It’s About The Beer

When my friend Walter won the Brewmaster’s Cup at the Greg Noonan Memorial Homebrew Competition in May (see my early May post), earning the right to have his Vienna Lager brewed at the Vermont Pub & Brewery, it set off a chain of memories both personal and beer-related. In the eight years or so that I worked with Greg at the Seven Barrel Brewery, I shed many of my beer prejudices and learned to appreciate a variety of styles and a number of variations on those styles. As Greg frequently said, “It’s about the beer”, which meant a couple different things to Greg – it’s about appreciating the beer, for what it is, in light of how it was brewed, and how it fits in traditions. But also how it moves the idea of beer forward – a new version of a classic style, while it may “offend” a purist, may also open a door to a really interesting new beer. There has been a lot of talk lately about “Black IPA” or Cascadian Dark Ales, including on this blog. In the back of my mind, I knew this, but it took a friendly email from Patrick Dakin, a brewer who also is somewhat of a Greg Noonan disciple, to remind me that in fact, the first “black IPA” many of us ever heard of was brewed by Greg, at the VPB and at the 7BB. The first of its kind, anywhere? I can’t say for sure, but it was certainly my first.

I often ask myself, what would Greg brew? Last week I looked through the Seven Barrel Brewery Brewers’ Handbook, trying to decide what to brew next, and realized that I had never brewed a Cream Ale, at least not since moving to all-grain brewing. I flipped the 7BBBH open to Greg’s recipe for the Ottaqueechie Cream Ale, and another memory came up, that of sitting with Greg and head brewer Paul White at the bar at Seven Barrel, comparing Kölsch, Steam Beers and Cream Ales. Greg said, over and over, that you could basically brew all three with the same yeast and change the fermentation temperatures, or you could brew all three with the same grain bill and vary only the yeast, or you could brew them all as completely different beers. That was what was great about working with Greg – he would frequently throw the rules and expectations out the window and start over, inventing a new beer style, just for fun; but he could also nail a classic traditional beer style, devising a recipe on the back of a beer coaster, and could quote the Lovibond ratings for the grains and SRM values of the wort, the AAU’s and IBU’s of the hops, the attenuation and flocculation rates of the yeast, time and temperature limits, etc. etc. etc. For Greg, it was always about the beer. There are many of us who are grateful for that.

First Branch Cream Ale

5 gallons, all-grain


  • 7 lbs. Weyermann lager malt
  • 14 oz. carapils malt
  • 1 lb. flaked maize
  • 2.35 HBU’s Mt. Hood hop pellets (1/2 oz. @ 4.7% aa)
  • 2.1 HBU’s Perle hop pellets (1/4 oz. @ 8.3% aa)
  • 2.1 HBU’s Perle hop pellets (1/4 oz. @ 8.3% aa)
  • White Labs European Ale Yeast (WLP011)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar for priming

Procedure: Crush lager and carapils malts. Heat 13 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in crushed grains and maize, hold at 152°F for 60 minutes. Heat another 13 quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge. Collect 24 quarts sweet wort. Heat to boiling, add Mt. Hood hops. Boil 30 minutes, add first Perle hops. Boil 30 more minutes, add second Perle hops. Boil 15 more minutes (75 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading, pitch yeast. Seal and ferment cool (65 – 68°F) for ten days or so, rack to secondary. Age cooler (50 – 55°F) or cold (38 – 40°F) if you can, for ten to fourteen days. Prime and bottle, condition very cool (40 – 45°F) for two weeks.

OG: 1055

IBU’s: 21.6

Notes on style: I have always thought of Cream Ale as the opposite of a Steam Beer. Steam Beers are lagers, brewed at more of an ale temperature. Cream Ales are, as the name implies, ales, but generally fermented cool like a lager. I’ve also heard of brewers who blended batches of light lager and light ale. As I mentioned above, Greg Noonan believed, and rightly so, that you could brew this beer in a number of different ways, with a number of different yeasts. See the note below on yeast. The BJCP guidelines describe Cream Ale as “a clean, well-attenuated, flavorful American lawnmower beer.” This one is a bit bigger than the standard recipe, and ever-so-slightly more bitter.

Notes on yeast: I considered several different yeasts for this brew, but in the end chose the European Ale yeast (basically an Altbier strain). I wanted a clean yeast, one that would deal well with potential temperature fluctuations – it is late summer, and we are bouncing back and forth between 40’s at night and 80’s during the day. Other possibilities were the San Francisco Lager yeast (Steam Beer), German Kölsch, and American Lager.

Heavy heart, heavy beer…

Last summer, the craft brewing and home-brewing communities lost one of the great people in the industry. Greg Noonan, founder and brewmaster of both the Vermont Pub & Brewery in Burlington, and the Seven Barrel Brewery in West Lebanon, NH, passed away, leaving behind a legacy of beer and friendship. Greg’s death was felt throughout the world, everywhere good beer is brewed or sipped. For many of us, it was also a very personal loss. Just about every homebrewer in Vermont knew Greg, and beer lovers throughout the state and all of the Northeast knew his beers. I worked for Greg for several years as manager of the Home Brew Shop at the Seven Barrel Brewery, and worked with Greg on the writing and editing of the Seven Barrel Brewery Brewers’ Handbook. Greg was a friend, a mentor, and an inspiration.

One of Greg’s real beer passions was Scotch Ale. He wrote the book. Literally. Whenever I taste a Scotch Ale, I ask myself what Greg would think of it. I brew an annual Scotch Ale or “Wee Heavy” with which to celebrate St. Andrew’s Day, in November. Because it’s a big beer, rich in malty flavor and high in alcohol, it requires some time to age and mature, thus I usually brew it in late Spring. This year’s brew is based on one of Greg’s recipes, and I will probably think of it as “Noonanbrew” as it ferments, conditions and ages in the bottles. Slainthé, old friend, we miss you.

Wee Heavy 2010
5 gallons, large mash with extract.


  • 10 lbs. Golden Promise 2-row pale malt
  • 1/2 lb. peated malt
  • 1/2 lb. amber malt
  • 2 oz. roasted barley
  • 3 lbs. unhopped amber dry malt extract
  • 5 AAU’s Kent Goldings hop pellets (1 oz.)
  • 5.3 AAU’s Northern Brewer hop pellets (1/2 oz. @10.6% aa)
  • White Labs Edinburgh Ale yeast (WLP028)
  • 1/2 cup corn sugar (for priming)


Build yeast up to a quart of slurry over a couple days before brewing. Crush grains. Heat 18 quarts water to 175°F. Mash in grains, hold at 158°F for 90 minutes. Heat 15 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge. Put first 4 quarts of runoff into a kettle and boil for 30 minutes to caramelize. Collect another 25 quarts sweet wort (while first runnings are boiling). Add caramelized wort back into main wort, along with the DME, stir well to avoid sticking and burning. Bring whole to a boil. Add Goldings pellets, boil 45 minutes. Add Northern Brewer pellets, boil 45 more minutes (90 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading and pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast slurry, seal and ferment 10 – 20 days. Rack to secondary, condition cool (50°F) for 4 to 6 weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and cellar 4 to 6 months.

OG: 1105
IBU’s: 43.7

Notes on style: This is a big beer, even for the style. I expect this will end up at about 9% abv, with a full malty texture, some sweetness, and a nice peaty smoke flavor in the bcakground. Stay tuned for tasting notes in the fall…

Notes on ingredients: Golden Promise malt is a Scottish 2-row malt, which lends itself particularly well to big beers like Scotch ales and barleywines. I opted to add some DME to this batch just to bulk up the alcohol and body. I would have had to mash over 15 lbs. of grain instead of 11 or so… The peated malt is not necessarily traditional, but it is a flavor I like a great deal.

Notes on procedure: The Edinburgh yeast is a notorious slow starter. I decided to really pitch big this time, tripling the volume I usually pitch in the hopes of getting the beer fermenting quickly in the warmer weather.

I’m so proud…

Just got the news that my friend and colleague Walter Wallner won a couple blue ribbons and the Brewmaster’s Cup at the Greg Noonan Memorial Homebrewers’ Competition. Walter won a 1st place for his Munich Helles lager and for his Vienna lager, the Vienna also won the Brewmaster’s Cup, which means that he will get a chance to brew it on a larger scale at the Vermont Pub & Brewery in Burlington. Seeing that Walter is from Austria, who better to win with a Vienna? I’d like to say that I had a lot to do with Walter’s success, but in reality all I did was make sure his entries got to the competition safely…  Nice going, mein freund!

Another of my friends and shop customers, Ben Linehan, won a 2nd place for his Dusseldorfer Altbier – again, well done!

See the complete results of the competition here.