Six years of the Hood Hopped Belgian Strong

The original bill of materials for my Hood Hopped Belgian Strong

Way back in February of 2014, 2 rentals and 3 (4?) phone models ago, I brewed what I think was my third homebrew: a Belgian Golden Strong Ale that I named Hood Hopped Belgian Strong.

All I know about the recipe is through the image above. I have no idea where I put any notes with actual quantities. I do know that when I logged the beer in Untappd, I assigned it an 8.5% ABV. I called it “Hood Hopped” because of the bag of Mt. Hood hops I used and I likely did something special with them during the brew to better impart their characteristics on the beer.

The part I remember the most is the use of a large bag of candi sugar, which the yeast just loves turning into alcohol.

The first glass, in April 2014.

When I finally tried my first proper glass of it in April 2014, I really enjoyed it. Because it was one of my first beers, I was likely not surprised by how cloudy it was even though the style probably meant for more clarity.

But! Things change when they sit in bottles.

A glass from January 2015.

The photo I took of a glass in January 2015 while bottling another beer looks much better. You can actually see through the glass a bit and understand where the description “golden” may come from.

It’s around this time that I started mistreating it. We moved a couple times and the beer sat in boxes shoved under other boxes and for a long while I entirely forgot that the beer existed.

At some point in our last place, I found these boxes of beer and decided they had been through too many varying conditions of heat and storage and should probably all just be dumped down the drain. 😱

Unfortunately, I did just that. But I did hang onto a few – “just to see what happens.” (To be fair, when you bottle a 5 gallon carboy of beer, you get a lot of beer.)

A glass from February 2019.

Last year, in February, I opened one of the last bottles and was absolutely amazed at how crisp and clear it was. It was tastier than ever—even though it had been completely mistreated for five years! It had spent the year previous in a pretty decent location, cellared in a nice, cool spot. But I definitely did not deserve this surprise after what it had been through, and I was happy.

Several months ago I put my last bottle in the fridge with the idea that I’d finally get around to drinking it and be done with the saga of the Belgian.

And last night I decided it would go great with my pizza.

A glass from April 2020.

SIX years later and it’s absolutely wonderful. I drank it and was happy and amazed that it had survived this long. The power of fermentation is something to behold.

And then. I went down to the cellar and poked around because I had a feeling. And sure enough, one more bottle. I have no idea where they keep coming from—I’m pretty sure I’ve had the last bottle several times now—but I am definitely excited for next year. 🍻

Sustainable beer purchasing

Pullman Disposal, which manages our local waste pick-up, recently announced that glass is no longer accepted as part of its single-stream recycling. This is disappointing as a resident, but after poking around a bit, not surprising.

Pullman sells and sends a large amount of sorted recyclable material to China.

China, as part of a new National Sword policy, has implemented stricter control on imports of contaminated scrap and recyclables. When things like paper are contaminated by glass shards, they can't be recycled effectively and recycling is no longer profitable.

This doesn't make it impossible to recycle glass in Pullman, as we can drive it a few miles out of town and dispose of it on its own, but it does add that hurdle of inconvenience.

How does beer consumption fit in?

Beer bottles make up the largest share of glass in our recycling bin every other week. The best way to avoid frequent trips out to the dump is to avoid consuming beer in bottles. And, as this 2008 article "The eco-guide to responsible drinking" attempts to show, it seems reasonable there are more ecological ways to drink beer than from a bottle.

Here's how I'm going to approach sustainable beer in 2018:

  • Look for cans over bottles. Aluminum can be recycled more efficiently and cans are lighter to transport.
  • Buy beer from local breweries. The shorter the distance the beer travels, the better.
  • Use growlers. Kegs are super efficient for distributing beer and can be reused for years. Growlers are filled from kegs and can also be reused for years.
  • Homebrew! Brewing new beer is fun and it doesn't have to be distributed in anything.

The approach that covers the best combination of variety and sustainability is probably going to be walking the half mile down to our local brewery to refill my growler, buying aluminum cans of beer from other regional breweries, and spending more time in 2018 making my own beer. 🍻

Homebrew Batch 1: Brewcraft Dry Hopped West Coast IPA

Our move to Pullman brought us a second kitchen and a nice little cellar room that make for a perfect brewing location. I had been wanting to try brewing for a while, and in August I finally went all in and got setup. The results of my first brew are listed below. It was based on a Brewcraft USA kit rather than an original recipe so that I could get used to the process.

Overall the beer was a success. I was happy to overlook a few taste quirks because it was my first beer, and we’re already down to the last 2 bottles. I wouldn’t be as happy if this was my 4th brew, but I’ll take it as a first shot.

Brewing Details

  • Fermentables: 6lbs Briess CBW Pilsen Light Dry Malt Extract, 1lb Brewers Crystals, 1lb Crystal Malt 40L
  • Bittering hops: 1oz Columbus pellets, 1oz Nugget pellets
  • Aroma hops: 1oz Nugget pellets, 1oz Chinook pellets, 1oz Centennial pellets
  • Yeast: Safale US-05 Dry Ale
  • Brew to bottle: 20 days [Aug. 25th, 2013 – Sep. 14th, 2013]
  • Original Gravity: 1.060
  • Final Gravity: 1.015 (?)
  • ABV: 5.9%
  • IBU: ???
  • Yield: 5 gallons

Brewing Notes

I didn’t actually record the final gravity on paper, mostly because I had no idea what to pay attention to at the time. My recollection is that it is 1.015, so that’s what I listed above and hence what the ABV is based on. The kit anticipated an OG of 1.069 and a FG of 1.014, so I was a bit off on both sides.

Similarly, I completely missed on the IBU as I had no idea I could properly calculate the quantity and timing of hops into a useable number. The kit says it anticipates an IBU of 90, but I can’t imagine I followed proper procedure enough for it to turn out that high. That kind of bitterness definitely doesn’t come through.

The “Cold Break”, a major lesson learned

New brewers make new brewer mistakes, right? I hadn’t really realized ahead of time how important wort cooling was to the process of making beer. My batch took forever to cool down–several hours–because I wasn’t prepared. I even made an ice run to the convenience store in the pouring rain to try and speed up the process a bit.

This may actually be the most important tip for a first time homebrewer. The longer it takes to cool the wort down to fermentation temperatures, the longer it sits exposed to the elements of your brewing room before you can add yeast and seal things up. There is a good chance that some not perfect bacteria made its way into the wort at this point and affected the taste somewhat.

Ever since this batch, I’ve made a focused effort on achieving a quick cold break. Not only will it help the brew, but it shortens the amount of time it takes too!

Bitters, Aromas, IBU: Hops and timing

I didn’t understand the purpose and timing of bittering hops and aroma hops yet, so I don’t think I did to well for an IPA on the first round. I kind of guessed with what I had and with what the kit provided me. Thanks to readings on the Internet and more thorough reading of an amazing book,  I now have a greater understanding of this part of the process and that has lead to more focused efforts in my own recipes. I should now do a much better job of determining the IBU of the brew as well as its expected flavor during the brewing process.