Prospective entrants to next year’s National Brewing Championship are going to love this one! This month we’re talking to Dodge, who won a staggering 3 medals in the 2013 championship. In our interview, Dodge kindly shares some of his secrets for brewing and competition success and tells us all about his homebrewing history. You can follow Dodge on Twitter @Dodge259.
Dodge, thanks for taking part in this months “Brewer Spotlight”. How did it feel to walk away with no less than three medals in this years championship?
Well to say the least, I was gob-smacked! I only entered my beers for a little bit of feedback. To me, I enjoy my beers but I appreciate it when someone else can help me improve my beers and brewing process. When I got my first medal, I couldn’t believe it. But after the other two medals and the honourable mention for my “Oud Bruin”, I was overwhelmed!
You won a bronze, silver and a gold medal. Please tell us about each of your award-winners.
The 1st place beer “Red” is an Irish Ale. This was the first beer style I brewed three years ago when I ventured from kit brewing to all-grain. It didn’t taste too bad back then, but I wanted to try it again. I formulated a recipe with the various malts at hand to really bring out the colour. It was quite an honour for an Irish South African to win a medal with an Irish Ale!
The 2nd place beer “Munich Madness” is an Oktoberfest beer. This is the first time I brewed this style. I wanted an easy drinkable beer with a smooth malt character, to be enjoyed during the Oktoberfest season.
The 3rd place beer was “Pacific IPA”. It’s an Imperial IPA and one of my favourite styles. I was trying to copy the commercial beer “Pliny the Elder” by Russian River, but instead only use hops from the Pacific region, mostly Australian and New Zealand hops.
When did you start home brewing and how long have you been at it?
I started home brewing over four years ago. I always thought of doing it but never pursued it until a home brew shop opened near me in Athlone. I went in for a browse and ended coming out with a basic wine and beer kit. Six months later and not overly impressed with the variety of kits available then, I built my own all grain brewing equipment and the journey started there.
What beers styles do you brew regularly and why?
I don’t like to stick to just any style, but alternate between brewing malty beers and hoppy beers. As it’s said, “variety is the spice of life!” Though my favourite beer styles are hoppy pale ales and IPAs. So that I don’t drink alone at home, I brew my wife light lagers. Being an avid Coors drinker along with her other friends, it’s nice to hear she prefers my beers.
What are your 5 favourite commercial beers?
My first craft beer I tasted and still enjoy is Wychwood’s “Hobgoblin”. It’s where my passion to brew started. I don’t buy a lot of beers but when I do I’d say Sierra Nevada’s “Bigfoot” and “Celebration”, Brewdog’s “Abstrakt” series and Cantillion’s “Gueuze” and “Kriek”.
That’s at least 6 beers, but we’ll let you away with it this time! Do you have any particular favourites from the “Abstrakt” series?
I love chilli, so when I found out that Brewdog had released the “AB:04″ Abstrakt beer, an Imperial stout brewed with coffee, loads of cacao and chilli, I had to have one! The other one I like since it defies all logic of an Imperial Stout is the “AB:08″ – the deconstructed blonde imperial stout.
Do you have one beer that you have brewed over and over to perfect the recipe or process?
Not really. The only beer though I’ve tried to improve is my Hobgoblin clone. Other than that I do brew a Guinness clone quite regularly.
Your “Pacific” Double IPA which won the bronze medal has an absolutely massive hop bill. What advice would you give other brewers for dealing with such a large mass of hops?
Don’t be afraid! As long as your recipe is balanced and your hop selections marry with each other in terms of flavour and aroma notes, you shouldn’t go too wrong. Adding more hops late in the boil helps to intensify the aroma. When you come to dry-hopping, don’t let the hops sit too long in the beer, rather remove and add more fresh hops to prevent a grassy note developing in the beer.
What craft beer pubs do you frequent regularly?
Since I live in Westmeath, the pubs I go to don’t serve any real selection of craft beers. When I’m up in Dublin though, I do enjoy having a few good craft beers with my brewing friend and multi winning medallist Andrew (AndrewL46) at the likes of the “Bull & Castle” or “The Porterhouse”.
Describe your current brewing equipment set-up?
It’s a basic all-grain set-up. I have a plastic cooler box for my mash tun and a 30-litre plastic bucket for my boiler. I ferment in a glass carboy in a fermentation fridge with a controller to regulate the temperature. I normally transfer my finished beer to kegs where I force carbonate but some of the higher alcohol beers I would bottle to be enjoyed through the year.
How often do you brew?
I like to brew at least twice a month. As soon as one beer is finished fermenting, the second one is started. This allows me to have up to 10 corny kegs full. Having a greater choice and selection available at home for myself and friends that would like to sample.
Describe your typical brew day for us.
I always research different recipes and ideas online in advance to build up a recipe in BeerSmith. I have to get the yeast starter ready a few days before brew day. On brew day, you have to get the music on first! After that I heat my water, add it to the mash tun to preheat it and start weighing out all the ingredients. I transfer the water back to the boiler, heat it to the specified temp and transfer the required amount to the mash tun, adding in the grain and checking that the mash is at the required temperature as per the recipe in BeerSmith. Most of the beers are mashed for an hour except the lagers, which I mash for 90 minutes. I draw off about 2 litres of wort and place it back in the mash tun to set the grain bed up as a filter before draining the wort in to an empty bucket. I heat up the second batch of water, transfer it to the mash tun and again let the mash sit for about 20 minutes. BeerSmith calculates the amount of water to add for the different batch sparges to get the required pre-boil volume. I repeat the process in emptying the mash tun and both volumes are added to the boiler. Here I will check the pre-boil gravity and pre-boil volume which is normally 27 litres. It’s important to check that your pre boil gravity is correct otherwise it can throw out your hop IBU calculations.
During the boil, I add the hops or other ingredients at the specified times. 20 minutes before the end I add my immersion chiller and Whirlfloc tablet. Once the time is up, the beer is cooled as quickly as possible using the chiller. Whilst the beer is cooling, I sanitise my carboy and associate fittings with StarSan. It’s very important that from now on that anything that the beer touches is sanitised to prevent your hard work getting ruined from an infection.
When the wort is cooled to below fermentation temperature, I transfer from the kettle to the sanitised carboy while slowly preventing too much break material being transferred over. The wort in the carboy is oxygenated and the yeast starter is added. The carboy is placed in the fermentation fridge to ferment for a couple of weeks. Then comes the dreaded clean up before the wife comes home!
How do you oxygenate your wort in the carboy?
I’m lucky enough that I have a small oxygen bottle that I use. I attach a sterilised stainless steel oxygen wand (it’s a stainless steel airstone attached to a long rod) that I insert into the carboy. I oxygenate the wort for about 20 seconds at a flow rate of about 2litres per minute. This is done just before I pitch in my yeast starter. Although this is not as critical to use for small beers as it is for bigger beers, I find that it really helps the yeast along.
What’s your favourite part of the brewing process? Least favourite?
My favourite part is smelling the different hops being used. Least favourite for me is when I decide to bottle beer. Having to clean, inspect and sanitise nearly 40 bottles drives me mad, but it has to be done.
Do you have any favourite malts or hop varieties?
No favourite malts, since different styles require different quantities. Hops, has to be the American hops. Especially the ones that have citrussy, fruity aromas. I think my favourite is Summit.
Do you favour liquid or dry yeasts? Any favourite strains, or ones you use most often?
I prefer liquid yeasts and use them all the time. I think the variety out there allows me to tailor different yeasts with different beer styles. For stouts I like to use WhiteLabs’ WLP004 Irish ale yeast and most of my ales would be WhiteLabs’ WLP001 California ale yeast. This is a good, clean-working yeast.
What has been your most ambitious or challenging home brewing project to date?
Each year my friend Andrew (AndrewL46) and I get together to brew some bigger alcohol beers. This allows us to split the costs and have beers that we can age and drink over the years. We work at formulating very interesting recipes using weird and wonderful ingredients. Some of the beers we brew are inspired by collaborations between various craft brewers from around the world.
They sound intriguing. Could you give us a couple of examples?
One of the beers we brewed, I guess you could call it a Black Ale, which came in at 10.2% was based on a collaboration brewed among 21st Ammendment, Firestone Walker and Stone Brewing Co. We changed the recipe a bit but included ingredients like fennel seeds, chia seeds and pink peppercorns added during the boil. Then the beer was dry hopped along with figs that had been soaked in whiskey for a week and a good handful of oak chips to simulate the barrel aged effect. A beer like this can be enjoyed over a couple of years, improving with age.
Another favourite was our Imperial Black IPA brewed with a good dose of Citra and Pacific Jade hops in the boil and charged with the very fragrant Nelson Sauvin hops for 7 days for the dry-hopping.
Tell us about your own involvement in the NHC’s Barrel Project?
I’ve wanted to do a barrel aged beer for a while. But for me to fill a 200-litre barrel alone would be insane. When I read that various National Homebrew clubs were purchasing barrels to fill, I immediately put my name down as a contributor to my new homebrew club, the “Liffey Brewers”. I got in touch with them through Shane (Tube) and we put together a good simple recipe that’s not overly complicated and that will work well with being aged in the barrel. I’m already looking forward to the day when we can take our share out of it!
Do you have a favourite source for recipes?
I started brewing recipes from all the different styles using the book “Brewing classic styles”. This I think gave me a feel into which beer style I liked and didn’t like. Now I research using the internet and draw inspiration from various home brew forums and competition winners.
Any bad batches, or other brewing disasters to speak of?
The only really bad batch of beer I made out of nearly 70-plus beers was my second all-grain attempt. It was an English IPA. It ended up too sweet and undrinkable. I think back then I was a little overwhelmed at what temperatures and volumes I needed at different stages in the process. For disasters I had one serious one. On brew day I had to replace the tap on my boiler but the only tap I had didn’t have a long enough thread for the back nut to secure properly. Whilst bringing the wort up to the boil, the back nut that holds the tap on the boiler came off squirting very hot sticky wort all over the kitchen floor.
Do you have any big home brewing projects planned for the future?
Nothing too big. My on-going project to date is up grading my system to something more automated and slightly larger capacity. I have most of the stuff bought from various places around the world. It’s just a matter of time and money to finish it. Until its ready, I’ll keep brewing and perfecting my techniques and enjoy being involved more in the NHC, helping others.
Which home brewing books/blogs/podcasts do you recommend?
I’ve listened and continue to listen to the Brewing Network podcasts. Over the years I have learned a lot. Since the American craft beer and homebrew scene is very big, the likes of guys such as Jamil Zainasheff, John Palmer, Mike “Tasty” McDole to name a few always give a wealth of knowledge. The best book in my opinion is “How to brew” by John Palmer for brewing basics and for basic recipes covering extract or all grain brewing is “Brewing Classic Styles” by Jamil Zainasheff. Closer to home and to learn from others, I recommend the National Homebrew Club Forum.
Any advice or tips you’d like to give other home brewers?
From what I’ve learned, sanitisation is the utmost important thing. Make sure everything after the boil is sanitised. You don’t want to ruin your beer with an infection. The other important ingredient is your yeast. Make sure you add enough healthy yeast and ferment in a controlled environment and at the specified temperature. At the end of the day it’s the yeast that turns your wort into beer. This is when off flavours can affect your final product.
Any tips for next year’s competition???
Brew, brew and brew! Meet-ups with fellow brewers and getting critique from them all helps in improving your beers and finding your strengths and weaknesses. Who knows, you may find your own winning beer?
Dodge, thanks for being a tremendous sport by talking to us today!