fermenting not with clean English yeast but with spicy and complex Belgian yeast, I have settled on the name Sixes and Sevens, a very old British slang term. In Chaucer’s time, it meant in a state of disarray, but it can also mean at great risk, likely originally stemming from gambling. I don’t like to say I push the envelope in craft beer. There are plenty of people who want to claim that mantle now. I prefer to say I push myself as a brewer. Either way, risk is involved, but so far, the brew was executed as well as it could be. Now, will the beer ferment cleanly, attenuate appropriately? Have I dry hopped with enough cacao nibs? Is the wort composition as chocolately and toasty as I want it to be? I won’t know these answers until bottling day. The time between now and then is the anticipation, the mystery, the magic of brewing craft beer.

We anticipate offering Sixes and Sevens by the first week in December 2014.

Sixes and Sevens wort en route to fermenter.

After five years of this, it’s still magic.

–Josiah Hunter Moody,

Crafter of Beer, Worker in Progress.

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