Iron Mash 2020 (Covid-Style)

This year, of all years, Silvia and I decided to grimace, stretch, and enter to compete in the Cap & Hare Homebrew Club “Iron Mash” competition. Traditionally this is a one-day gather together on site ar Rahr & Sons Brewing Co, with your hobo brewing rig, and participate in an “Iron Chef” style ingredient challenge, except for beer.

The thought of loading up the truck with all of our stuff and hauling it to Ft Worth for a brew day was never very appealing. This year was obviously going to be very different. Nigel Curtis, the Iron Mash version of “The Chairman” revealed that brew day for 2020 was going to be virtual. I was more than happy to pick up ingredients in Ft Worth and brew them on my rig, at home, where all of my stuff is handy – and if forgotten, not 40 minutes away.

Friday, October 16th was the big kick-off Zoom meeting. All of the teams met virtually to review the rules and dates and got ready for the recipe challenge. At the conclusion of the rules review, Nigel sent out the recipe “trick”. I don’t know what the challenges were in years past, but this years was sort of a “Takeout Menu” with 6 groups and we had to build a recipe with one thing from each group. And we only had 90 minutes to come up with a recipe plan. I don’t recall hearing a rule like ‘first rule of Iron Mash is not revealing the challenge so here’s the ingredient sheet from which we need to develop a recipe.

Ingredient Choice Matrix

After a frantic 85 minutes of sorting through recipe options and becoming exasperated as we ran into road-blocks that kept us from brewing our familiar recipes. In desperation, minutes before we ran out of time, we settled on a Black IPA, filled in our recipe sheet and sent it of to the contest HQ.

Saturday was ingredient pickup day. We met Nigel and Mikey Brown at Texas Brewing Inc to pick up our recipe kit (and our event T-shirts). We were told that a smallish box held our “secret ingredient” and we were under no circumstances to open that box before the start of brew day on Sunday morning.

Message and ingredients received. But the curiosity was building. What was in this box, making that chunky rattle around noise? Sunday would indeed be interesting.

Brew day Sunday! Prior to the kickoff meeting, I filled up the hot liquor tank and started heating things up. Silvia ground the grain so that we’d be ready to mash in and get the show on the road.

At 9am we logged into the Zoom meeting and were allowed to open our boxes. To our shock and surprise the box held a single green crayon!? What the hell were we going to do with this?

Mikey and Nigel waited a bit for the furor to die down before they explained the crayons that each team had received. We were to pick our mystery ingredient from within our house. It could be anything other than malt, hops, yeast, or water. And we had 30 minutes to sort it out and email the HQ with what secret ingredient we were going to include in our recipe.

Since we home brew, we had plenty of specialty malts in the house, but they’d been placed off limits. We have orange peel for doing Wit beers, but that wouldn’t work well with a Black IPA. Coriander didn’t sound proper either. So we spent a few minutes imitating Pooh Bear going “think, think, think” and eventually settled on ginger as our secret weapon. We thought the spiciness would be a good kick to stand out as a noticeable specialty ingredient and would compliment the hops that we had chosen.

Sitting here a month after brew day, the beer is starting to taste very good indeed. We’ve also gotten word from the HQ that we can use the same ingredient one more time in our beer. Right about the time that we dry hop the beer for packaging it will get another dose of ginger. Hopefully enough that the judges notice and don’t question what ingredient we incorporated into our beer and not so much that the only thing they can taste is ginger and they feel like they are sipping on a Caribbean Ginger Beer.

Resilience Update

Just a quick update, the 5-gallon batch that we brewed has been consumed. The GoFundMe campaign has raised $400 and remains open.

I’ve had three versions of this brew, one from Cowtown Brewing Co, ours from the AHA homebrew version, and Sierra Nevada from a can. I found the variation in the flavors quite interesting. The canned Sierra Nevada was very malt forward and had little to no hop aroma. The Cowtown version was served on draft and had a pleasant hop aroma, a supportive malt backbone, and a little citrus pith kicker which lingered but was not unpleasant. Ours also served on draft, had less of caramel note than the Sierra Nevada, matched the aroma of the Cowtown, but lacked the bitter bite that I was expecting.

This lack of bite sent me searching for the “why”. I started with the Sierra Nevada description of the beer. Bittering hops are listed as Chinook and Centennial alongside Cascade and Centennial for the finishing hops. The AHA recipe does not use Chinook, which explains why the Cowtown version had some of the sharper, citrus bite that our version lacked. I don’t know that this one will get brewed again, but I made a note to swap out the Cascade bittering addition with Chinook

Sierra Nevada Resilience IPA

To make a really long and detailed story short: I brewed the home version of this delicious beer to help out with the fundraising. It will be on tap at the Improving Dallas office starting on January 10th. Here’s the link to a GoFundMe which feeds directly into the fund created by Sierra Nevada.

Longer More Detailed Version

November 8th a wild fire, later named Camp Fire, broke out in Chico, California. It is the most devastating wild fire in US history.

In the aftermath, Sierra Nevada Brewing announced a beer, Resilience Butte County Proud IPA that would be a fundraising vehicle for relief efforts with 100% of the proceeds from the beer going to the Camp Fire Relief Fund, which Sierra Nevada seeded with $100,000.

To date, more than 1,500 professional breweries have released the beer, along with an untold number of home brewers. According to USA Today raised more than $15 million.

We Have A Winner!

Stein for "Thistle Dew"
Stein Winner for Scottish Ale – Our Scottish Export “Thistle Dew”

Last Saturday evening, March 25th, 2017, Silvia and I were completely dumbfounded at the Bluebonnet Brew-Off awards ceremony. After watching many happy brewers stroll to the stage to collect ribbons and Steins in other categories which we had entered, we hear our beer name, Thistle Dew, crackle out of the public address system.

I knew it was our beer. While the director was calling my name, the disbelief hit hard. I was already four steps toward the stage when I turned back to make sure that Silvia made the trek with me. It was awesome to see and hear our table full of friend erupt in congratulatory cheers.

As I posted earlier, at bottling time, some of our beers were still too young and I wasn’t very confident about how they were stand up to judges’ scrutiny. Our Scotish Ale was especially worrisome. We had altered the recipe for this competition in an effort to dial back the alcohol percentage and bring the beer more in line with the style guidelines. I guess it aged enough between when the bottle was capped and the judges quaffed as we landed a stein from a field of 24.

Choosing Our Best Beers…

I signed up to try and get slots to enter beer in the National Homebrew Competition (NHC). My good news is that I was able to get two slots. The bad news is that I must now pick my two favorite children out of seven beers that we entered into the the Bluebonnet Brew-off. It would be awesome if the entry deadline for the NHC was after score sheets were done from Bluebonnet, but it didn’t work out that way.

Since we won’t have feedback on our freshest batches, Silvia and I have opted to go with the pair of recipes that received the highest scores last year in the Cap & Hare Master Brewer competition. Those would be our Scottish Export – Thistle Dew and our American Stout.

Both recipes were reformulated for Bluebonnet this year. Previously Thistle Dew had a pound of dark malt liquid extract – heavy on the munich and we replaced that with grains. The beer was also a bit too strong for the styles so we dialed the base malt back a touch to bring the %ABV calculations in line with the BJCP style. The results have been quite good so far, but the beer is still young.

The only detracting remarks about the American Stout had to do with astringency. I read in Gordon Strong’s Modern Homebrew Recipes: Exploring Styles and Contemporary Techniques that he adds his darker and roasted grains into the mash at vorlauf time to reduce astringent flavors and get smoother roasted flavors. Taking that advice to heart, I put all of the dark grains into the mash at vorlauf time for the most recent batch. After three weeks the hops are just starting to mellow and the roastiness is coming to the fore. We also incorporated cluster hops for the bittering dose – they were free to use for a Bluebonnet entry in the “Showcase Hops” category, so why not?

Bluebonnet 2017

After getting a few score sheets back from the Bluebonnet Brew-off judges last year steps were taken to control fermentation temperatures and more attention was paid yeast pitch rates. Judges scores  jumped from the mid twenties to the occasional 40 after making those small-ish changes. This year I hope to get more than one of the beers to the second round and perhaps even hear our beer called out at the awards dinner. We did get a third place in the Limbo Challenge, and a four medals at Labor of Love.

Out of the gate for 2017 we are brewing up entries for Bluebonnet Brew-off. Here’s what we have in the pipeline:

  • English IPA (12C)
  • Scottish Export Stout (14C)
  • American Stout (20B)
  • Witbier (16A)
  • Saison (25B)

Happy Brew Year! (2017)

Ok, 2016 is in the books and there was quite a lot of beer brewed. My brew year turned out better than I’d hoped. I started the year with the Journeyman Brewer Certificate program at Eastfield College. I learned quite a bit and made lots of connections within the industry. Not everything scales from a 5 gallon bucket to a 60 barrel fermenter. I was quite reassuring to learn that even professional brewers sweat a new brew until the blow-off tube starts gurgling.

One of the goals for 2016 was to place in the top 5 among brewers in the Dallas Homebrew Collective. There wasn’t a ranking at the end of the year, but we did win the style competition for Brown Ale,  took second and third with a porter. There might have been a another win if Silvia hadn’t voted for the beer with which we tied :-/

We did manage to tie for 5th place in the Master Brewer contest at Cap & Hare. There wasn’t a style win, but we did accumulate several third place finishes – 20A – American Porter, 24A – Witbier, and 20B – American Stout. With a bit of recipe tweaking based upon judges feedback we hope to score better in 2017 and get more than 9 points.


Our Cellarman’s Nelson

We did a single hop IPA, using the Martin House formula, with Nelson Sauvin hops.

Very simple grist:

  1. 88% two row barley
  2. 12% light Munich

Straightforward hop schedule:

  1. 65 IBU worth in the boil at 60 minutes
  2. At 5 minutes add 0.2 oz/gallon
  3. Dry hop with 0.2 oz/gallon

Ferment (we used a Vermont Ale strain), cold-crash with gelatin, keg, carbonate, and enjoy.



I was flattered recently when a beer friend asked for my thoughts on the importance of each ingredient in beer. Normally beer has just four ingredients – water, barley, hops, and yeast – and with them a very wide variety of flavors can be created.


Everything starts with water. If you aren’t able to change the composition of the water, you should choose styles that suit water available. Since the drinking water in North Texas is sourced from Army Corp of Engineers reservoirs and subject to seasonal changes I  suspected we’d have to do something to our water for anything other than the darker beers. We have tried charcoal filtering, treating with campden tablets with mixed results.

Initially I thought a charcoal filter was all that I need for “treating” my water. Our first couple of beers were ok – oatmeal stouts can hide flaws. When we did a Fat Tire clone, we picked up some flavors that aren’t found in the New Belgium beer. After reading several articles about water treatment and filtering, I learned that I was drawing my mash water through the filter way too fast. For the next few beers I watched the flow rate through the filter like a hawk and I think it helped the flavors. Silvia still thought she was picking up “something” in the beer and we tried campden tables for another few beers.

Recently we’ve been brewing ales that are more pale and have been “building” our water. I buy reverse osmosis process water in bulk and augment it with brewing salts to match the region or style of beer that we are brewing. Our judges scores seemed to get higher as we fussed more over the water so I think it has been worth the effort. When it is time to brew the Imperial Stouts and Winter Warmers, I don’t think we’ll build our own salt profile, but it is reassuring to know that with a scale and some salts we can dial in our water.


Ah, the spices of beer. There are almost as many new varieties of hops coming forth as there are new breweries. I’ve consumed and brewed big, bitter hop bombs, but my taste is gravitating more toward the less bitter, more flavor beers that are made with very late hop additions and a ton of dry hopping.

There are so many hops that I want to try… I’ve been impressed with the 07270 which Peticolas & Green Flash used in their “Operation Collaboration”. I’ve got a few single hop beers lined up for the next couple of brew days.


As someone who was a lab technician in a previous life, yeast and microbiology are near and dear to my heart. Since we started home brewing we’ve fermented with English, London, California, California Ale V, Belgian Saison, Belgian Wit, Abbey, Vermont IPA, Hefe, and a cider yeast. That’s quite a few bugs. And there are more to come with Kviek and another strain of Conan yeast queued up for fun experiments.

Our first Vermont IPA yeast fermented the first beer where the water profile was built from scratch. The hope was that a softer water and a brighter yeast would produce amazing pale ales and IPAs. So far I think they are quite tasty, but not quite as fruity as I had hoped. Time to play with temperatures a bit to see if a warmer fermentation helps produce the tropical fruit flavors that I’m hunting.


Barley and other fermentables. Oats. Home toasted oats. Those help make a very tasty stout. I’ve learned a great deal from reading Randy Mosher’s books. Most surprising was  about how to influence beer color with a very small amount of dark malt.

Ultimately malt is the backbone of a great beer and provides a good measure of the flavor depth. I’ve had fun learning about the different flavors from the variety of malts that are available for home brewing.


We haven’t done a great deal with adjuncts yet in our brewing adventure. Coriander and orange peel have been the extent of our spice usage. There is a spiced dubbel that we’re looking forward to trying which involves some tart cherries and cinnamon.

Cobra’s Hopped Challenge (Thistle Dew) Update

Most of the challenge competitors merely gave a “wink” 😉 to the supplied ingredients, using them for yeast starters, and showed up with all manner of IPAs and other pale beers. I felt that we did a great job embracing the ingredients in the spirit of Chopped or Iron Chef and Continue reading “Cobra’s Hopped Challenge (Thistle Dew) Update”