Porter’s Porter Day

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My son Porter turns 12 this coming Tuesday. In his dozen years, he’s visited more breweries than the average adult. He’s listened to countless tour guides, brewers, Daddy’s beer friends, and me ramble on about beer and brewing for his entire life. Apparently it started to sink in. A few years ago, he began asking me if we could homebrew together. A casual question initially, but his desire intensified over time and earlier this year I promised him we could start homebrewing when he turned twelve.

Regular readers will no doubt know at least a little about Porter. By age three, he barely spoke. We visited numerous specialists and eventually he was diagnosed as being autistic. I quit my job as the General Manager of the Celebrator Beer News to stay home and do whatever we could to help our son. We found a special pre-school, hired tutors, took him to physical therapy, worked with endless flashcards, and basically did anything we could in the hopes of changing Porter’s fate; we read so many horror stories about worst case scenarios that we were committed to preparing him for a best possible future, at least. Happily, he responded magnificently, and by the end of the first year he was doing well-enough that I started freelancing. That’s also when I started the Brookston Beer Bulletin. Porter’s progress continued, but we decided to hold him back from starting kindergarten for a year (primarily because we’d been convinced that all boys tended to do better in school the later they started). Whatever it was we did, at least some of it worked. Academically, Porter flourished. His math and science (scores and grades) were off the chart. And perhaps more importantly, he caught up in language. When people meet him now, they’re astonished to learn he once didn’t talk. He’s certainly made up for lost time. In his last round of state-mandated testing, he scored perfects on four out of the five math sections, and even managed three perfects in language skills.

His autism mostly manifests itself these days in social awkwardness — but then he has me (and Sarah) for parents, so that’s not too surprising. We notice little things because we’re hyper-attuned to him from years of closely monitoring his behavior and progress. But most people don’t, and he appears more and more like a typical middle-schooler each year. He plays in band, loves Minecraft and was an all-star in little league baseball, where his team won the league championship this year. He even has a girlfriend and several good friends, something we thought impossible as recently as five years ago. The other way that his autism manifests itself is that he’s incredibly detail oriented. Some might say anal retentive. He often takes things literally, missing the nuance of humor or sarcasm. But I’m working on him. But that attention to detail I also thought would serve him well in homebrewing. A lot of brewing is precision and consistency.

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I’d been eyeing Russian River Brewing’s pilot brewery — a 20-gallon brew sculpture from MoreBeer — and over time had asked brewer Vinnie Cilurzo how he liked it. I wanted to recreate commercial brewing at home, as best we could, for Porter to learn the brewing process along with the chemistry and science behind it. I spoke to Chris Graham, COO at MoreBeer, about getting a slightly smaller 10-gallon system for Porter and me to brew on. In anticipation of homebrewing, Chris recommended that Porter read John Palmer’s How to Brew. He made it through 18 chapters before he decided it was getting too complicated and felt overwhelmed. Chris and I lamented the fact that there were no books on “homebrewing for kids,” and suggested I work on the problem.

Because the last time I homebrewed was over twenty years ago (when I was a messy carboy homebrewer at best), I thought I’d ask a few friends if they would be willing to help. To my delight, everybody I asked enthusiastically agreed and we set a date, September 7. Vinnie Cilurzo, from Russian River Brewing, agreed to come and brew with Porter for his first time, and we concluded that his first beer most certainly had to be a porter. I thought we’d use one of Vinnie’s old porter recipes, but he surprised us by creating a brand new porter recipe, which he named “Porter’s Porter.” We also got some help from Rich Norgrove, from Bear Republic, Sean Paxton — the Homebrew Chef — and Dave Keene, owner of the Toronado.

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Since we were going to do all-malt brewing, our first job was milling the barley, which Porter’s sister Alice seemed to love doing. Along with some friends, she ran the mill and got ready about twice as much of the base malt as we needed, just because she was enjoying herself so much. She’s now talking about becoming a maltster when she grows up.

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The next step was weighing and measuring out the base malt and specialty malts needed to start the brewing. Porter weighed it out and kept track of the grain build.

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Then Vinnie and Porter started the homebrew and got things really going. If you noticed that camera in the corner, my friend Justin Crossley, from the Brewing Network, brought a film crew to record Porter’s brew day. He interviewed father and son, along with all of the helpers, and is planning on creating a short film about families brewing. After the beer is finished, we’ll take some to the Brewing Network studio, and everyone except Porter will try the beer for the first time on the Sunday show. Should be fun.

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Vinnie watching the numbers, while Porter measures the kettle, getting ready to move the wort for the hop additions.

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Porter making the first hop addition.

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Porter trying the sweet wort for the first time.

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Getting everything set up to transfer the wort to the fermenter using a counterflow chiller, while Vinnie and Rich lamented the fact that we had no glycol.

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Brewmaster Porter and his intern/assistant Vinnie Cilurzo posing for a photo after the brewing was done.

After a six-hour brew day, the wort was in the fermenter and we had to wait for the temperature to drop so we could pitch the yeast. In between, we drank some great beer, ate some tasty food, and enjoyed a beautiful day in Sonoma County. We can’t thank Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo enough for making Porter’s first brew day such a special one. He was thrilled and excited the entire day. In addition to Vinnie and Natalie, it was great seeing (and having the help of) Rich, Tami and Sam Norgrove, Dave and Jennifer Keene, and Sean, Arlene and Olivia Paxton. Five families getting together to eat, drink and brew. And thanks to Justin Crossley for recording it all for posterity. What a day!

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Porter’s Porter fermenting. Stay tuned to see how it all turned out in a couple of weeks.

Homebrewing Finally Legal In All 50 States

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As Mississippi’s ban on homebrewing was lifted today, for the first time since Prohibition made brewing illegal in 1919, homebrewing is finally allowed in all fifty states. My only comment is it’s about damn time. That a supposed clerical error — a typo — made home winemaking legal after prohibition ended while keeping homebrewing illegal is the biggest anti-alcohol bullshit move of all-time, especially when you consider it took a full seventy years to correct that “typo,” at least for all states. The American Homebrewers Association released a statement this morning, as did the Brewers Association:

Unifying the United States homebrew community has long been an aspiration of the American Homebrewers Association (AHA), and we are proud to announce this goal has been achieved with the help of countless dedicated homebrewers and AHA members like you. July 1, 2013 marks the day Mississippi lifts its homebrew restriction, unifying homebrewers in all fifty states for the first time since before prohibition.

Beer history in the United States region predates the very existence of the country as we know it. Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere produced a watery maize-beer, a pre-cursor to modern American adjunct beer, and as the earliest explorers settled down in the New World, America’s contemporary brewing culture was born.

“From our nation’s founders to our current President, this country has a long and storied tradition of homebrewing,” said AHA director Gary Glass.

Even after prohibition was eradicated with the implementation of the 21st Amendment in 1933, homebrewers would still be criminals in the eyes of the federal law for over four-and-a-half decades. President Jimmy Carter signed a bill that went into effect on February 1, 1979 federally legalizing homebrewing, but it remained up to each state to determine their individual alcohol policies, including home beer production. Over the course of the next forty-six years, states adopted legislation, permitting the making of beer at home.

It’s terrific news that finally homebrewing is permitted in every state. It’s been a long time coming.

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Homebrewers Pick The Best Beers In America 2013

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For the 11th straight year, the readers of Zymurgy magazine were asked to send in a list of their 20 favorite commercially available beers. With a record number of votes in the poll’s eleventh year, over 1,100 different breweries were represented in the voting. The results were not exactly shocking, and most of the beers and breweries that got the most votes were what you’d expect, I think, but it’s an interesting list all the same. The results are also printed in the latest issue.
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Top Rated Beers
(T indicates tie)

Seven of the top ten are California beers, with 26 making the list. This is the fifth year in a row AHA members chose Pliny the Elder as the top beer. This also the fourth consecutive year that Bell’s Two Hearted Ale came in second.

1. Russian River Pliny the Elder
2. Bell’s Two Hearted Ale
3. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA
4. Bell’s Hopslam Ale
5. Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
6. Founders Breakfast Stout
7. Arrogant Bastard Ale
8. Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA
T9. Lagunitas Sucks
T9. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
T9. Stone Ruination IPA
T12. North Coast Old Rasputin
T12. Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA
T12. Stone Enjoy By IPA
15. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
16. The Alchemist Heady Topper
T17. Firestone Walker Double Jack
T17. Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout
19. Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale
20. Firestone Walker Wookey Jack
T21. Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA
T21. Three Floyds Zombie Dust
T23. Firestone Walker Union Jack
T23. Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’
25. Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
26. Surly Furious
T27. Deschutes Black Butte Porter
T27. Green Flash West Coast IPA
T27. Troegs Nugget Nectar
30. Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
31. Russian River Consecration
T32. Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale
T32. New Belgium La Folie
T32. Russian River Supplication
35. Avery the Maharaja
36. Lagunitas IPA
37. Stone IPA
38. Odell IPA
T39. Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald
T39. Left Hand Milk Stout
T39. Russian River Pliny the Younger
T42. Odell Myrcenary
T42. Russian River Blind Pig I.P.A.
T42. Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous
45. Firestone Walker Parabola
T46. Ommegang Hennepin Saison Ale
T46. Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro
T48. Ommegang Three Philosophers
T48. Deschutes the Abyss
T48. Green Flash Palate Wrecker
T48. Lagunitas Brown Shugga’

Brewery Rankings

Brewery rankings are based on total votes received by each brewery’s beers. This year’s top brewery is Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido, Calif. Stone placed five beers in the top 50, including its Arrogant Bastard Ale. Best Beer in America producer, Russian River Brewing Company finished second. Seven California breweries made the list, with five from Colorado, and two apiece from Michigan and Pennsylvania.

1. Stone Brewing Co., Escondido, Calif.
2. Russian River Brewing Company, Santa Rosa, Calif.
3. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, Calif.
4. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, Del.
5. Bell’s Brewery, Kalamazoo, Mich.
6. Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Paso Robles, Calif.
7. Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids, Mich.
8. Lagunitas Brewing Company, Petaluma, Calif.
9. New Belgium Brewing Company, Fort Collins, Colo.
10. Deschutes Brewery, Bend, Ore.
11. Odell Brewing Company, Fort Collins, Colo.
12. Three Floyds Brewing Company, Munster, Ind.
13. Avery Brewing Company, Boulder, Colo.
14. Oskar Blues Brewery, Longmont, Colo.
15. Green Flash Brewing Company, San Diego, Calif.
16. The Boston Beer Company, Boston, Mass.
17. Boulevard Brewing Company, Kansas City, Mo.
18. Goose Island Beer Company, Chicago, Ill.
19. New Glarus Brewing Company, New Glarus, Wis.
T20. Great Divide Brewing Company, Denver, Colo.
T20. Ballast Point Brewing Company, San Diego, Calif.
22. Troegs Brewing Co., Hershey, Pa.
23. Great Lakes Brewing Company, Cleveland, Ohio
24. Victory Brewing Company, Downington, Pa.
25. Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, N.Y.

Best Portfolio

They also determined which breweries got the most votes for different beers that they produce, and called that list “best portfolio.” The number following their name is how many of their beers got at least one vote.

1. The Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) (40 beers)
2. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (38 beers)
3. Avery Brewing Company (35 beers)
4. Cigar City Brewing (30 beers)
5. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (29 beers)
6. Bell’s Brewery (28 beers)
7. New Belgium Brewing (27 beers)
T8. Stone Brewing Co. (26 beers)
T8. Goose Island Beer Company (26 beers)
9. Boulevard Brewing Company (25 beers)
10. Deschutes Brewery (24 beers)
T11. Foudners Brewing Company (23 beers)
T11. New Glarus Brewing Company (23 beers)
T11. The Bruery (23 beers)
T11. The Saint Louis Brewery (23 beers)
T15. Rogue Ales (21 beers)
T15. Lagunitas Brewing Company (21 beers)
T15. Odell Brewing Company (21 beers)
T15. Great Divide Brewing Company (21 beers)
T19. Firestone Walker Brewing Company (20 beers)
T19. Three Floyds Brewing Company (20 beers)
T19. Manayunk Brewing Company (19 beers)
22. Papago Brewing Company (19 beers)
T23. Great Lakes Brewing Company (18 beers)
T23. Southern Tier Brewing Company (18 beers)
T23. Victory Brewing Company (18 beers)
T23. Russian River Brewing Company (18 beers)

Top Imports

With a lot of ties, a few imports also received votes as readers’ favorite beers. As in years past, there was a decidedly all-American bent to the voting. Of the top 50 beers in the poll, none were produced by a foreign brewery, although Orval claimed the number one spot among imports.

T1. Orval (Belgium)
T1. Saison Dupont (Belgium)
3. Guinness Draught (Ireland)
T4. Rodenbach Grand Cru (Belgium)
T4. Unibroue La Fin du Monde (Canada)
6. St. Bernardust Abt 12 (Belgium)
7. Duchesse De Bourgogne (Belgium)
T8. Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout (England)
T8. Chimay Grande Reserve/Blue Label (Belgium)
T10. Duvel (Belgium)
T10. Cantillon Gueuze (Belgium)

Alabama Passes Homebrew Legislation

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This is great news, Alabama may soon become the last state to legalize homebrewing since Prohibition, thanks in large part to the grassroots efforts of Right to Brew. According to the American Homebrewers Association:

The Alabama legislature has passed a bill that, once signed by Governor Robert J. Bentley, will effectively legalize homebrewing throughout the state. Alabama will be the last state in the nation to legalize homebrewing.

“Homebrewing has been an integral part of the history of America, so it’s thrilling to know that soon all 50 states will support this growing hobby and long-standing tradition,” said Gary Glass, director, American Homebrewers Association. “We appreciate the backing of all of the homebrewers, the dedicated grassroots efforts of Right to Brew and the legislators who have worked so diligently to make homebrewing a reality in Alabama. We are especially grateful to Representative Mac McCutcheon who introduced this bill and has fought long and hard for its passage, along with Senator Bill Holtzclaw.”

Alabama is the last state holding out against legalizing homebrewing. In March 2013, Mississippi became the 49th state to pass homebrew legislation. The AHA has been working with Right to Brew for five years in order to get the Alabama bill passed.

Homebrewing became federally legal in 1979, though the 21st Amendment predominantly leaves regulation of alcohol to the states. Therefore, even though homebrewing is federally legal, it is up to individual states to legalize homebrewing in state codes. Once the Alabama bill is signed by Gov. Bentley, it will be the first time since pre-Prohibition days that homebrewers in all the states can legally brew at home.

The next step is for the Alabama governor to sign the bill into law. If you’re in Alabama, please urge the governer to do so. You can find out how to help at the Craft Beer website.

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Beer Birthday: Drew Beechum

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Today is the 39th birthday of Drew Beechum, who’s a past president of the Maltose Falcons homebrewing club and its current webmeister. He’s also the author of The Everything Homebrewing Book: All you need to brew the best beer at home! and writes a regular column for Beer Advocate magazine. Join me in wishing Drew a very happy birthday.

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Drew’s Facebook Profile picture.

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Drew at 21st Amendment.

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Drew in a Jayne hat — from Firefly — with his fiancee, Amy.

NOTE: All photos purloined from Facebook.