Time to Show off Some More Custom Beer Bottle Labels!

Posted by Olan on 4/17/2014 at 05:26:29 AM

I have bottled two batches of beer since I last shared pictures of my amazing beer bottle labels.  Seeing as how the labels are designed for me by my friend Lori Krell out of the goodness of her heart, I'm being a louse by not showing her some link love before now!  Yes, Lori is available for commissions. 

So, without further adieu, please allow me to share the labels for Treasue Type "T" (an oatmeal toffee stout) and Royal Goblin (a hoppy English brown ale). 

First up is Treature Type "T".  If you are nerdy enough (and old enough), you may recall the old school Dungeons and Dragons random treasure tables.  This beer name is a callback to these, and is also a bit of a play on words (the "T" standing for toffee). 

This label features our Confederate red dragon opening a treasure chest, which contains not only gold and jewels, but a scrollcase (for accuracy... treasure type "T" in D&D represented magical scrolls) and a bottle of beer.  Lori picked the font, which evokes Indiana Jones style adventure.

Next up is Royal Goblin.  This beer is esentially just a rendition of Orfy's famous clone recipe for hobgoblin of Wychwood Brewery.  This name was picked as a homage to Hobgoblin, with the "royal" portion being a nod to the fact that the yeast is from Yorkshire, a seat of the nobility. 

This label bears the likeness of a goblin king seated on a tattered old chair decorated as a throne, with trash and the like serving as decorations.  Our Confederate red dragon is presenting His Highness with a bottle of beer fit for a king.

I want to take a moment to brag on Lori's amazing skills.  The typical process is that I dream up a name for the beer, then come up with a very rough idea of a label.  I send her my idea via email, leaving her plenty of leeway to be creative.  She has an uncanny skill of taking my idea and bringing it to vibrant life... somtimes with subtle changes that seem to improve on my concept every single time.

Just to recap Lori's awesomeness, check out the lineup of the four Confederate Dragon beers she has done labels for: Thundersmoke (English brown ale), FrostFire (Marzen), Treasure Type "T" (oatmeal toffee stout), and Royal Goblin (hoppy English brown ale).  The custom bottle caps are from Bottlemark.com.  I have to say that I love the new color options they now offer - in my opinion, the black caps look even better than the old white ones did.

Finally, a few bonus photos.  When I started taking pictures of the beers, my brewing assistants - i.e. my little boys - insisted on being photographed with the bottles.  So, here they are.  From left to right, we have Noah (age six), Jonah (age four), and Silas (age two).        

Tags for this post: custom, beer, bottle, label, labels, ale, English brown, stout

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Tags for this post: custom, beer, bottle, label, labels, ale, English brown, stout

Split Batching: Optimizing Craft and Experimental Brewing

Posted by Jordan on 4/08/2014 at 02:46:51 AM


As an avid homebrewer and father of an infant, I juggle between brewing recipes I know will be amazing and recipes I know will stand up to experimentation.  There are tried and true recipes (like Biermuncher's Centennial Blonde & Ed Wort's Apfelwein) where the resulting taste is easy to anticipate based on thousands of homebrewers reviews.  We started homebrewing because we wanted to explore new flavors, try wacky combinations, and above all else, brew amazing beer to call our own. In this article I will try to flesh out, based on my own homebrew experience, how to walk the fine line of recipe exploration and brewing quality beer.

I have been homebrewing for 3 years (serious/full-time for about half that time) and I know I am just now starting to construct amazing beers from scratch.  The primary challenge I have with creating my own beer recipes is that I don’t know what most grains, hops, and yeast taste like, individually or in various combinations. Sure, I have tried SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hop) beers and I have read hop/grains descriptions, but how does one know when to dry hop with 1.5 oz of Simcoe rather than 2 oz? For a rye IPA, do I prefer 25% rye or 30%? What really makes a mild and how does that differ from a low ABV brown ale? I began to buy every brewing book in sight and while my library of brewing literature grew, I realized that the best way to learn...
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Tags for this post: split, batching, brew, brewing, yeast, combinations

My First Decoction Mash Took Forever!

Posted by Olan on 3/18/2014 at 05:23:06 AM


At the beginning of this month, I tackled my first ever decoction mash.  This would be for the traditional bock of my own design (special thanks go out to /r/homebrewing, and especially to Ray Daniels and his superb Designing Great Beers).  I had been reading a bit on decoction mashes, and my friend Rob (author of the superb Munich Dunkel featured in the recipes section of this site) had been raving about how great they were.  I'm a sucker for details and tradition, and so decided that a decoction mash was the way to go for this beer.

For the uninitiated, a decoction mash is the process where, instead of the simple method of mashing (soaking) your grains in water at a certain temperature to hit your desired balance of dryness and body, you instead pull off a portion of your mash, boil it, and add it back to raise the overall temperature of the mash to the desired range.  This boiling creates maillard reactions in the wort, which is supposed to yield a depth of flavor that is impossible to perfectly recreate any other way.

I ended up going with a take on Kai Troester's enhanced double decoction mash schedule.  The original plan was an acid rest @ 97 degrees F, a saccharification rest @ 144 degrees F, a second saccharification rest @ 156 degrees F, and a mash out @ 168 degrees F.  Troester's plan had only a single sacc rest, but also a protein rest @ 133 degrees F.  I'd read...
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Tags for this post: decoction, mash, traditional, bock, lager, brew, brewing, double decoction

Subzero Temps? Meh, Yeast are Tough Buggers

Posted by Olan on 2/25/2014 at 05:05:55 AM


 A month or so ago on /r/homebrewing, /u/GirkinFirker was awesome enough to offer three vials of limited edition yeasts to good homes.  I asked for (and was granted) a vial of WLP920 (Old Bavarian Lager) yeast.  I was stoked about it; not only is this a platinum yeast, meaning it is only available for two months per year, but it seems to be a very well reviewed strain.  After some homework, I settled on brewing a traditional bock, and set to creating a recipe for one. 
  At the time, the northeast was in the grip of an ice storm (my friend lives in Connecticut), so he had to wait a couple of days to ship the yeast to me.  In the middle of the transit process, Alabama was hit with an event that we now lovingly refer to as "Snowpocalypse 2014".  Sure, 2-4 inches of snow doesn't sound like much to the rest of the country, but we lack winter equipment such as snow plows, snow chains, or any meaningful sand/salt trucks.  Adding to that were the facts that the weather was unexpected (it was supposed to miss us by a couple of hours' drive), and the temperatures had been below zero for two or three days; we ended up with an inch of ice of the roads within a couple of hours, and thus, the state shut down completely for a good three days afterward.

  As a result, my yeast was stuck in a FedEx truck... somewhere. ...
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Tags for this post: yeast, starter, lager, viable, snow, cold, wlp920

Failure can Still be Delicious

Posted by Olan on 2/20/2014 at 10:40:35 PM


At the end of 2013, I brewed my oatmeal toffee stout.  The idea was that I would end up with a stout featuring smooth - not overpowering - roastiness, some complex malt character, and some sweet tones.  Specifically, I was hoping to end up with a noticeable toffee flavor in my beer.

I framed up what looked like a solid recipe with the input of /r/homebrewing and Designing Great Beers, as well as inspiration from Yooper of Homebrewtalk.com and Jamil Z.  I decided to go fairly low on the crystal malts, and to stick to crystal 40 and 60, as the descriptions I read suggested that these yielded the most toffee flavor.  I picked a yeast strain (WLP004) known to throw a little diacetyl - the idea being that a slight butter flavor would combine with the caramel from the crystal malt to give toffee.  Finally, on brew day, I boiled down a gallon of my first runnings into a little over a quart of syrup, a process that would supposedly really help the caramel and toffee flavors to bloom.

I bottled this beer after four weeks in primary, and in contrast to my typical patience, I opened the first one just after two weeks in bottles.  Luckily for me, carbonation was already solid.

A week later, I have enjoyed a few of these beers, and feel pretty confident in assessing what I have.

Appearance-wise, it's a very attractive stout.  The color is black as midnight in the glass, though if you hold it...
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Tags for this post: oatmeal, toffee, stout, caramel, beer, flavor, taste, review, homebrew, brew, brewing, home

More Amazing Labels - the Oktoberfest

Posted by Olan on 2/12/2014 at 04:43:50 PM

Obviously, good beer is the entire point of this hobby. Why brew if you aren't trying to make the best beer that you possibly can? With that being said, however, I feel that presentation really puts the icing on the cake.

Every batch of beer that I bottle is capped with custom caps from bottlemark.com - I feel like they really help "brand" my bottles. I then use labels from onlinelabels.com, and print custom labels on them with a color laser printer. The result is fantasic.

Of course, the labels wouldn't be a fraction as cool if the art wasn't so good. Sadly, I have about as much artistic talent as my bottling wand does, but luckily for me, I have a great pro artist friend in Lori Krell. She took my idea (as she has done before) and really brought it to life in the label for my Oktoberfest. Check out pics of her amazing work below!

Lori is absolutely available for commission; check out her art spot at deviantart.

Incidentally, the full information for the bottles below (if you can't read the small text due to my fuzzy iPhone pics) is: (neck label) CDB, bottled 1/19/2014, 6.97% ABV. (main label) FrostFire, a winterfest lager in the Marzen style, Confederate Dragon Brewing Co.

A finished bottle next to a full...
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Tags for this post: labels, label, custom, beer, lager, oktoberfest

How is the Oktoberfest? Honestly, it's Excellent!

Posted by Olan on 2/11/2014 at 06:00:39 AM


Way back in the summer of 2013, I started formulating my very first lager recipe - an Oktoberfest.  I find the style to be really interesting, as there is a really wide range for interpretation in it. 

I did a lot of homework, took input from the /r/homebrewing and homebrewtalk.com communities, researched well-reviewed Oktoberfest recipes online, and spent a lot of time with Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels.  I have of course tried quite a few commercial versions of the style, as well. 

I decided that I wanted the recipe itself to be pretty authentic in ingredients, though I did allow that I liked the American interpretations of the style, such as the Samuel Adams version.  I chose to not go the decoction mash route, as I didn't want to bite off too much with my first lager - instead, I would use a little melanoiden malt to round things out a bit. 

I wanted a big, malty Oktoberfest - I actually ended up exceeding the posted upper gravity limit for the style, according to the BJCP - although it should be noted that, historically, Oktoberfest beers were actually higher in gravity (and darker in color) than today's interpretations.  Likewise, I decided to make my beer on the darker end, and as red as I could make it (just because).  While I do enjoy the Sam Adams version, I didn't want my beer to be quite as sweet as that.

The recipe got revised quite a few times, but...
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Tags for this post: Oktoberfest, lager, recipe, red, color, flavor, malt, beer, homebrew

A Busy Brewing Weekend

Posted by Olan on 2/02/2014 at 08:28:03 AM


This is shaping up to be perhaps my biggest brewing weekend ever. 

Last night, I bottled the oatmeal toffee stout.  Final gravity was just a hair under 1.020, which is a fuzz higher than Beersmith predicted - but is just fine (especially in light of the fact that I overshot my predicted OG by .002).  More to the point, the gravity sample was absolutely delicious!  I got some nice roastiness without it being bitter, and it had some really pleasant malty sweetness to it.  Even better, I did pick up on some toffee notes, and the beer had some definite slickness to the mouthfeel.  Of course, time (and carbonation) will tell the final result, but I'm pretty hopeful that I will have hit my target flavor profile.

I stacked those two cases of stout on top of the two cases of my Oktoberfest.  The O-fest is a mere two weeks into the bottles, but in a stark contrast to the patience I displayed while lagering this thing, I'm having a really tough time not cracking open a bottle.  I'll try one in another week; hopefully, they'll be carbed up, and I'll be able to move them to the basement (and out of the dining room, which my wife will appreciate).

I'm about to cold crash my starter for tomorrow's brew, which I have decided to dub "Royal Goblin".  It's a rendition of Orfy's tried and true Hobgoblin clone recipe, except that I'm using WLP037 (Yorkshire square ale yeast) and I'm adding a bit...
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Tags for this post: bottling, first wort hopping, brewing, home brew, beer, water chemistry, spent grain bread

Bottling my Oktoberfest

Posted by Olan on 1/20/2014 at 05:12:03 AM


Back at the end of August, I brewed my very first lager - an Oktoberfest of my own design.  I kept intending to post a brew report, but never did.  I felt guilty about that failing, and ended up being a chucklehead and not posting to the blog at all for a while.  Boo on me.

The whole idea behind the beer was that I wanted a big, red, malty Oktoberfest.  I really enjoy the Sam Adams interpretation, though I am aware that it makes some purists cringe.  I find the style to be extremely interesting, as the BJCP guidelines leave a *lot* of room for interpretation.  I also discovered anew how passionate - and condescending - some beer nerds can be, after I opened a thread on homebrewtalk to discuss recipe formulation, and was basically informed by some that a sweet beer like the Sam Adams version is not really worthy of the name "Oktoberfest", and that I should be ashamed for daring to enjoy it. 

Those discussions did inspire me to add a real wiesnbier to my eventual brew list, but in the end, isn't homebrewing about creating beers that you enjoy?  I certainly believe so, and to that end, I collected a lot of advice (including some major influence from Ray Daniels' outstanding book, Designing Great Beers), then pushed on with my idea.

I had gone back and forth on yeast choice, but ended up going with WLP820 (Oktoberfest/Märzen lager).   I know that some advocate picking a "house lager"...
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Tags for this post: Oktoberfest, lager, brewing, homebrewing, wlp820, yeast

The Oatmeal Toffee Stout - a Brew Recap

Posted by Olan on 1/07/2014 at 06:46:26 AM


My recipe was ready.  My oats (well, part of them) were toasted.  My starter had cold crashed overnight.  It was time to brew.

Before I could do anything, however, I had to handle even more cleaning than normal.  I hadn't fully scrubbed out my kettle from the last brew, but that was no big deal.  I did, however, have to fully clean and sanitize my mash tun... thanks to Christmas. 

You see, my wife had bought a huge (23 pound) turkey a couple of days before Christmas, and it was still frozen solid on the night of Christmas Eve.  My only real option was a cold water thaw, but I didn't have many good choices as to a location for this, so I ended up using my mash tun.  Suffice it to say that I had no interest in mashing in a cooler that had contained turkey juices (read: blood), so I ended up using a half gallon of bleach and every drop of hot water that my house's tank held in an effort to fully clean and rinse the thing.

With that out of the way, I heated my strike water on the stove.  Sure, I could have heated my strike and sparge water on my propane burner, but the stove is "free"... or, at least, doesn't use my precious propane.  I watched the temperature until it was about two degrees warmer than Beersmith recommends (I still don't have my equipment quite right in the software, but have learned that two...
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Tags for this post: oatmeal, toffee, stout, caramel, beer, homebrew, homebrewing, brew, brewing, temperature, wlp004, temp

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