The World Beer Festival buffet: Drink Like a Champion Today!

When our family goes to an all-you-can-eat buffet, at least one of our sons makes the quintessential rookie mistake: loading up on bread. When I ask why he’s not piling his plate full of steak or seafood (both of which he likes), he just shrugs, “I dunno, these rolls are good.” This is the same mindset some of us unfortunately bring to World Beer Festival. This year’s extravaganza is the 20th annual – Sat. 10/10 @ Durham Bulls Athletic Park.


The Bull City Homebrew crew circa 2012, getting happy with Kyle’s Famous Hot Pepper Porter.

This is the ultimate liquid buffet, so make good choices, people! I’m not just talking about consuming responsibly, which goes without saying. Get a game plan ahead of time, look at what’s there, pinpoint like a crazed Black Friday shopper what you want to try, stay focused. I like New Belgium’s Ranger IPA as much the next person, but I have a limited amount of beer I can consume at this thing, and I’m not going to be drinking a beer I can find everywhere. Instead, I’ll steer myself to Four Saints Brewing Company’s “Stout One,” featuring coffee, cacao nibs and vanilla beans, then Rivertowne’s “Hala Kahiki,” a pineapple ale. Go find the stuff you can’t find so easily the other 364 days of the year. Hit them early, too, while your taste buds are still keen.

When WBF started 20 years ago, the festival featured dozens of brews you just couldn’t get around here. It was (and still is) a beer geek’s paradise. I tried Smuttynose’s Old Brown Dog and New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk long before they ever appeared on a shelf near me. The luster of the festival is still there, but much of what’s available at WBF is also at Sam’s Quik Shop or another bottle shop.

Another reason to leisurely attack certain tables (and avoid others) with the precision of a Smart Bomb is simply the endurance factor. My first WBF in my 20’s, I did what lots of other 20-somethings did – try everything I could based on impatience. If there was a short line, I bellied up, and ultimately paid the price the next morning. Good thing I had a designated driver. Think I took down PBR, Heineken, Fat Tire, lots of common stuff. Basically, I feasted on rolls. #RookieMistake.

As a relative lightweight tipping the scales at 145 pounds, pacing myself is crucial. Sure, some of the more sought-after beers may have longer lines, but so what? Use that to your advantage. You’ve entered a 4-hour drinking session, so going slow when it comes to drinking beer is actually a nice strategy. While the hare is passed out near the port-a-potties, the tortoise is sipping something barrel-aged.

As a homebrewer I like chatting up the beers with the reps that are pouring. Many of the tables are staffed by volunteers who may not know what hops are used in the DIPA, but other breweries send employees who can drop some serious knowledge about the beverages they serve. That’s how I found that Lone Rider’s Sweet Josie Brown is made without adjuncts (Yes, I know, you can get Sweet Josie anywhere in the Triangle, but I really like that beer. Yes, I broke my own rule. Little leeway here, please for a high quality beverage).

Reviewing our game plan: relax, meander, saunter, try some new beers, new styles, be curious, pace yourself, sample stuff you can’t find so easily. OK, to show proficiency here’s your final exam; pick one of the following beers you’d try if given the choice:


Pliny the Elder

If you circled Pliny, congratulations! No, you won’t find either at WBF, but you get the idea. Trick is to avoid the PBRs altogether. Eat the filet mignon, not the yeast rolls. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you should drink it because you can’t drink it all.


Go forth, seek the greatness beneath the nylon.

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The 5-Gallon Disappearing Act

Remember when you bottled your first five-gallons of beer? Seemed like enough brew to last a lifetime. You created so much beer; it may have inspired you to conjure up a name for your home brewery. Nowadays, if I don’t siphon into the keg, all those bottles look like a mere six-pack. It’s not that my beer consumption has increased, if anything it’s decreased. Not gonna lie here by comparing myself to a rock star, but the truth is I’ve become a lot more popular since I started brewing.

case of beer selfie

A few homebrewed beers for:

– The neighbors

– The guys at work

– The homebrew club dubbed TRUB

– My brothers

– One of my brother’s in-laws

– The guy who cut my lawn when I was out of town

– The family who hosted the neighborhood party

– Friends

– The fellas who gathered for the last football game/fight/card game

– The homebrew contest

Supply depleted. Certainly not complaining that people enjoy my brews, in fact I love it. People asking for my beer – now that’s an ego boost. Like the Italian mama who rejoices when everyone eats her pasta – mangia! I beam like she beams when people consume, then nod in approval. I just never thought the seemingly endless array of bottles would disappear so quickly when I only drank a handful of them. And then most of the empty bottles don’t return, but don’t get me started on that.

So, to all you new brewers or potential brewmasters thinking, it will take forever and a day to get through all that beer unless I take a week off from work to go on a bender, fuggetaboutit. Just remember three things:

  • Save a few beers for yourself.
  • If everyone wants a piece of your product, you’re doing something right.
  • Think your beer vanishes quickly now? It gets worse (in a good way) when you trade bottles for a keg.
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The importance of naming your homebrew

I recently discovered this gem on the internet… a guide to finding your “Real Ale Name”. Or it could be used to name your next homebrew. So let’s see, I have V, S, June and H. That produces:

Clogger’s Smooth Cock Dodger


Alright, so I won’t be using that name. Regardless, naming your beers is a really  important part of homebrewing that often goes overlooked. Will it change the taste of your final beer? No. Will it add to the fun of your homebrewing? Absolutely!

Imagine going into Sam’s Bottle Shop and seeing rows of beer where bottles had no labels and just said “IPA” or “Russian Imperial Stout”. Boring, right? Why do so many homebrewers treat their beer the same way? No name, no label… they just refer to it by the style. You’ve put all this hard work into making an incredible beer, and you didn’t do the fun part or personalizing it.

I’m not ashamed to admit that a lot of the beer I buy that I haven’t tasted before, I buy because it’s got a cool name. Zombie Dust? Sign me up. Sweet Baby Jesus? I’m in. Shelf space is limited and beer companies put a lot of effort into naming their beers to stand out in a crowd. Why not give your homebrews the same love? Many homebrewers think that bottling or kegging their beer is the finish line. Naming your beer is an important part of homebrewing, though.

  • Giving your beer a name makes it yours
  • Your homebrew’s name gives it personality
  • You can create a line-up of different beers where the names have a theme

Some of my favorite homebrew names have been:

  • Ctrl-Malt-Del: A belgian beer I made with my fellow software engineers
  • Thirsty Mule IPA: An IPA I entered into the Lone Rider Brew It Forward contest
  • Fear No Roach Stout: The very first beer I brewed with friends

There’s a ton of resources out there for naming your beers, too. Reddit has many posts with people’s homebrew names [link 1] [link 2], and Homebrew Talk always has people wanting to share what they’ve named their beer [link 1] [link 2].

So don’t make your homebrew go through life as a boring brown bottle of whatever. It would much rather be known as the “Hop Dominator IPA” or “Barrel Breaker Stout”. Not only will people enjoy your beer when they drink it, they’ll remember it long after.

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Smells Like Brew Day

I used to do a lot of black and white phoptography. For over 15 years, I would soak physical film and photo paper in chemicals and produce negatives and prints. It was monotonous and routine, and at the same time there was excitement and surprise in watching each new image that would appear. The constant thing in the darkroom was always the smell. For most people, the smell was awful, but for me, it was soothing. It meant that I was in a place that made me happy.

Holding the crushed grains

Sensory things are able to unlock some incredible memories and emotions. For instance, I’m back in my early 20s when I hear Alright by Supergrass. The Sega splash screen will always bring me back to summer vacations filled with video games. The bready smell of freshly crushed grain is also one of those things. It’s not just the smell of grain, it’s the smell of brew day.

There’s the excitement in preparing for brew day… making sure you’ve got everything ready and clearing your schedule for the afternoon, because no one wants to be interrupted while you’re brewing. There’s moments of intense concentration; getting the Boiling the wortmash numbers spot on, adding the right thing at the right time and watching out for that sneaky boil over. There’s moments of relaxation, where you’re just kicking back and enjoying a homebrew while watching water boil for long stretches of time. It’s a mixture of routine and sometimes unexpected surprises. And a constant thing through it all is the smell.

The funny thing about those smells is that you normally don’t even notice them on brew day. You usually take a minute to smell the grain when you open it up or smell the hops when you add them. For the most part though, it’s just there in the background. The best Cheers with a Bull City Homebrew pint glassway to really notice it is to leave the kitchen or garage for a few minutes and come back. The smell is unmistakeable. Your brain never stops receiving those scents of malt and hops, and silently associates them with the awesomeness of brew day.

The next time you pick up your ingredients, take a minute to really smell of the doughiness of the grain, and the citrus and floral scents of the hops. It’s a boquet of scents that non-brewers rarely get to experience, and they mean that you have an awesome brew day ahead of you.


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Clear beer here! Thank you, gelatin

After about a decade of homebrewing – both extract and all-grain – I now want that perfect look I see after emptying contents of many bottles and cans into my glass. I want that golden clarity. I want clear beer.  After a quick trip to my favorite LHBS, words of advice from Arne, and $1.50 for 1 ounce of gelatin, my beer has the look. Beautiful part is – aside from the low, low cost – it’s  so easy to do. Very little prep for this pageant.

One teaspoon into 2/3 cup of water

One teaspoon into 2/3 cup of water

I used filtered water from my fridge, but whatever water you brew with should be fine. I sanitized everything but am not sure I needed to as the solution is going into alcohol anyway.

Heat in the microwave for 20-30 second increments, stirring along the way.

Heat in the microwave for 20-30 second increments, stirring along the way.

I paused after each round of heating for temperature checks and to stir. The dissolved  solution will soon help take yeasties to the Davy Jones Locker of my fermenter. I’ve read differing viewpoints about whether it’s wise to boil or not, but my goal is to simply pasteurize at around 150 degrees.

Poured into COLD secondary.

Poured into COLD secondary

You can use gelatin in primary, secondary or a keg, but it needs to be cold BEFORE, so the gelatin can do its best work.  When cold, more haze-forming particles will gather for the gelatin to take down. I chilled my pale ale to 38 degrees in secondary, poured in the fining agent, then swirled the carboy around a bit. The cold crash continues. Just two days later:

Into the bottling bucket.

Into the bottling bucket.

Clear beer here. This is the second time I’ve used gelatin with S05, a yeast with medium flocculation. A week-long cold crash might yield similar results, but for a few dimes a batch, I can “get the flocc out of there” in just 48 hours.

Ain't that pretty?

Ain’t that pretty?

While John Palmer says “much of the emphasis on using finings is to combat aesthetic chill haze, the real benefit of dropping those compounds is to improve the taste and stability of the beer,” I can’t say I noticed a difference in taste, although certainly no off flavors. It costs about a quarter per batch to get this sparkling success.

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What You Need to Know About Yeast

Yeast can be such a confusing thing, and it’s so crucial to the success of your beer, I felt it was important to get a few things straight. In golf, they have a saying , “You drive for show and putt for dough.” Putting is to golf as yeast is to homebrewing… really important!!

Rehydrating vs. a Starter

Before diving into all this, let’s clear up the difference between a rehydration and a yeast starter.

  • Rehydrating yeast: Rehydrating yeast is done to bring dry yeast out of the suspended state it’s in using plain water. You would obviously never do this with liquid yeast.
  • A Yeast Starter: A yeast starter is made to increase the yeast population before pitching.

Yeast Count

You want to pitch the right amount of yeast in whatever beer you’re making, and this is pretty easy to do. For every beer that I make, I visit Mr. Malty’s Yeast Calculator. The user interface ain’t pretty, but it was created by Jamil Zainasheff who is a homebrewing legend and it’s a valuable tool that takes one minute to use.

Using Mr. Malty:

  1. Select your fermentation type in the top left corner. If you’re not sure, you’re probably making an ale.
  2. Enter the expected OG of your wort (or the actual OG if you know it). If you’re making beer from a kit from the store, this is in the top left of the instruction sheet.
  3. Set the volume of wort (normally 5 gallons).
  4. If you are using dry yeast, click the “Dry Yeast” tab. This will tell you how many yeast cells you need, and how many packets of dry yeast you need (depending on whether you’re using 5g or 11.5g packets) without a starter.
  5. If you are using liquid yeast, click the “Liquid Yeast” tab, then select “Simple Starter” in the drop-down that appears. This tab page will tell you how many yeast cells you need, and how many packets of liquid yeast you need, depending on whether you’re making a starter or not.

Now that you know exactly how much yeast to pitch, let’s figure out what to do with it.

Dry Yeast

From Mr. Malty’s calculator, for a beer with an OG of 1.06, one 11.5g packet of dry yeast without a starter is perfect. This is good news, you don’t have to make a starter! Unfortunately, when we use dry yeast, the question of whether to rehydrate the yeast or not comes up.

Rehydrating the yeast

From our definition before, we know that rehydrating dry yeast is not the same thing as making a starter. We rehydrate yeast to bring it out of the suspended state it’s in. From John Palmer’s page:

Often the concentration of sugars in wort is high enough that the yeast can not draw enough water across the cell membranes to restart their metabolism.

Therefore, using plain spring water is the best way to do this. It ensures that your yeast are in the healthiest condition possible when they’re introduced to your wort.

Not everyone agrees that you need to rehydrate yeast before pitching it. Brewer’s Best recipe sheets say specifically, “Sprinkle the contents of the yeast sachet over top of the entire wort surface (DO NOT REHYDRATE)”. Fermentis, a very popular dry yeast manufacturer, says you can rehydrate it or pitch it directly, they don’t care. Bulosophy, an excellent source of homebrewing “exBEERiments” and results, concluded that rehydrating vs. pitching directly made no difference.

So what’s going on here? I would say that the biggest takeaway here is that in practice:

  1. You don’t have to rehydrate your yeast. However, if you do, you’ll get a larger, healthier yeast population being pitched into your wort. This will get the fermentation started faster… I never like to stress my yeast out.
  2. You don’t need to make a starter, because the yeast count in an 11.5g packet is typically enough.

Liquid Yeast

Obviously, liquid yeast require no rehydration… they’re already hydrated, it’s liquid! Remember our cell count per packet, though, and how we want to pitch the right amount of yeast? Let’s compare dry yeast and liquid yeast packets:

That’s a huge difference! When you get a packet of liquid yeast, you are getting less than half of the yeast cells than you get in a dry packet.

Making a Yeast Starter

100 billion cells is often not nearly enough yeast to pitch in a 5 gallon batch, and that’s why we often make a starter when using liquid yeast. As I said earlier, making a starter increases the cell population, potentially doubling it. Therefore, when you use liquid yeast, you have two options:

  1. Make a starter (less expensive)
  2. Pitch two packets (less work)

If you’re not familiar with how to make a starter, Kyle from the store has written up an excellent description of what to do.


As they say on the internet, TLDR. Here are the important things to take away from this blog post:

  1. Always check how much yeast you need by using Mr. Malty.
  2. If you use dry yeast…
    • You don’t need to rehydrate it, but it will get your fermentation started faster.
    • You rarely need a starter.
  3. If you use liquid yeast…
    • You are getting less than half of the yeast than you get in a dry packet.
    • You will almost always want to either make a starter from a single packet, or pitch two packets, for a 5 gallon batch.
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T-shirts Are In… Pay No Sales Tax in 2015!

Bull City Homebrew has a tradition of t-shirts that save you money. They do more than make you look like like a rock star… whenever you wear it to the store, we’ll pay your sales tax for all of 2015. That’s right, when we say “Read our lips, NO SALES TAXES”, we mean it and it’s a promise we’ll keep!

IMG_1385  IMG_1386

2015 t-shirts come in three styles; one with the longhorn skull ($20), one with our logo ($20), and a women’s cut athletic shirt ($25). Each shirt is available in small through 3XL. If you plan on spending some money on homebrew supplies in 2015, this shirt could easily pay for itself and much more.


Go ahead and let everyone know that you brew the beer you drink by wearing a Bull City Homebrew shirt. It’s a wearable coupon and a fashion statement, what could be more awesome than that?

Note: Both cotton t-shirts say “2015” on them. Only shirts with “2015” (or the women’s cut burgundy shirt) will be eligible for the sales tax discount. You must also be ACTUALLY WEARING your shirt for the discount to apply (throwing it over your shoulder does not count)!

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