Most who know me, know how highly I regard my favorite acre of land in Little Rock: Dunbar Community Garden Project. But, for a refresher for non-Little Rock folk, Dunbar is a sui generis institution. One part typical urban community garden, where neighbors regularly volunteer their time to tend to the seemingly endless chores pertaining to the Garden’s upkeep, Dunbar also partially supports itself by selling its produce at Farmer’s Markets and to local restaurants.

 

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Plant Ideas. Grow Minds.

One part animal husbandry farm, complete with (the cutest) goats, chickens, sometimes a turkey or two.

 

One part apiary.

One part children’s education.

As it adjoins Dunbar Elementary School, teachers bring their students out regularly for lessons on life science including gardening, learning where and how our food comes from, and the importance of our pollinators (bees).

In addition to the above, Dunbar has grown hops for nearly a decade. I have been making local wet hopped beers for about four years now, and Vino’s has used the hops many years before that, under Bill Riffle’s tenure.

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Dunbar grown Cascade and Nugget hop varietals

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one of my first wet hopped beers (2012)

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Chris and I after a big hop harvest

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I took this big rhizome home and planted it in my garden

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anyone remember this batch? It was a winner!

In addition to hops, I have used plums in a hefeweizen:

 

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But most recently, I have been all about their pluots.

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A pluot is an apricot / plum hybrid fruit tree grown by crossing both species. The fruit retains characteristics of both fruits: tart, tangy, yet sweet as well. Damian Thompson, who runs operations and education outreach at Dunbar, picked and froze pluots all summer in 2015. I got my hands on approximately 46 lbs.

I wanted to really emphasize the fruit in the brew, so I used a very traditional, low hopped, moderately boozy farmhouse style base ale, fermented with yeast Grant Chandler had previously isolated from Dunbar. We brewed his hoppy wild ale when I worked with Damgoode Pies in the River Market, and I harvested and re-used this yeast.

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I have been keeping it going ever since, brewing everything from low alcohol hibiscus and orange peel saisons (Aria’s Bier) to traditional farmhouse ales (Dunbar Gardenhouse ale) to stronger, well hopped “super saisons” aged in Chardonnay barrels (Katchiri’s Bier), and at the time of writing, this yeast is fermenting a pear cider in collaboration with Stone’s Throw Brewing. As my favorite style of beer, I have found this wild Dunbar yeast contributes every complexity and nuance of any Belgian style farmhouse yeast I have ever worked with. I have been so pleased with it, I have ditched all other farmhouse strains I had kept going!

Back to the pluots. Rather than “infusing” beer with ingredients, I prefer actually fermenting with them. It might seem pedantic, but as a brewer, my job is to guide fermentation. Merely mixing a beer with an ingredient post-fermentation isn’t in keeping with my brewing philosophy. So, I knew I wanted to ferment the pluots. And I wanted the pluot flavor to really come through. To sanitize the pluots (I didn’t want to brew a sour), I took them home and began to stew them down on my stove.

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Dunbar Garden Pluots

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A little hoop while the pluots simmer on the stove

 

A few weeks prior, I brewed a batch of our Dunbar Gardenhouse ale (6.0% ABV), our take on a traditional farmhouse saison, fairly simple malt bill and low hopped.

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After pluots were stewed and cooled, they were pitted and pureed with the pits saved. We then added the pluot puree into a French Chardonnay barrel that was recently swelled with near boiling water.

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We then transferred our Dunbar Gardenhouse beer, unfiltered, into the barrels and unto the puree. Yeast still present in the beer quickly began fermenting the puree in the barrel. Barrel fermentation is an old technique that enhances the barrel wood flavor into the beer. We then simply let the beer condition atop the puree and pits for over 6 months, tasting periodically until we felt the beer contained the appropriate characteristics in balance with eachother: tart, dryness, jammy fruit, oak character, juicy wine aromatics, etc.

Finally, we decided it was ready, and last week we racked a nearly 8-month old farmhouse ale out of its extended rest in barrels. We brought most of it back to a brite tank, where we force carbonated the beer and put into kegs (all unfiltered). We also decided against adding pectinase enzyme. During the stewing process, pectin from the pluot peel is released into solution, and, later into beer. Pectin contributes to a cloudy, hazy beer, and most home brewing or professional brewing books will tell you to always add an enzyme (pectinase) to break down the pectin to preserve clarity. I opted not to do this. In fact I opted not to filter at any stage in this process. I wanted haze. I wanted to preserve every bit of pluot, wild yeast, and barrel flavor. Damian, Chris, and the kids at Dunbar had hand picked every pluot and saved them for me; I wanted this beer to have as much authentic flavor as possible.

I proudly present the final product: Dunbar Garden Wild Pluot Ale!

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I have further hand bottled, and bottle conditioned a few cases of this beer and donated them to Dunbar. These bottles will be available at Garden events for a suggested donation of $15 (tax deductible) to the Garden.

We will release this beer, 8 months in the making, May 21st, the night of Dunbar Garden’s Pig Roast Fundraiser. This promises to be a night to remember, with a sit-down dinner in the Garden prepared by local chefs, Catholic High School jazz band and other local musicians, our pluot beer and our farmhouse pear cider! These are the kind of events that create a sense of place in our community, so let’s celebrate! Tickets available here. We can’t wait to see you there! Come have a beer with us in the Garden!

beer at dunbar

arkansas, Beer, brewing, community garden, craft beer, farm to table, gardening, Little Rock, local food, microbrew, urban farm, urban farming, urban garden, wild ale

on pluots and patience

Our collaborative beer with Dunbar Community Garden Project: Dunbar Garden Wild Pluot Ale

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arkansas, Beer, craft beer, microbrew

Why should I care about cask conditioned beer?

If you follow Moody Brews on facebook, twitter, or instagram, you may have noticed that (a) I am brewing at Vino’s Brewpub again and (b) we have been referencing “cask conditioning” again a lot more frequently. If you have ever wondered what cask conditioning exactly means, this blog post aims to explain the age old process by documenting my preparation of a few cask kegs in December 2015.  One of the best aspects of making beer at Vino’s (where I started professionally) is they have a nice fleet of fairly unique stainless steel cask kegs. These are typical beer kegs, American sanke, spear, with the exception of one thing: a hole (bung) in the center of the keg. More on that later.

During normal fermentation activities, yeast are metabolizing sugar in the wort to produce ethanol and carbon dioxide. We as brewers shepherd this process along during cellaring by controlling initial concentrations of oxygen (for yeast health) and fermentation temperature (which directs yeast metabolic processes away from developing what we consider “off flavors” in the beer). When the yeast finish eating sugars, we then filter and rack (transfer) beer over to a “brite” (conditioning) tank, where we artificially carbonate the beer.

We didn’t always have this nice, steady supply of bulk carbon dioxide delivered to our door, where we can exactly achieve the carbonation desired in beer. That’s where the cask came in. Initially in a wooden barrel, finished, unfiltered, uncarbonated beer was dosed with a touch of priming sugar in the barrel, filled, then sealed. The barrel, or cask, was allowed to sit in ambient temperatures for a few weeks wherein yeast would ferment the added sugar, producing a touch more ethanol and just the right amount (theoretically) of carbon dioxide with no place to go but dissolve in the beer, pressuring the cask to just the right amount of carbonation for a “proper pint.” If you have ever helped bottle home brewed beer, this is exactly the same process.

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Vino’s Brewer Hunter Tacket working with a cask keg

The practice of cask conditioning beer is not an exact science. Different yeast strains have different degrees of attenuation, that is, ferment more of the sugars in the wort than other strains. Some yeast strains, particularly Belgian strains, take a hiatus during fermentation for months, then, almost inexplicably take back up the process. These factors, coupled with the amount of priming sugar used can make the difference between a flat beer and, in essence, a bomb. Once you seal the cask (by the gratifying act of hammering in a wooden bung), you have this product inside the cask, living, developing, maturing that you cannot shepherd any longer. The brewer has to wait, hoping he added the right amount of sugar, hoping he calculated attenuation properly, until, after a few months, he can tap the keg and see how the beer developed. For me, it’s a nod to tradition.

Yet also, this is when I get to experiment. I love working with my local community garden, Dunbar Community Garden Project, and I have used everything from scorpion peppers (in a milk stout), hops (in a cream ale), lavender (in a maibock), and pluots (in a saison)–all grown at Dunbar, about six blocks from the brewery. Using these kegs is incredibly useful because it allows me to experiment with some pretty crazy beer one keg at a time, and there is many times, limited product where I don’t have enough to add to an entire batch of beer. Some of my best beer have come out of these cask kegs, and it is a treat to get to play with them at Vino’s again.

Yesterday, I made a few cask kegs with a black Kölsch-style ale I brewed a few weeks ago. Here’s my process:

Before we fill, we prep. I decided to do a citrus treatment to this black ale that is surprisingly light bodied, only slightly chocolate-y, and an easy drinking 5.1% ABV. In one cask, I planned on adding lime zest and Equinox hops (known for a lemon lime hop aroma); in the other, grapefruit zest and Pacifica hops from New Zealand (orange and grapefruit aroma). I added the zest only because the pith (white portion) of the fruit can lend an unpleasant bitterness I wanted to avoid.

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zesting is messy!

Once zesting is complete, I added a touch of honey to a previously cleaned and sanitized cask keg. The honey provides sugars the yeast present in the unfiltered beer with ferment and carbonate in the keg. Next I affixed a sanitized cloth sack to the inner portion of the bung and filled the sack with respective zest/hop combination.

 

And then, the stress-relieving, deeply gratifying step of hammering the wooden bung into the hole of the keg. No small amount of force is required, as the inner pressure during the keg conditioning process can reach upwards of 26 PSI at room temperature. The bung has to stay in place to keep the seal.

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Finally, we wait. While we go on with our normal brewing activities, we will put these cask kegs on tap a few months down the road, and, like unwrapping a present, see what unfolds! I hope this has helped explain the labor intensive process of cask conditioning. Cheers and hope to see you for a pint of something special at Vino’s!

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on crafting Aria’s Bier

Aria's Bier

Aria’s Bier

Time slips. “Where’s all the Moody Brews?” people ask.

We haven’t put out a bottled product in some time, but I’ve been making new beer at Damgoode Pies in the Rivermarket all spring and summer, three Moody Brews I believe are bottle worthy, but I can’t seem to get the front end in place before the season passes, and the beer styles aren’t appropriate to the season by time it’s bottled. I’m working on that, I promise.

One of those is a lower alcohol beer, a saison I’ve named Aria’s Bier. As previously mentioned, I have a deep and abiding fondness for saisons, or Belgian farmhouse ales. It was one of my first homebrew attempts, culminating in making the first commercially produced saison in Arkansas back in 2012, Vino’s “Saison du Roche.” I still remember that brew, growing up the yeast from a homebrew sized vial, I remember with pride when no one had tried it before, but it passed the “shift beer” test at the Vino’s patio after work. The style continues to intrigue me in how deeply complex yet light and approachable they are compared to other Belgian styles. They aren’t clean or neutral (to our palate) like English ale strains, yet they are light bodied and highly drinkable. Sorry Michelob, but these babies are, in my opinion, the true champagne of beer.

Yesterday, I brewed the fourth batch of Aria’s Bier. While the basic concept remains the same (low hops, orange peel, hibiscus flowers), I have tweaked the recipe for every batch. Despite it’s lower ABV, it’s not a simple beer to produce, mostly thanks to the hibiscus. I first started with a 4.25% abv grain bill, but am finding that somewhere closer to 5% abv base helps support the intense tartness, berry, and citrus flavors of the hibiscus and orange peel. It has become my wife and my go-to after we put Aria down for the night.

The brew day begins as normal, mashing in Pilsner barley with a touch of wheat by hand.

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From there, it’s on to the boil, where we begin peeling cases of fresh oranges.

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Once boiled, we begin the whirlpool to clarify the wort by spinning, or centrifuging, to separate heavy proteins and hops (called trüb) from the wort. It’s at this step, we steam the orange peels and hibiscus to sanitize them before quickly moving them over to a fermenter where they are cofermented with the beer.

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Hibiscus is an atypical beer ingredient, and there’s no set of instructions for using it compared to more traditional ingredients like, say, hops. I’m also finding that not all hibiscus sources are equal in flavor intensity or color. The second or third brew day, using a new hibiscus source, I had to use 4 or 5 times as much the original to impart satisfactory flavor and color.

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So every batch of Aria’s Bier has been different. Brewing it has been a real challenge. Some may think that’s a poor recipe design, or isn’t worth fretting over for a lower gravity beer. It would have been much easier to make a now-ubiquitous “session IPA” or something like that, but I wanted to make a session brew that was still intensely flavorful, without using hops. It’s been a tricky beer to consistently make, but I’m really proud of the end result. It’s been a popular offering at Damgoode, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see non-craft beer drinkers come in expressly for Aria’s Bier. On a side note, it’s also fun to see the multiple pronunciations of Aria (R-E-uh, for the record).

We are finding it especially refreshing during the dog days of this Arkansas summer. Very light, tart, and citrusy yet bone dry. If you haven’t tried Aria’s Bier yet, I think this is a keeper.

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arkansas, Beer, craft beer

Saison de la Petite Roche (Katchiri’s Bier and Aria’s Bier)

It’s been a while since I’ve written. Time flies when you are having fun I suppose. Time certainly flies when you are the sole employee of your own company. El Presidente, Head Honcho, Secretary, Marketing Dept., Brewer, Label Co-Designer, TTB correspondent, Distributor Liason, master of emails, T-shirt designer, amongst other titles. Well, that’s not entirely true. I have a lot of support from my very underpaid little sister (who is concurrently in graduate school for Mathematics), the real graphic design artist, and I am commissioning another Arkansas native artist (more on this later) for work on an upcoming series of beers about which I am very excited to introduce. That is, I am brewing saisons again, and intend to do so on the regular.

So, what is a Saison? Belgian? But it’s certainly a French word… Well, both are true. The Saison style began in the largely French speaking Wallonia region of Belgium. These beers come from humble roots. Brewed for farm laborers, this originally low alcohol beer was brewed in the winter and conditioned through the summer to provide the farm hands with a form of hydration that wouldn’t get them sick (as water could be suspect in the 19th century). Most brews were open fermented, literally in the barns of farmhouses, earning them the name “farmhouse beers.” Each farm had a different brewing technique, ingredients, and microflora, giving them all unique characteristics. The style nearly died out with the rise in popularity of lagers. Thankfully it didn’t. Generally speaking, Saison yeast strains produce highly complex, spicy (as in peppery) phenols and esters in a very dry beer base. They are my personal favorite brewing strain to work with. These complex flavors lend themselves well to experimentation with various fruits and hops. I’ve put mangoes and habaneros, crushed black pepper and locally grown hops, locally grown pluots from Dunbar Community Garden, oak chips and New Zealand hops, experimental (unnamed) hops, and even cofermented a batch with a Kombucha SCOBY from Loblolly Creamery. Suffice it to say, I love this style of beer. I brewed the first commercially available saison in Arkansas, and I am bringing them back, baby!

For my wedding, I went back to the little brewery I started on, Vino’s Brewpub, and brewed a strong (8% ABV) saison with American hops and am currently aging a portion of this in French Chardonnay barrels.

Felt great to be back on the old system at Vino's!

Felt great to be back on the old system at Vino’s!

Brewed the hard way

Brewed the hard way

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The unoaked portion is still available for pints at Vino’s, although at the time of writing, they had put on their last keg of “Katchiri’s Bier.” My fiance is Belgian. I’m American. Why not combine all that into a beer, so I brewed a Belgian Saison hopped exclusively and assertively with American floral, citrusy, berry-esque hops. Brewed exclusively by yours truly, I will be hand bottling the barrel aged version next month for my wedding in May. If this works out well, we may do a larger batch in the future.

Our friends at Sync magazine caught wind of this special beer and wrote a lovely little piece on it, along with stellar photos taken by the talented photographer Arshia Khan seen below.

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My beautiful babes, Katchiri and Aria. (photo by Arshia Khan)

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this one will be framed at our house. (photo by Arshia Khan)

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(photo by Arshia Khan)

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Damgoode Brew Crew on the inaugural batch

Not done with that beer style yet, I decided to brew another Saison in a completely different style at the new brewpub I’m helping to open with Damgoode Pies in the Rivermarket. In fact, the very first brew on the old/new system was a new Moody Brews creation, “Aria’s Bier,” a petite saison (4.25% alcohol) brewed with lots of orange peel and hibiscus flowers. Part of the fun in brewing that beer was that Aria was with me in the brewery that day, so all four of us guys were taking turns making sure she was attended to.

Brewer Babe

Brewer Babe

IMG_9808 IMG_9812Aria’s Bier is pink and on tap now at the Damgoode Pies Rivermarket location. We steeped a bag full of orange peels and hibiscus flowers to sanitize them before hanging them in the fermenter. IMG_9801 IMG_9806 IMG_9802 IMG_9805 IMG_9798

So there it is. Two more Moody Brews, the Damgoode location being the fourth brewery at which I’ve brewed, and the “home base” for my company. I will be making recipes for Damgoode labelled beers, three of which are fermenting now, and as space and time permits, will get to make small batches of Moody Brews there as well.
Some days I feel I have bitten off more than I can chew; other days, I think the business isn’t growing as fast as I’d like it to. It all depends on perspective, and I’m still only 6 months in. I don’t have thousands following me on social media, but does that matter? I don’t know. When I am at home with Aria, I have to admit I can get wrapped up in the social media game. Should I advertise on these platforms more? Should I add more to the advertising budget, which by the way, mainly consists of donating beer for events. Should I start making more gateway beer? When will I start to reap the rewards of this venture and allow my fiance to work less? I’ve found the best therapy for me is to keep making beer. It’s my yoga, or if you prefer, my church. You go in to a brew day with a plan, but you have to be constantly aware of where you are in the process, where you will be in the next step, and a multitude of other items to deal with on the fly. It’s where I stop worrying, oddly enough.

I want to thank you for reading this. I want to thank Katchiri who is attending to a teething Aria as I type, to allow me to type.

Sincerely,

Josiah H. Moody

Crafter of Beer, Worker in Progress.

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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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a singer, a brewer, new fathers, old sons

2014 A.D. has shaped up to be the most momentous year of my life. It has brought me a house in which I have made a home, my dearest love (a beautiful bride to be), FATHERHOOD (and the mystical joy and wonderful challenges that come with such events), a shot at making a living making beer my own way, under my own company. Lately, life has brought me up in the wee hours to attend to my beloved daughter; during which times as I cannot easily return to sleep’s embrace, I find the space to express such reflections as you read here.

A mere few weeks ago now, life brought me the unique pleasure of hosting my favorite musicians in my own town (Little Rock), and in my home. Joshua James and his band of gentlemen were on tour and dipped into the South on this particular stretch. To my surprise, I found he was to play right here in town, albeit at my less than favorite venue. Those who know me well know I have been listening to his music for years, learning and covering his songs at every opportunity the guitar comes into hand, which unfortunately has been few and far between as of late. My taste in music usually veers towards the deep and brooding lyrics, wrapped in accessible key structures and chord patterns. There are few musicians who reach so deep within themselves to pull out so honestly their struggles, hopes, and fears wrapped in delicately placed strums and hums as Joshua James. One of my favorites from his latest album From the Top of Willamette Mountain can be found here, one of my favorite live recordings here.

When on tour, they frequently stay in the beds/floors/couches of warm hearted strangers who would offer such. I was honored to share all of the above with them recently. In Little Rock, they played to a mostly empty yet enthusiastic crowd of approximately 10 souls, and despite being road weary, played and sang with vigor nonetheless. We then came to my home to be greeted by my lover and child at the gate. As much as I wanted to grab my guitar off the wall and sing and play, hear and be heard by and with the boys, I could tell they were more interested in a conversation and bed. So it was a toast with Moody Brews: to the road, to an empty show, to the great mystery of life we share in our moments of breathing. Conversations of gardening and traveling and camping spots soon turned to fatherhood, as three of the four band mates have young ones of their own. Laughs were had over the lack of sleep, revelations of how difficult it is to be away from one’s pride and joy while on the road. In my life as a gypsy brewer, I can mildly relate.

We talked the business of making money for ourselves and our family, how the calculus of such changes with the addition of a life for whom you are now responsible. For an artist, money will always be a strange necessity. When I had no one to care for, I loved the work I did as Head Brewer of a small brewpub and didn’t mind too much the small paycheck. It was enough to make rent, I had all the food I could eat at the restaurant, fresh produce from my dear friends at the local community garden (who gladly traded for brew), my own beer to drink. All I had to do was work very hard every day creating a product people enjoyed. It was honest work; similarly for a touring musician. You are able to make rent doing what you love. You don’t “get ahead,” but that’s not the point. The point is the experiences you get to share, create for others, and in so doing, create your own.

At one point, I declared how incredible it is to be making my own beer, doing this thing I love, but how in reality, at least so far, how little I get to put back for myself, my girls. “I mean I can’t even afford to make a t-shirt order right now!” says I, and how hard it is to say no to charities at this point in the business. To which, Evan, the incredibly talented and very kind lead guitarist, responded: “we are just now breaking even on the vinyl pressing we did for an album two years ago… but we get to make money doing what we love”  And that my dear reader is the POINT of this meandering story.

The boys were off before daylight, off for a long trek to Nebraska I believe, but not before some baby holding and picture taking. To my new friends, should you read this: thank you for your company. That time helped put my mind back on track to where it matters most.

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IMG_8407 To the ROAD, to LIFE

I don’t know if Moody Brews will ever make a bunch of money doing what it does. It’s certainly not at present. But I know I am doing what I love. And I am thankful for folks who pay their hard earned dollars to buy and hopefully enjoy my beer. There’s no guarantee that this venture will work, but know I am giving my ALL (head and heart) in what I create and present. And that is where I want to be, where I have to be.
Joshua James performing one of his newest songs “Favorite Diamond”:

“I’m tryin to carry, my weight around for awhile,

Living’s harder when it makes no sense Pa,

I said I wish I understood the conviction in your blood

He said, son keep giving when you’re heart has given up”

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Cheers to my friends on the road, to road itself, which presents us all with twists and turns, possibilities of which we never dared hope.

Josiah Hunter Moody.

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What’s in a label, anyway?

Thanks are due to my two week old daughter Aria who provided the 4 am impetus for getting this post out of my head and on “paper.”

Littlest Moody caught her third wind at 4 am, might as well put on the coffee and write.

Littlest Moody caught her third wind at 4 am, might as well put on the coffee and write.

     In keeping with my goal of documenting the ins and outs, triumphs and frustrations of creating a new beer making business, I wanted to include the evolution of the Half Seas Over label. For whatever reason, my aesthetic has always leaned toward minimalism. To me there is beauty in less, boldness in the painfully simple. It’s safe to say most homebrewers have dreams somewhere of making their own label. I, however, never really allowed myself that indulgence. Sure, I perused wine and beer labels and took note of what I liked and didn’t like, but I felt a bit foolish about spending too much time and energy on fanciful artwork…until I was under a deadline for getting the Half Seas Over label done and officially submitted through the GOV’T.

     And so, after my final agreement with the brewery, I found myself well behind on artwork and with a severe paucity in the drawing ability department. The consultation process began (and culminated with) my Grandmother. Ever the artist (painter and potter), she very quickly directed me to an old advertising magazine filled with art deco style artwork. That evening we–no she–sketched out some ideas based on those classic themes.

Drinking for inspiration

Drinking for inspiration

Artworking

My Gram, artworking

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Theme solidified, I sought out other interpretations from more technologically inclined friends and family. 

Hop_Flower copy top hat monocle copy photo Imperialsmall copy IMG_1065

     Friends and family, from four states in total, came to the rescue with ideas and talent. I am in their debt for their time and unpaid work. Despite their best efforts, each offering was just a hair off from whatever it was I wanted. I knew more of what I didn’t want than what I wanted, and in retrospect, the above artwork was made with too little direction from me. I should have said more than “minimalist, art deco, go.” Some of these above were close but just not quite IT, not quite exactly me. After months of skyping, emailing, and phone calling my artist friends, I was without a clear vision for the label. It was time for another visit with Gram, and within the hour she had it. Behold–the Monacle Man!

photo 1

It’s one thing to draw a thing (which I can’t), and it’s another to digitize and vectorize it. I can use a computer. I can whip out spreadsheets, run statistics programs, format any paper (thanks to two theses under my belt), but Illustrator/Photoshop is another animal all together. It’s like drawing but harder. Overwhelmed, it was time to call in the big guns: my little sister.

Where I floundered, 

MoodyBrews monacle (1) 

Rebecca Moody excelled:

 Moody_Guy

 

 

From there it was a short step to formatting.

?????

 

     Wait, what am I going to call this thing?? “Whatever Name Here” just isn’t going to cut it. Going back to my art deco theme, I settled on a 1920s colloquialism, “Half Seas Over,” which is slang for being inebriated. For an Imperial IPA with hops from two hemispheres, “Half Seas Over” just fit.  And so, without further adieu, the final, federally approved label. 

MoodyBrews

     My thanks to my friends, family and fellow collaborateurs for all their contributions. I can only repay you all with product, which I promise to do. To my Gram and Becky: you both have helped push this thing through every impasse, even when I did not know what I really wanted. I am grateful and proud to say this is truly a family affair.

–Josiah Moody.

Crafter of Beer, Worker in Progress.

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Moody Brews, brew #1

Yesterday, I left Little Rock and met with the Choc Brewery boys in Krebs, Oklahoma to finalize my and their concerns and suggestions on Half Seas Over, my first brew.  After coming to mutual agreements, I was off to Tulsa for a bit of time with my Grandmother. Time with her was as it always is–home. My childhood home, my Grandmother’s cooking, and staying up too late watching old British comedies made for those moments that you cherish, moments that make you feel like you should work harder to have more of them.

5 AM came early, but I had about 100 miles between me and my first Moody Brew, so I was excited nonetheless.

Sunrise leaving Tulsa

Sunrise leaving Tulsa

Once at the Choc brewery, it was time to mill and mash in. Unfortunately, their silo was out of base malt, so we had to load the mill by 55-lb sacks, one sack at a time, all 60 or so of them. From there it was on to work on the largest brewhouse I have ever worked on, which is to say I did a lot of standing over the shoulders of the brewers, running up and down brewery stairs to fetch this or that.

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empty silos make for strong backs

empty silos make for strong backs

 

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mash mixing hearts beating

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big hops for a big beer

 

There was no time for reflection during the brew day, as on the fly adjustments and decisions had to be made. And that’s as it should be I think. I’ve spent plenty of time in my head, second and third guessing the fine details of this brew in the weeks leading up to it. It was time to move now, and brew, no time for reflection…until we “knocked out” (transferred wort to the fermenter).

And then, gazing at this 30-barrel fermenter, it hit me. This was 10 times the largest brew I had ever made, a recipe I haven’t brewed exactly, a hop I hadn’t used. The deed is done. All the meetings that led to this partnership, all the financial work of making Moody Brews, L.L.C., all the hours and consultations spent making a label, securing and then having to find a new distributor–done. done. done. No more planning, no more theoreticals, no more abstractions. This brew, this company, this career is happening NOW.

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meet Half Seas Over, living and breathing.

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Craft beer for workers in progress

MoodyBrews is in the initial stages of creating craft beer, and also discovering what blogging (is that pronounced with a hard or soft “l”?) is all about.

I decided to forego the standard website route and attempt to make an online presence more engaging with people interested in what MoodyBrews is all about. I am finding that I’m a brewer not a blogger, but isn’t that a perfect example of what I’m trying to do here after all? Document the journey. And one part of the journey starts with figuring out how to blog.

Thank you for your interest, I find myself at present consumed with wrapping things up at my current place of employment, planning the ins and outs of my first brew, and becoming a father for the first time. I will get better on here, but in the meantime, here are some photos for labels. Many revisions were made, mostly in Tulsa, Oklahoma with my Grandmother (the artist), then put into digital form by my very talented little sister. I suppose that means it’s a family effort.

Best to you all.

Josiah H. Moody

Crafter of beer. Worker in progress.

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Moody_Guy

 

 

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