April Meeting – Ciders, Cysers, and Other Apple-y Things

April brought our annual Cider meeting, hosted this year by Dr. Pivo (Steve Victor) and his lovely wife Sue at their house in New Haven.

We made some changes this year. No blind judging, for one thing. Everyone who brought things to share made a short presentation first and then we discussed our impressions. Huge success. We will definitely be offering this option in future meetings.

“Cider” usually connotes fermented apple juice, perhaps with some additives. We certainly had some of that. But we also had a number of other apple-derived entries: cyser (apple mead), calvados (apple brandy), and applejack (freeze-distilled cider). Some were homebrew and some were commercial. Some were fresh and some had been aged for years. In short, we were able to same an enormous range of apple-y drinks.

A particular standout was the hosts’ black currant cider. Fizzy, sweet-tart, and immensely refreshing, it came with stories of bottles blowing up during pasteurization. There were even pictures of Pivo’s protective gear. I will post if he will share copies.

Overall, a wonderful tour through the cider universe.

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March Meeting at Mara’s

Meetings at Mara’s place are always exciting. Things run fairly normally upstairs, although “normal” for Mara usually involves an outstanding spread of munchies. But we always end up drifting down to the basement eventually. And things get very interesting in Mara’s basement.

Mara has built her own glycol-chilled fermenter. She has built a 3-tier brewing stand we all envy. She has an induction brewing set-up and a 4-tap kegerator. And she has a beer cellar surpassed only by Clay, to the best of my knowledge. It’s all kind of intimidating.

As usual, the March meeting ended with everyone in the basement, sampling from Mara’s extensive sour beer collection plus some truly excellent cider she had on tap. As I tore myself away, she was opening yet another hard-to-obtain gueuze to share.

This particular meeting, however, included some excitement upstairs as well. We previewed some changes which may become standard operating procedure during at least some of our meetings. We glimpsed the future, and it was good.

As most of you know, we spend most of our meetings blind-judging homebrews according to BJCP guidelines. There is much to recommend this: it refines our palates, improves our descriptive ability, prepares us for BJCP exams, and makes us better brewers. But it can be a little too serious, especially when there are many homebrews to judge in an evening.

At the March meeting, we supplemented this with a second option: “tell-taste-talk” (as coined by our own Dr. Pivo). At the brewer’s discretion, we do not judge the entry blind. Instead, the brewer gives a short presentation on what s/he was trying to produce and what went right or wrong. We taste the brew and make comments.

Why would we do this? Well, in my case, I brought a saison made to an old recipe but with new water. This was my first brew in my new house, where the water is completely different from the water in the old place. I knew the beer was bad. I wanted feedback on what people were tasting. I could present the beer and the problem and I got excellent suggestions for improvement.

Other brewers discussed their beers (or ciders) or allowed the blind judging to proceed as normal.

Did this work? Yes! Fantastically. It will probably become standard procedure going forward.

Andy took pictures below. Tasting notes at the end.

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February Meeting at Clay’s

Our notes from the February meeting at Clay’s house come from Bugle Editor Emeritus Andrew Tipler (thanks, Andy!):

This was a small exclusive meeting of the most important Yahoo members. We had 10 homebrews to judge including 4 ciders. There were some good commercial beers to try, too – including a big bottle of Cantillon gueuze generously shared by Mara.

Judging took place at a leisurely pace. I don’t think we had a beer we didn’t like all evening. Everyone brought their smart phones to show off to Gerry but he wasn’t there to see them.

Big thanks to Clay (and his missus) for putting up with us and giving us a grand tour of his brewery and beer museum in his basement.

The tasting notes are in Excel format: Meeting Notes Feb 2017

Andy also took all the pictures!

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January Luna-cy

Vacations can be restorative. After a couple of months of reduced activity, the club was back in full vigor this month. Almost too full.

Our first meeting of 2017, hosted by Jaime Luna, his lovely wife, Laura, and their two dogs, was so well attended, and featured so many brews to judge, that we nearly didn’t get through them all. It helped that nearly all the brews were very good and a few were truly excellent. We were not slogging through a flight of mediocrities. Jaime’s spread of chili and munchies fortified us as well.

There are pictures. I know there are. But I don’t have them. I’ll post them when I get them. In the meantime, here are the tasting notes:

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Meeting at the Burger Joint

“Robert Burger” is not a name you hear too often in these posts. With 2 young children and a very full plate at home, Bob doesn’t often get to club meetings. But he is a brewer of extraordinary talent. And meetings at his home tend to degenerate into expeditions into his basement for sampling from his kegs. September’s meeting was no different.

As is usual at the Burger Joint, the munchies were excellent, the beer was superb, and the attendance was … not overwhelming. Branford is just a bit too far east for many of the club’s members. (How many of the poor things will manage to get to my new abode in Guilford? Not many, I fear.) But we did have a quorum.

This included The Naughty Nurse, recently returned from a training seminar related to people who had lost their sense of smell. Much conversation revolved around the retraining of such persons and the various ways that sensory inputs affect the appreciation of beer, food, etc. It may not have been completely pertinent to homebrew, but it was very interesting.

More entertaining for your correspondent were the Burgers’ two kittens. And their children. And the kitten/child behavioral axis. Having had both children and kittens myself, I vividly remember the difficulty of regulating the interaction between the two. The Burgers seem to have this under control. Both species were extremely well-behaved.

Many outstanding homebrews were sampled, not all of which were brewed by Mr. Burger himself. Please refer to the tasting notes below.

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Southern New England Regional Homebrew Competition (SNERHC)

The 2016 Southern New England Regional Homebrew Competition (SNERHC 2016) was held on October 23 at Two Roads Brewing in Stratford, CT, hosted by the Underground Brewers of CT and the Krausen Commandos of Northwest CT.

SNERHC was generously sponsored by Maltose Express, My Place Restaurant, and Two Roads Brewing.

Full results are now posted: http://www.undergroundbrewers.org/snerhc/results/Results_2016.htm

Scoresheets will be scanned and posted by Oct 30.


John Watson Wins Again

Each year, in June, we Underground Brewers engage in a fierce competition among ourselves for “Best Brewer” honors. We bring our best homebrews to John and Tracy Watson’s house, judge them for real, and give prizes to the brewers of the top three.

We’ve been doing this for as long as anyone can remember. And John’s been winning the contest for almost as long.

This year was no different. In fact, it is believed that John’s winning entry was from the same batch that he won with last year. I’d complain, but it is consolation enough to get to sample some of John’s beers while judging. And the potluck dinner is always amazing.

The winning entries:

Best in show: Helles, John Watson

First runner-up: Piwo Grodziske, Krzysztof Lasocki

Second runner-up: Berliner Weisse, Andy Tipler

Honorable mention: IPA with Tangerines, John Watson

And the scoresheets:

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You’ll Always Remember Your First Time

May found us once again with a first-time meeting host. “Hosts”, actually, since both Robert and Barbara Rickman are brewers and club members. (Their son, Brian, also joined the group a day or so after the meeting.) After bouncing from rental to rental over the past few years, none of which were large enough, the Rickmans have recently bought a lovely home in Naugatuck with lots of space for hosting YAHOOS meetings. Hence their first ever hosting.

More than half of our recent hosts have been first-timers and all of them have done a superb job. The Rickmans were no different. Excellent food (especially the homemade flax seed crackers — see recipe below) and homebrew in a lovely setting.

We YAHOOS, unfortunately, were not the perfect guests. There was an incident with an overly exuberant bottle of French cider which may have left a scar on the kitchen ceiling. I feel guilty. I brought that bottle of cider. I will say in my defense that it was cold when I brought it and may have been better behaved if it had stayed that way. I hope I am not under lifetime ban at the Rickman estate.

The theme was “Cider” and many club members brought their personal variations on the Beardsley juice theme. I am always amazed by the differences in the end-products when starting with the same ingredients. Some brewers add sugars, some add yeasts, some add other fruits. The results can fall into any BJCP cider category. We are a creative bunch.

Tasting notes may be found below. I hope I remembered the cider sub-score breakdown properly. If not, please forgive me.

But first, the cracker recipe. Barbara spins her own fibers and this recipe comes from one of the reference books she uses. But, like all good homebrewers, she has made this her own in subtle ways. All I can say is, these crackers are amazing. I ate far too many, with nothing on them. Make them, even if you have to buy a pasta machine to do so.

Barbara Rickman’s Awesome Flax Seed Crackers

4 cups King Arthur flour (it works best in this recipe)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 cayenne (red) pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil (dark virgin)
3/4 cup flax seed
1 1/2 cups water
Mix dry ingredients together well.  Add water and oil and mix with dough hooks or by hand for at least 5 to 8 minutes to get the gluten in the flour activated.  Separate dough into 4 parts.  Using a hand crank pasta machine set on level 1, run pasta thru until it holds together in a solid sheet and does not lose its seeds.  Then, turn the settings one at a time until you get to setting 4.  Cut the dough the size crackers you want or score the crackers with a fork.  Line baking sheets with tin foil.  Bake them at 400 degrees until just brown around the edges..about 10 1/2 minutes.  You can also bake them  on 1 side for 7 minutes, turn them over and bake them for 5 minutes more for a browner, crispier cracker.
We use the recipe in the book doubled, except for the flax seed.  1 3/4 cup of flax seed is WAY too much!  Gets stuck in the pasta machine causing it to jam.
Barbara and Robert Rickman
Recipe taken from Alden Amos Big Book Of Handweaving, page 403


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Bridgeport Rules!

When I was a lad, back in another century entirely, Bridgeport was considered (how do we put this delicately?) not the best place to buy a house. P.T.Barnum was long gone, and the industrial manufacturing economy which had replaced him was gone as well. Nothing was left but vacant lots and empty factories.

Fast-forward to the present day and we find that this idea is completely out of date. The Bluefish are thriving, the city is reviving, and a number of YAHOOS are happily living within the city limits.

Case in point: Mara Heneks, our hostess for the April meeting.

Mara has been building what may be the most high-tech brewing system of any Underground Brewer. At our last meeting at her home, she showed us her induction heating system and glycol-chilled fermenters. She has now added a home-built, 3-tier brewing rig. Brewers like me, without any space to call our own, can only gaze admiringly at this amount of dedicated brewing equipment.

And it doesn’t go to waste. There is never any shortage of great homebrew at Mara’s place. Most of it wild and/or sour. All of it delicious. Complemented by a generous spread of tasty munchies, this made for another excellent club meeting.

The rest of the YAHOOS brought their own high-quality brews to be judged. Except for me. I brought a tripel so bad that the rest of the batch had to be dumped. I had hoped for some advice on how to avoid the off-flavors next time, but apparently I stumped the experts. Never underestimate an Underground Brewer — even our fails are epic.

Tasting notes:

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