Ramble On

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Virginia's Own Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

As long as I am on the topic of Virginia-grown hops, I thought I might post about Hardywood Park brewery down in Richmond.  I first noticed these beers at the Whole Foods here in Alexandria back in 2013 or so, but now I can also get them at Trader Joes (and if I looked hard enough, they're likely in some of the Giants or Safeways, and maybe even Harris Teeters).

The story of this brewery, which is located in the historic German brewing district in Richmond, makes for a good tale, and it can be found on their web page.  I've tried several varieties, and I keep buying it not only because I like the beer, but because really like the 25 oz. bottle size that I can recycle for my home brews.

This weekend I picked up the RVA IPA - which is an annual release of theirs.  Here's where the connection to Virginia-grown hops comes in:  they use volunteer-grown hops from the Richmond area.  Here's the description from their site:

"...we reached out to Richmond's very passionate beer community to invite home hop growers to donate some of their fresh harvest. Sure enough, they came through. With fresh hop contributions from local home growers, Hardywood RVA IPA captures the terroir of Richmond and the spirit of its hop growing beer enthusiasts. A wet-hopped, American-style India Pale Ale with loads of fresh local Columbus, Cascade, Chinook, Centennial and Glacier hops, Hardywood RVA IPA displays a toasted auburn color with a vibrant, creamy head."

So even though I didn't contribute hops to this effort - after all, Hawksbill Hop Yards is intended to be a commercial farm, I did picked up a bottle to enjoy on Saturday night.  And of course, adding to my personal enjoyment was the fact that I poured it into one of the logo glasses from the farm.

Cheers Hardywood, maybe sometime in the future we can collaborate with Hawksbill Hops.  

Monday, September 28, 2015

Brewing with Farm-Raised @hawksbillhops

On Saturday, I bottled the Harvest Black IPA - this is the second year I brewed it with hops I personally harvested, and the first time I brewed it with hops from Hawksbill Hop Yards, my farm in Luray, VA.  (I've written about it frequently, but if you want to see all the past posts, click here.)

Last year, the Harvest Black IPA was an all-Cascade affair (link), brewed with wet hops from my friend Bill.  I ended up making two batches of that one and they were well received, which is why I used the recipe again.  Bill recently told me that he has saved enough Cascade in the freezer that I can brew a couple of more batches.

In addition to Bill's Cascades, I have in mind to brew two versions of this beer from the 2015 Hawksbill Hop Yards harvest: first, a brew based on the combined flavors of CTZ and Cascade; and second, one that will feature a Chinook and Cascade combination.  To add some complexity to the first batch, I dry-hopped with two ounces of Cascade during secondary fermentation.

The recipe was derived from the Northern Brewer "Ace of Spades" extract kit, only now I order the ingredients separately and combine them in the necessary quantities for the beer.  In this case, I brewed on August 14th, and set the beer up to ferment with 1.068 O.G. - and ended up on September 25 with 1.014 F.G., for an ABV of 7.2%.

For the hops additions, here is the schedule I used on brew day:

  • 60 minutes - 1 oz. CTZ
  • 45 minutes - 1 oz. CTZ
  • 30 minutes - 1 oz. Cascade
  • 15 minutes - 1 oz. Cascade
  • 5 minutes - 2 oz. Cascade
  • Secondary dry hop - 2 oz. Cascade
You can surmise that I was after a decent IBU kick (the IBU calculator I used says 88 IBU, based on alphas of 13.23% and 6.65% on the CTZ and Cascade, respectively), but also wanted to be sure you got a punch in the face from Cascade aroma, thus the dry hop.  There is a lot of dark, sweet malt in this to balance those hops.  

I'm looking forward to seeing how this beer is after it bottle conditions for a couple of weeks...

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pressing the Vidal at Wisteria

These are Norton grapes - they are a few weeks away
from picking.
On Sunday morning I went over to Wisteria to see if I could lend a hand on wine making chores.  I knew that Moussa had received a ton of Vidal grapes on Saturday, and that they had been crushed that evening.  For white wine varieties, after they are crushed the get stored in the cellar under cool temperatures to suspend the yeast action. 

Moussa uses the Vidal as a blending wine in several of the bottles he produces, notably a summer Rose.  On Sunday our goal would be to press the two tubs of grapes into juice.

So, after Moussa had showed me around the Merlot progress, we set up the wine press and began loading in the Vidal.  By this time, the other volunteers were there to pitch in, so we made pretty quick work of getting the press filled up.  It wasn’t long before the pure sweet juice started pouring out of the press and we took turns sampling it.

One of my favorite parts of all of this is what happens after the press.  You're left with a "cake" of spent grapes that has an interesting texture and structure - it can stand on its own, as shown in that last photo.  Will's in the back, taking a photo.
Here's the "cake" of spent Vidal grapes.

We did this twice and completed our work on the ton.  I think we got about 800 liters of juice from the grapes.  They're in the cellar now, coming up to proper fermentation temperatures before Moussa will pitch the yeast.

As we were completing the second batch, tourists were starting to arrive to visit the tasting room.  The cake is such an interesting part of all of this that several of them came over to the crush pad to have a look at it – by now all the volunteers are fairly well versed in wine making and have a lot to say about the process, so there were some fun conversations taking place, standing around the spent grapes.

Next spring the Vidal we pressed will appear in bottles - as I mentioned, probably blended into a Rose. When that happens, I predict that Mary and I will enjoy some with a nice grilled pork roast!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Volunteer Time at Wisteria Vineyards - 2015 edition

Moussa typically uses the barrels through a few seasons,
progressing from whites to reds, as shown here.
For the first Sunday morning in a while I found myself with some time on my hands, so after the morning coffee dosage I headed around the corner to see if I could pitch in with some of the fall activities at Wisteria Vineyards in Stanley, VA.

As I was driving by yesterday I spied the arrival of a ton of Vidal grapes, so I figured there would be some pressing to do - I got over there at 8:30 or so, knowing that I would probably surprise Moussa in the middle of something.  Most of the volunteers that show up for these things are weekenders like Mary and me, an are inclined to arrive at 10 or so - also like Mary and me.

Pushing the Merlot grapes down into the wine to ensure
balanced and complete fermentation.

Getting there early, the first tasks to be done were to do some work on the Merlot, which had already been crushed and was going through primary fermentation on the skins.  Moussa had three tubs of it, and we went through and pushed all of the grapes on the surface down into the wine.

After we took care of that, we went into the cellar with a sample of the wine pulled from the tubs.  We did a brix test with a hydrometer - the same tool I use for this purpose when I brew, although I work from the gauge's gravity side instead of the brix side.  This wine has been in the tubs for a couple of days now, and the reading showed that fermentation is about two-thirds done - probably only a few more days and this will be ready to press.

Brix testing on Merlot samples.

The volunteers were starting to show up by now, too - the first was Will, a Brit who is traveling across the country on a motorcycle.  He'd met John and Nina on a hike, and they invited him down into the Valley to check out Luray and environs.  He'd made his way over to the winery and had already put in a couple of days on various tasks, so he was ready to pitch right in.

In my next post I'll pick up from here - I spent a good part of the day working on the pressing with the other volunteers, and went back in the evening for a little socializing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Visiting @2witchesbrew in Danville

Back in March we were still just planning the hop yards, and I sent some marketing feelers around to a couple of the breweries across the state.  2 Witches down in Danville was one of the earliest enthusiastic responses I received - and we kept in touch throughout the growing season.
The 3.5 barrel system at 2 Witches

Finally, when the hops were ready, the folks down there told me they'd like five pounds of Cascade - which I gladly reserved for them while I figured out the logistics of delivery.  This was a complex matter for me, for a couple of reasons, which I'll describe later in the post.

Part of what makes a small hop farm worthwhile is the relationship you get to build with the brewers who will use your hops.  In the case of this brewery, I was excited because I consider Danville, way down there in Virginia along the NC border, to be home territory, since my parents were born and raised in Eden and Stoneville, less than 10 miles away.  The response from the brewery was warm and welcome, so I looked forward to completing the sale, and I will make sure that everything works out satisfactorily for them.

On tap at 2 Witches
Having been down US 29 a few times before, I was looking forward to revisiting some of the landmarks along the way - the gentle rolling hills and fields between Warrenton and Charlottesville, crossing the James River at Lynchburg, etc.  I'd forgotten the distance, but that really wasn't a problem; as it turns out I was part of a mad rush until Charlottesville because of the UVA - Notre Dame game that was happening in the afternoon.

At last I arrived at the brewery.  They've got a good space in an old industrial warehouse area, and they've been able to improve it with some outdoor areas on the old loading docks and a new garden.  In fact, the brewery is also a winery, so there were a couple of rows of vines planted on the grounds.

While ordering a flight, I talked for a bit with Alex, the brewer, while we completed our business.  The name of the brewery originates with a family photo of two very cute young girls in witches costumes.  Those women are now part of the business, working on the winery side.

I mentioned my family connection and we discussed the Miller Coors brewery in Eden.  Alex is taking brewing classes there, so he was familiar with the town.  He's heard rumors that a nano will be starting up downtown there soon - something to look forward to on future visits.
The flight I enjoyed at 2 Witches.

I mentioned the logistics challenges on this delivery - so as a wrap up I'll write about that.  When I received my lab results from Virginia Tech, they advised that I move anything that didn't sell quickly into the freezer, so I did just that after a week.  I had about 12 pounds left at the time, and that's what I froze - subsequently delivering a two pound order to Tin Cannon, and a five pound order to Hopkins Ordinary, keeping the hops frozen during transport and until delivery.

Knowing the distance to Danville, my first thought was to figure out how to ship them, but I decided the risk to quality from a thaw cycle while they were en route was not acceptable.   I decided I would drive down with them - I could ensure they were in good condition and have an enjoyable time visiting the brewery as well.

I also enjoyed a flight of the on tap offerings while I was at 2 Witches.  There was a good range and balance with a couple of wheats, a brown, and two pale ales on tap.  Alex told me that they will use the hops I delivered to dry hop an ale that's currently in primary - you know, that's something we can be proud of!

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Hiatus

After such a busy August - followed by a busy couple of weeks at my day job, I took a little time off from blogging.  We've kept up our usual activities at Hawksbill Cabin in the meantime, so there's no shortage of topics to post about!

Yesterday I took a long drive to deliver some hops - I'll get a post up about the trip and the brewery later this week.  In the meantime, I have had a little time to relax on the brick terrace this morning while I write.  An Tess and I took a ride over to the hop yard to have a look around at how fall is beginning to settle in.

David put in a pumpkin patch next to the yard, and the gourds are starting to come in.  Here's a photo of some of them to get us started again.  As I walked around over there, there were still quite a few plumping up - one especially was larger than any of these.

Tess had a great walk, we explored the hop yard and the pumpkin patch, caught wind of the herd of deer that lives around there, and then we walked over to the new fields where the honey bees are.  David has sown the cover crop in there - I'm guessing winter rye.  That reminds me we have some fall cleanup ahead at the hop yards, as well.