Brewers Choice <3 NY

Last week was NYC Beer week and there were a ton of great events going on, and I was really happy that I could attend this year's Brewer's Choice which made its way out of the city and into the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn. It was particularly special this year because they strongly focused on using NY grown ingredients. It's great to see NY ingredients taking the center stage as this can only help grow our homegrown malt and hop industry

Check out the pics below and until next year...


Beer Judging and Competitions

As a brewer it is very important to be able to properly assess and understand the aromas and flavors behind your beers. When creating new recipes you need to be able to know what each of the ingredients is going to bring to the final beer and how to balance from adding too little or too much. One way to develop these skills is to take part in the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). This program is a series of classes that teaches you about what goes into different styles, what you should be looking for, and common off flavors you may encounter in the process. 

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The judging is based on a number of categories, each one assigned a numeric score, with a high score of 50. The categories include aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel and overall, with flavor having the highest possible score out of all the categories.

I recently had the chance to finally put my BJCP skills to the test when I judged for the first time at this year's Homebrew Alley VIII at Alewife in Queens.

It was a great two days, I was in the groups judging English Brown Ales, Belgian and French Ales and I even got to judge Meads. I tasted some amazing beers and meads and learned a lot. It was an amazing first experience and I look forward to judging future competitions to hone my skills and be part of this great homebrewing scene here in NYC.

With so many breweries starting to cross boundaries and step out of the style guidelines, I believe it is still important to have a base knowledge of what constitutes classic styles as it lays the foundations for being able to properly apply that knowledge and experiment effectively.

As a brewer myself, I of course entered a handful of beers into the competition (in categories I wasn't judging). While some did very poorly (damn those infections) I also had three beers take home ribbons. Young Lion of the West Cream Ale and Storyteller Imperial Stout, aged with sour cherries and cacao nibs in a Kings County Distillery whiskey barrel, both took 1st place in their respective categories, while Trip to Burlington Oatmeal Stout took second. While it was great to take home the ribbons (who doesn't like to win and be acknowledged for your beers) it was also equally important to get the feedback from the judges on my beers. It is helpful to see how other people are tasting your beers blindly to get honest feedback. You have to remember that everyone has different palates and different circumstances as they taste your beers, so take your scores for what they are, two peoples opinions at a certain time and place. Don't get to high on the highs or too low on the lows. Take their comments and keep brewing.


Becoming a Farmer Brewer

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the Farmer Brewer Winter Weekend put on by one of the first commercial maltsters in the Northeast in a generation, Valley Malt in Amherst Massachusetts.

This was a weekend for brewers to meet grain and hop farmers, maltsters and other brewing professionals in an informal educational setting. I had an amazing time, learned a lot, met some great people, and of course had some delicious beer.


Grain farmers, malt houses, and hop yards are really starting to take off in New York. That's good news for brewers looking to take advantage of the New York crop and we hope to see even more growth in the availability of fresh, local ingredients as demand increases.

There were about 175 acres of hops grown in New York in 2013 with the possibility of increasing to almost 250 acres in 2014. And most of these are 1-acre farms and yards. According to Steve Miller from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, the acreage for hop farms grows every year and he see no signs of it abating. But of course, a 100-year halt on production has left a sizable gap in the knowledge base of hop farmers and all these new growers, from Farm To Pint and Condzella in Long Island, Climbing Bines in the Finger Lakes and Dutchess Hops in the Hudson Valley, are having to re-learn the art of growing hops. It's an exciting time!

The grain and malt houses are also growing in the Northeast. While there are only a handful of malt houses using New York-grown grain, five in New York and Valley Malt in Massachusetts, more farmers and entrepreneurs are starting to take on the challenge of providing grain and malt for New York and the Northeast. Thor Oechsner of Oechsner Farms has been growing an amazing and hearty red winter wheat variety (Warthog Wheat) for malting at Valley Malt, and has recently tested some winter barley varieties to expand his crop portfolio to mixed success. But he is undeterred and will continue to work on his barley crop.

Like the new hop farmers, the grain farmers and malt houses are coming back to New York after a long dormancy and as a result much experimentation and trial and error is occurring to master the techniques. But they cannot do this in a vacuum, they need the brewers to take a chance on these products. This is precisely what Strong Rope is doing on a home-brew scale and will continue to do as we transition to our commercial brewery. Until that day, I was thankfully able to try some amazing beers from High Horse Brewing, Wormtown Brewery, Stoneman Brewery as well as others all utilizing local grain and hops during the weekend.

It was a great experience and very inspirational as I work to get Strong Rope off the ground and helped continue my education in the local varieties of grain and hops while meeting the amazing farmers and maltsters that I hope to partner with.

Cheers and drink local!

Chop and HomeBrew Tours

This is a quick one today, but last year I had the chance to be do a second Homebrew Tour with the always amazing Joshua M. Bernstein. Josh's homebrew tours bring a handful of intrepid beer drinkers out to visit 3 homebrewers in their native habitat, the home. It is always a great time to get people to be able to share your beer with these fine folks and give a real sense of what it is I do and where I do it. Well this time, Josh and the tour were followed by one the great documentarians of homebrew and craft beer culture, Chip Walton and his webshow Chop and Brew! Helped along by Artimus Pace (of Abstract Artimus fame) Chip filmed the whole day and I was able to give a little info about Strong Rope, what I am trying to do and of course share some beer. Enjoy!

Video can be found on Youtube

Like Water for Beer

Last weekend Strong Rope had the pleasure of serving three beers at a fundraising dinner for the non-profit group The Water Collective. Founded by Josh Braunstein and Sophia Sunwoo, The Water Collective looks to bring long lasting solutions to the water crises in Sub-Saharan Africa. In their words...

We believe in focusing on making water life-lasting triumphs over rapid expansion with temporary solutions. We believe in long-term strategies that integrate life-cycle costs and collaborate with existing community collectives. We believe that a supportive economy and knowledgeable community are key to clean water and keeping it there. We believe in empowerment before giving, requiring benefiting communities to co-finance their water projects so that they are involved in building their own futures.

It is hugely important what the Water Collective is doing in bringing sustainable water solutions to communities that are in such desperate need of fresh potable water.


Water is also huge issue for any brewery (even one still in the planning stages) so I felt it was important for Strong Rope to participate. Right now breweries use an average of 7 barrels of water for every 1 barrel of beer produced. There are craft breweries and macro breweries looking to reduce that ratio and to make brewing as water efficient as possible but it is going to take a collective effort of all the breweries to make strides in really reducing overall water usage. There needs to be an industry wide effort, and this is not something that I just want Strong Rope to participate in, but more so, be a leader of.

For the event I brewed a Cream Ale, an IPA and my Brown Ale (J.J. Bollerack's Brown Ale) but for the Brown Ale, Josh was able to procure some cacao beans from one of the farmers in Cameroon, he is working with through the Water Collective. The beans gave a wonderful earthy flavor with a slight bitterness and even an almost vinousy character to the beer. Really a wonderful addition for this special occasion.