3 Years of Brewing In Review + First Public Beer Reviews
The 3 Years of brewing since moving to New England amongst a global pandemic. One finds friends and fellow beer enthusiasts and a podcast hosts that would drink and critique my substances unabashedly. Read on for more about the journey and experience.
I've been actively brewing again for 3 years (summer 2019) after moving back to New England from California after a long 6+ year hiatus from the hobby. Bay Area California sized apartments with my spouse weren't the best brewing environments and I had given away all my brewing equipment that I have acquired over 5 years prior to that when we initially moved to California together.
Unlike most homebrewers when I got back into the hobby I decided I needed a different type of setup for brewing as at the time I had both a 3 year and a 6 month old daughter at home that needed and wanted my attention (and I theirs). So I didn't get a Grainfather, Anvil, or propane burner setup... instead I went for a fully electric, fully automated system known as a Picobrew Z (crowd funded) from the Seattle based automated brewing manufacturer known as Picobrew. Fast forward 3 years this manufacturer is no longer in business, no longer has active employees (though some ex-employees are still very active with online communities), no longer care for their Azure hosted servers that power the website, recipe crafter and the brewing appliance's API interfaces that they communicate to for recipe instructions and general machine information. So much so that many machines out there don't function at all anymore (due to an Error #7 alert displayed to the user - example for context shown below).
When I first detected the writing on the wall that Picobrew (the company) wasn't going to be around much longer the engineer in me got a bit anxious, but quickly after reverse engineering over a few weeks the API interactions between my Picobrew Z and the Picobrew servers (https://picobrew.com) I began sleeping better (as I wasn't coding well into the nights) that my machines were both well cared for and will operate for years to come. This was early 2020 when the pandemic hit and impacted nearly all of us in so many different ways. For me it was diving deep into a passion for a hobby I only just got back into the summer previously and diving head first into the deepend of trying to scramble to protect myself from an eventual future where the company behind this great product would cease to exist. If that point in time would happen eventually I knew I needed to split ways with the servers that existed while they functioned in order to be unlocked for the future. If interested in this offline server solution that I along with 10+ others in the very active Picobrew community built together have a read through a few other blogs on this site. The rest as they say is history.
Related Offline Server Articles
Receivership (Washington State's equivalent/alternative to filing Bankruptcy) for Picobrew was started in February 2020 followed by the "new owner", Gregg Whitten (who was an existing angel investor of Picobrew), liquidating nearly all assets to be able to surrender the PicoPak assembly warehouse where all Picobrew products were assembled, packaged and fulfilled to their e-commerce customers (myself included with the latest device type, Picobrew Z). At this point the liquidation sale was a way to shore up various components used within the Pico products I had bought and procured from other more hesitant owners (some broken and free, some paid for on the resale market). Essentially others in the community were doing this to stock pile hard to acquire components to be used in our Pico devices when they at some point in the future need to be repaired... was just a matter of time and without manufacturing lines up and operating the likelihood of finding specifically built parts was going to be vastly limited.
The following articles sum up this period in the Picobrew history fairly well, but stop short of mentioning any large efforts within the community to remove the digital handcuffs from these machines allowing for the community to take over development of the API interface and completely push for an offline server product as we have done.
Today there are 2 main such solutions: SmallBrewCompanion (a windows run application) and chiefwigms/picobrew_pico (known as PicoPi, or simply the "RaspberryPi server solution"). Both work in the same way effectively leveraging a security vulnerability that was originally reported to Picobrew Support by the community that never was fixed which just happened to allow for these solutions to leverage a man-in-the-middle style security attack to hijack the connection to Picobrew's servers and offload that processing locally in the user's network on a different device.
Over the past 2+ years of active development and support of this offline server the following devices are fully supported and leveraged by hundreds if not thousands of Picobrew fans on a regular basis:
- Pico C and Pico S/Pro (these are the smaller form factor devices that used to be locked into the Picobrew PicoPak e-commerce based consumable product line)
- Picobrew Zymatic and Z Series ("professional" line which allowed for a complete automated bring your own ingredients style electric brewing)
- PicoStill (vacuum distillation product)
- PicoFerm (temperature and pressure measuring device for measuring pressurized fermentation status)
- Tilt and Tilt Pro (realtime bluetooth enabled Hydrometer and Thermometer used to measure and log fermentation data)
- iSpindel (OSS + DIY replication of a realtime wifi Hydrometer and Thermometer used to measure and log fermentation data)
Brülosophy Beer Reviews
For the complete history of my brewing experience I have never before mailed beer. I hadn't even had "non-friendlies" review or taste my beer. 100% of my patrons have been close friends and family who all rave and say ridiculous statements like the following... which let's be honest aren't constructive criticism and is just ego boosting statements.
This is soooooo good. --Anonymous
Best beer I've had, hands down, great job. --Anonymous
You should bottle and sell this. It is better than any commercial beer I've had. --Anonymous
If you start a brewery I'd be a customer. --Anonymous
You could really make it big as a commercial brewer. --Anonymous
When are you opening your own brewery. --Anonymous
Well after 2 years of driving around to close friends and family's houses and dropping off a random 6 or 12 pack/case of freshly packaged and ready to consume homebrew I decided that it was time to get an unfiltered view of my beer. There is a "small podcast and website" that I'm sure if you homebrew you are more than aware of called, Brülosophy. When the pandemic's influences were felt during 2020-2022 the leadership of Brülosophy thought now would be a good time to invest back into their online social brewing club since most other localized clubs were going fully remote, why not try to get more involvement in the online club (started well before the pandemic BTW).
Late 2021 I had decided to join the facebook group, The Brü Club, and quickly there after join the Discord (chat network)... I was hooked. I had finally found "my people" along with the great Picobrewers community... these were "my people" they all had and shared the same love and passion for making great homebrewed fresh beer. Both of these groups I could be myself and really get into the technicality that is making great homebrewed beer.
In early 2022 there was enough demand and interest in the larger group that a new quarterly series was started called AvgBrü. In essence the idea was that a bunch of brewers involved with The Brü Club would get together "virtually" (via social networks like Facebook or Discord) and brew the same style of beer using the same general "guidelines" and compare tasting notes, pictures and experience. Comparing to a physical in-person brew club this would be similar to a bunch of brewers getting together at a local shop, parking lot, or backyard and having an all day Saturday brew day together enjoying company and some beers along the way.
Long story made a bit shorter... I tossed my name into the raffle drawing not expecting that my name would be actually picked... remember I had never done anything like this before. No one outside of friends and family tasted my beer, never had I sent in beer for reviewing or for judging at a homebrew competition. Well, I didn't get chosen in the primary draw, but Haven (a club leader) reached out to me privately asking if I would still be interested as I was randomly selected to be a backup for another member that either backed out or life just didn't allow them to send in beer for review.
I was excited, nervous, anxious, all the feeling wrapped up into one... but I did it anyways and sent in not only the AvgBrü as required for the review session since shipping alone was $28. At that price I decided I'd toss in a few other random bottles I had laying around some I hadn't even opened yet (I don't typically bottle for myself only for others, kegging is the only way I package beer for me as I have 2 kegerators and 20+ kegs laying around in various conditions). If I was going to spend $30+ to send beer to someone I never met might as well make the most of it and get more than one review out of it.
Prior to this experience I had never created a single label. My process prior to this was to simply mark the caps with either a letter or small text in sharpie that was only ever readable by me (ha!). Sending in to a podcast for people I've never met before felt like the right time to try my hand at designing, printing, and adhering (with milk, separate post will go into details here eventually) labels to the bottles I had prepared for shipping to Marshall Scott and his friends to drink and review.
AvgBrü Reviews #1: American Pale Ale
February 1st the recipe outline was published for the 18B - American Pale Ale. Prior to the recipe outline everyone was given the opportunity to include the guidelines/outline by submitting their selections to the Google Forms Survey that went out earlier in January. In this survey members would be able to select base grain, speciality grain, alternate fermentables, target IBU ranges, various hops (bittering, mid boil "aroma" hops, late boil/flameout/whirlpool "flavor" hops) as well as typical guidelines for mash and boil length as well as mash temperature. After these guidelines were published brewers can take their unique spin leveraging these guidelines or "rules" however they want.... Some go far outside the bounds, others stick to the rules as if they are strictly enforced. It is fun that we all are making "the same beer" though end up with wildly different end products though we (for the most part) all use the same ingredients just in different ways (length, amount, timing).
So I got to work and put together a quick American Pale Ale recipe. As one that doesn't typically gravitate towards Pale Ales I decided to test the BJCP definition of an American Pale Ale and aim for the upper end of the spectrum all while still staying within the guidelines of what would classify (by estimated number at least, no lab tests done here) as an American Pale Ale. As a homebrewer the main palette I brew to is my own... it isn't like I'm shipping 5gal of beer to Marshall and his friends to drink, but rather I would be stuck with 5gal - 24oz of beer to consume so it better be something I enjoyed.
Specific recipe details can be found in the crafter that I maintain primarily for the Picobrewers community (https://crafter.pilotbatchbrewing.com/recipe/print/450). I've publicly shared this recipe and plan to brew it again as it turned out to be that good. Since February I've brewed this twice and each time it is a killer beer and goes quick in the kegerator.
On to the episode and the feedback contained within. The entire episode is great to listen to, but even better for those of us that have been talking and sharing advice, experience and recipes leading up to the episode dropping. If you are looking just for my specific review skip forward to about 1:07:00 and it goes for about 10 minutes so ends around 1:16:00. There is a recap at the end, though the main review section is right there at 1hr 07min into the episode. Below I've also taken a few of the statements and conversation into a transcript of sorts.
Some excerpts that stood out during the review follow.
"This is a nice looking beer you are bring up" - Timmy
"Label on this one is really nice. His ABV is 7% (1.063 - 1.010). These are some really nice labels, I like them a lot. It does look like a wine label." - Marshall
"Holding this after looking at the label I feel like a better person." - Timmy
"This smells so good too. Mango, like juicy mango is what I get on this one. Crystal clear, not as bright with a nice white cap of foam that sticks around." - Marshall
"Trevor has the full package here. Why is Trevor trying to put us under the table here?" - Timmy
"I want to tell you. Trevor has more patience and skill in bottle conditioning than I do. Trevor good job on the clarity on this. That is pretty amazing. Very creamy mouthful." - Paul
"This is probably. I don't want to play favorites, but Trevor this is probably my favorite so far. It is more IPA like." - Marshall
"This doesn't taste like anything we have had so far." - Timmy
"If we were out drinking I'd order a few of these." - Paul
"If I'm mad at my wife and kids I'd order a 6-pack of these. - Timmy
"This tastes like Union Jack from Firestone Walker. It coats your mouth with flavor." - Marshall
"The people in Auburndale, Ma have it going on." - Paul
"You know what I taste a lot in that beer? Pride, pride of worksmanship." - Timmy
"You might be tasting my pride in Trevor as a Brü Club member. This beer is really, really good, but would have called it an IPA, but." - Marshall
"You can tell , just cause it isn't my favorite type of a beer. You can tell Trevor knows what he is doing when it comes from presentation, to mouth feel to over all beer. I'm no rhyme or reason a bellwether here, it is a good beer based on his knowledge of what he is doing. He is good. He is a maestro." – Timmy
"Next time you find yourself in Auburndale, MA just go out on the town square and yell out 'Trevor Mack'." - Paul
"I love that beer. I would order that beer multiple times if this was at a local pub. Though I'd have to call it an IPA and not a Pale Ale." - Marshall
Listener Submitted Beer Reviews #1
Next up published June 14, 2020 was a follow up beer review episode where Marshall and Tim are joined by their wives Laura and Michele to review several listener submitted beers. Included in this episode are 2 beers that I had earlier submitted with the AvgBrü featured above.
Similar format here each beer submitted gets a period with the 4 hosts that talk and share their tasting experience. For my beers specifically you will want to forward into the first review section this time which starts at 12:24 and ends just about 10 minutes later at around the 23:25 mark. In this episode as was done with 1-minute beer review with Jersey and Timm the participants (other than Marshall) are blinded to what style beer they are drinking and comment only on the taste and appearance in their glasses.
Some excerpts that stood out during the review follow.
"To me it looks like dessert. Dessert with the amount of pink tinted foam and the rosy wine like color." - Michele
"It definitely tasted like a sour, but it could be a cider given the amount of fruit to me." - Michele
"It looks like I just fed my goldfish... the amount of floaties in it. I actually like it which is actually shocking." - Laura
"Grapefruit. Berry. Champagne. Tartness. Sourness." - Laura, Michele, Timmy
"Berry. Maybe blueberry, but more like a red berry." - Michele
"I thought it tasted really good. Very carbonated." - Marshall
"We have 15, but I'd put a bet on this being the prettiest in the glass based on the pink hue." - Michele
"To comment it was a Raspberry Sour, but it wasn't that sour. Think the sourness we tasted was the Raspberry vs the funky sour beer souring." - Marshall
"I should say that Trevor Mack, this is another beer he made. He does really nice labels. We don't usually talk about the labels with beer reviews like this. These beer labels look really neat." - Marshall
"I can tell you Tim that this is one you have had before, but not many times." - Marshall
"From the smell I'd say it like a stout or one of those chocolatey concoctions. It is not as dark, it is a bit more ambery than that. Tobacco, stronger tobacco and coffee on the palette than on the nose. It is highly carbonated." -Michele
"The style of beer this is calls for a high amount of bubbles, so it makes sense to me. It is smooth." - Marshall
"You may find this surprising, but style wise makes sense. It this doesn't contain any roasted grains in it at all. The style is 'Belgian Dark Strong Ale' . It is an 8% ABV Belgian style ale. It is made to have more fermentation character (banana, clove or a blend of those two) sometimes detected as Coffee." - Marshall
"The foam is a lot more dense than the last one. It remembers of that Nitro stuff. I liked it." - Michele
"It was less intense than a Bud Light. It was smoother to drink than when I drink a Bud Light on the river." - Laura
"Alcohol content is high and that is a bonus, but doesn't come off like that." - Michele
"but yeah good beer." - Marshall