By: Sean Mellody and Dan Copper
Last summer, on a sunny & warm July Saturday, four of our club members ventured up to Keystone Homebrew for their annual Club Barrel Brew Day. This is an annual event and has been taking place for over 10 years (I believe). This was one of the largest brew days yet for the event, with over 13 clubs represented from the Lehigh Valley and South Eastern Pennsylvania area. The competition consists of each participating homebrew club being given the free use of a freshly dumped barrel – thanks to Dad’s Hat Rye and Keystone Homebrew Supply. This year and last year’s event saw over twelve homebrew clubs fire up their brew systems and brew everything from ESB to Imperial Rye Porter all aged in a 15 gallon Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey barrel. The small format barrels made it easier for more clubs to participate and for some, to age in multiple barrels and blend or choose the best later. This was our second year participating in the competition and one we plan to continue participating in as it is an important portion of the Keystone Cup.
The Keystone Cup was established in 2008 to encourage a friendly but competitive relationship among regional homebrew clubs. Three competitions combine to make up the Keystone Cup: The War of the Worts, the Club Barrel Brew Championship, and Malt Madness. Participating clubs earn points for placing in the Club Barrel Brew Championship, and also when individual club members place in the War of the Worts or Malt Madness competitions (as long as they designated their club affiliation on their entry forms). It’s that simple! Over the years a few local club’s have dominated winning the Keystone Cup and we have decided it’s time to drop a BOMB on this and see if we can win.
After last year’s first experience in the Barrel Brew Competition, where we brewed an ESB – we learned a lot. We also were able to gauge the competition and plan accordingly. We decided we needed to brew a more complex beer, that would stand out against the rest and showcase our talent as a club. To fill the 15 gallon barrel, we decide to brew 20 gallons of beer in total, 15 which would get barrel aged and 5 that would be kettle soured and fermented separately to allow us to blend to achieve the best results after aging in the barrel. But – I’m getting ahead of myself…back to the brewday…
Dan Copper, Tim Downey, Mike Kinsley and Sean Mellody all took part in the brew day, with Sean and Dan bringing their systems up to Keystone to brew the beer. After much debate, we landed on brewing a sour porter which we would add fresh cherries to and age in the Dad’s Hat Barrel. We would primary ferment outside the barrel then age in the barrel and we would house it all at Dan’s house (aka DC Brewery).
Brewday went off without a hitch, well – minus not hitting our planned numbers entirely, but oddly enough both batches hit the same OG so we were fine. (Details here are a whole other blog post on recipe formulation.) The freshly made wort was transferred to Dan's house where he aerated & pitched 3 packs of Imperial Darkness yeast into 15 gallons. Then took the remaining 5 gallons of wort and kettle soured for 3 days with Lactobacillus (goodbelly) after which time he pitched the last pouch of yeast (as well as 6lbs.of whole blackberry) to finish the sour portion. After primary fermentation, Dan took charge of transferring the beer into the barrel and onto 2.5 gallons (21lbs.) of fresh blackberry puree. Originally we planned on cherries, but we missed the window to get fresh cherries, so moved to fresh NJ blackberries. Thanks to Dan for processing all the berries and handling the beer in the barrel at his house.
Fast forward 7 months – the beer was ready to blend. We had tasted it along the way to ensure it wasn’t getting bad or too strong and about 7 months in we decided it was ready. The original team reassembled at DC Brewery (aka Dan’s garage) and took to tasting the barrel version and non-barrel version of the beer. We decided to best replicate our tests, we would weigh each version and match that in the blend scaled to a 5 gallon keg. Math wasn’t our strong suit, and after a few samples it was getting hazy. We ended up on a 75% barrel vs 25% non-barrel blend for the final beer. We loved the beer and were excited to share at the competition and with our members.
As we planned for our pouring at the competition, Dan came up with the name for the beer – Whoa Black Betty, inspired by the song by Ram Jam - that song is still stuck in my head. Being it is a porter with black berries and soured in a barrel, it is a perfect fit for the beer. When tasted it begins with the aroma of the rye barrel with hints of chocolate and blackberry. Once sipped, the fruit and sour hits you first, followed by more barrel oak, bread, caramel and chocolate. It is well balanced and many who tasted it at the competition agreed, it was not what they expected and they wanted more. The rest is a blur of the song on repeat, judges and other club members tasting and complimenting our beer, and us doing the same with their beer. There were many great beers to taste and the competition was tight, but we came in 2nd and beat out lots of great beers.
Personally, I’m proud of taking 2nd and the showing we made at the event as a club. By taking 2nd we scored 10 points in the Keystone Cup, and while results and standings are not posted, I know this positions us well for the 3rd and final leg in August at Malt Madness.
It was a great time brewing this beer and we look forward to doing another this summer. The remaining beer will be poured at Brandywine Valley Craft Brewers Festival and bottled to be shared with the members of the BOMB - with the brewers getting a personal allotment for their time and effort in brewing. If this is something you’d like to be a part of this year, let Sean or any board member know.