The Harvest

The leaves are turning color, there is woodsmoke in the air, and the Tunbridge World’s Fair starts this morning. It’s fall, whether the calendar agrees or not. One of my favorite traditions of this season is the annual Harvest Ale. I love the idea of brewing with the product of my own agricultural labor. I don’t grow barley, so I can’t use my own malt, but at least I have my own hops.

Over the years, I have planted some 60 hop bines, 16 different varieties. I have had some great success (Cascades, Willamette, Chinook, Cluster, Hallertau and Tettnang have done very well, depending on the year) and some wastes of time (my first plantings of Saaz, Northern Brewer and Spalt never even sprouted, although I have replanted them and gotten better results since). Hop growing is labor-intensive in the beginning and at harvest, in between there’s not so much work. Being able to use my own hops in (this year) three or four different brews makes all the work worthwhile.

2009 Cascades...

A Harvest Ale is sort of the ale equivalent of an Octoberfest – indeed, many craft brewers who don’t lager release an Autumn or Harvest Ale when the others have their ‘Fests on the shelves. I do both, brewing my O-fest in March and lagering it deep in the cellar until mid-September. But why not have the Harvest Ale option as well? I like to make mine a dark gold to amber color, with a nice toasted flavor and aroma, hopped almost to IPA levels.

Harvest Ale 2010


  • 6 lbs. Maris Otter 2-row pale malt
  • 1 lb. toasted Maris Otter
  • 1/2 lb. Biscuit malt
  • 1/2 lb. malted wheat
  • 2 oz. black malt
  • 1/2 oz. home grown Galena hops (whole)
  • 1/2 oz. home grown Nugget hops (whole)
  • 1/4 oz. home grown Centennial hops (whole)
  • 1/2 oz. home grown Brewer’s Gold hops (whole)
  • White Labs English Ale yeast (WLP002)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure: Crush grains. Heat 12 quarts water to 164°F. Mash in grains, hold at 152°F for 60 minutes. Heat another 14 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 24 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boil. Add Galena and Nugget hops (in muslin mesh bags), boil 15 minutes. Add Centennial hops, boil 40 minutes. Add Brewer’s Gold hops, boil 5 minutes (60 total) and remove from heat. Steep 10 minutes, remove all hops and chill to 80°F. Take a hydrometer reading, pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Add English Ale yeast, seal and ferment warmish (70°F) for six to eight days. Rack to secondary, age ten to twelve days. Prime with corn sugar and bottle. Condition ten to twelve days.

OG: 1051

IBU’s (estimated) 63

Note on hops: The hops I used were all grown, organically, in my yard. This batch used my entire harvest of the four hops involved. All four were first-year bines, so getting anything at all was a bonus. To be able to brew a batch using only the products fom four plants gives me a real sense of satisfaction. I did get a substantial harvest of Chinook, along with some Cascades, some Willamette, Tettnang, Perle, Cluster and Hallertau. I chose to dry and freeze mine, but my friend Chris recently brewed a “wet hopped” ale with some of his harvest (and he should have that story up on his new and improved website soon – check back later!). Alpha acid levels are a complete guess, but based on the lower end of the standards for the varieties. Therefore the IBU’s in this beer are a ballpark estimate only, your mileage may vary.

Note on yeast: WLP002 is, according to Kristen England of the BJCP, the strain used by the Fuller’s Brewery in England. It is a nice yeast to use when you want a balance of hops and malt. I find it can add a caramel (and sometimes licorice) aroma which fades in the bottle over time.

Last call for lagers (maybe)…

My job has a few perks. A great working atmosphere, interesting people to talk to, a nice discount on my brewing supplies (and groceries and beer…), less than a 15-minute commute… and people give me beer. Frequently.

“Here, try this and tell me what you think,” or “Thanks for all your help, here’s a bottle for you…”

Last night, a woman handed me a couple bottles of a brew she and other members of a brewing club (all women, all law students) had made. I promised her that I would try it and put up a mention on the blog today – so here it is. Nicely done – she said it was a pilsner, I would have called it more of an amber lager, maybe a Vienna – too dark, too sweet, not hoppy or bitter enough to be a pilsner, but nevertheless a well-made and tasty brew. Let’s revisit that recipe some time soon, OK?

This morning I had arranged for a friend, Ben, to come over and observe the brew. He’s a regular customer at the store and has been brewing for a year or so. Ben is ready to make the leap to all-grain and wanted to see what my set-up looked like. He’s also well-skilled in plumbing, electrical, welding and mechanical stuff so I could see the wheels turning as he looked over my equipment. I expect that he will build his own world-class monster brewery out of spare parts and with his own hands…

So since the weather is turning warmer, with Spring being only 10 days away, it was time to brew one last lager. I am writing that with my fingers crossed, as I may still try to sneak in one or two more if we get a cold snap (heck, we may still get feet of snow…), but basically this is the last planned lager of the season. In the old German brewing tradition, the last brew of the year would be made in March (März) and lagered deep in a mountain cave until the fall, until the harvest. This brew was always called a Märzen, after the month of its creation. Then along came a German Crown Prince who decided to get married during the Munich Oktoberfest harvest celebration, and the beer style became indelibly associated with that name (even though it actually begins in September…). I make mine to be lagered in the cellar until our local equivalent of Oktoberfest, the Tunbridge World’s Fair, which takes place over four days in the middle of September. Today’s brew was a bit of a variation on the recipe I published in North American Clone Brews for the most excellent Hübsch Märzen, brewed in Davis, California by Sudwerk Privatbrauerei Hübsch. I tweaked the grain bill a little and added more hops to suit my taste. This will be a smooth, malty amber beer with a mild but noticeable hop bite and a trace of noble hop aroma (if all goes well!).

Hübsch Märzen

5 gallons, all-grain


  • 5.5 lbs. pilsner malt
  • 3/4 lb. Vienna malt
  • 1 lb. cara-Munich malt
  • 1 lb. cara-wheat malt
  • 1 lb. cara-foam malt
  • 5.1 AAU’s Tettnang hop pellets (1 oz. @5.1% aa)
  • 2 AAU’s Saaz hop pellet (1/2 oz. @ 4.0% aa)
  • 3.2 AAU’s whole Saaz flowers (1 oz. @3.2% aa)
  • White Labs Oktoberfest yeast (WLP820)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure: Crush grains. Heat 14 quarts water to 165°F. Mash in grains, hold at 152 – 154F° for 75 minutes. Sparge with 14 quarts water at 170°F. Collect 6 gallons sweet wort. Bring to boil, add Tettnang hops. Boil 30 minutes, add Saaz pellets. Boil another 30 minutes (60 total), turn off heat. Add Saaz flowers, steep 10 minutes and remove. Chill wort to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading and pour the wort into your sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 60 – 70°F for 7 – 10 days. Rack to secondary, age cold (35 – 40°F) for two months. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition at cellar temperatures (50 – 55°F) for four months.

OG: 1055

IBU’s: 28

Brewing notes: Although I enjoy having company while brewing, I realized this morning that I really have it down to a science, a routine, and I don’t need “help”… At the same time, I always feel like a bit of a fraud when a friend comes over. I share my beers with lots of folks and always play it a little cagey, making the whole process seem a little more mysterious and complicated than it is. Then someone comes over and watches the process and I know they are thinking to themselves, “That’s it? That’s the arcane, secret alchemy?” It does give me a chance to confront my own preconceived notions, though – why do I do it like that instead of this? Why do I use that piece of equipment, that ingredient (those rubber bands, right Ben?)… ? I learn something every time I brew.