Pilot Batch, Part 3: Success!

Today’s players:

Tom (brewer)

Lou Farrell (local chef, historian/archaeologist, craft beer judge, and pickle aficionado)

Steve Fillmore (writer and beer geek and home brew groupie)


To taste-test the pilot batch to determine if the combination of the cluster and noble hops evokes the flavor of a historic 19th century maibock beer -and- to make as much yeast as possible for the Hohenadel throwback lager.


We’d be lying if we said that the “catpiss flavor” associated with cluster hops didn’t concern us when we sampled our pilot batch on Monday July 14th.

No one wanted to say it, but we were all watching each other’s expressions during that first sip… scanning for signs of “BBF” — Bitter Beer Face — as we smacked our lips optimistically. Surprise! This maligned little throwback hop turned out to be an instant success on all fronts, providing a brown cream ale flavor plus a nice dark color that reminded us of worn leather bar stools.

The pilot batch. Note the band of yeast sediment at the bottom. According to Lou, the “happiest, most active yeast is in the middle layer of that band.” That layer is the basis for the Hohenadel lager.

That said, it wasn’t yet a maibock, either. Lou described the most dominant flavor as a “sulfur hit at the back of the mouth.” That “matchstick flavor” is expected from a green beer made from lager yeast. That flavor, along with a “touch of yeastiness,” will drop out of the beer as it ages, he said. (It needs about 3 weeks of aging, at least.)

In fact, there could be far worse flavors than matchsticks in a beer at this stage, according to Tom:

There are off-flavors or odors that indicate infection in the yeast or poor fermentation. A taste of sourness or mustyness–or odors like sweat or vomit–indicate infection. Green apple or butter flavors indicate poor fermentation (poor yeast health) or are the result of taking the beer too quickly away from the yeast. Burnt rubber aromas would have meant the yeast colony is dying.

If either infection or poor yeast performance had cropped up, we would have scrapped the bad yeast in the one carboy, and started two batches with the yeast in the other one. If the worst had happened (two messed up yeast cakes), one of us would have had to drive to the closest homebrew store and would have had to have purchased two packages of yeast for each carboy to have enough yeast cells for our beers.”

As for the beer’s thin body, Tom wasn’t surprised. We’re making a “welcome to summer kind of beer, you’re looking for something slightly lighter in the body.”

CONCLUSION: The cluster hops were a success, and would need little tweaking in the Hohenadel recipe that Tom and Lou immediately started brewing (below)

On to Hohenadel

While a layer of “happy, active yeast” awaited at the bottom of the carboys, Tom and Lou brewed the Hohenadel beer.

Hohenadel Malts
Left: Tom adds to malt to mash tun. Right: Flaked corn, Farmhouse Malt, and White Labs yeast. Weyerman malt was used for the pilot batch.

Flaked corn and Weyermann yeast formed the grain bed. Tom poured the water very carefully to prevent digging into the bed, which could have made for a “stuck mash.” A stuck mash will prevent proper filtration of boiling water through the grain bed and may change the character of the beer.

Tom and Lou discuss ratios in the Hohenadel recipe.
The initial boil, with cluster hops added.

Although we had to leave before Tom pitched the wort onto the yeast cakes in the carboys, we received the following update that night:

Looks like about 2 degrees lovibond (the color of afternoon urine), with an original gravity of 1.046. (I was going for 1.048 to 1.052), we’re a little short of sugar in the wort, so slightly less alcohol and more hop presence, but it should be okay. It’s pretty close. Beer is in the basement right now, should be perking away later this evening.

Curiosities and asides

Colonial hops?

Lou Farrell brought an interesting hop with him to the brewing. He harvested it about 30 years ago from a “Yellow Fever” house that had burned down in Fairmount Park. Lou had taken the hop to a biologist friend who had never seen that variety before. The friend speculated that it might be a strain grown during the 18th century.


We crushed the hops in our fingers, which elicited a grassy aroma. Although these hadn’t fully matured, the bitter taste recalled grapefruit rind and lingered for a long time on the tongue.


Pickles Plus

Lou brought along a specialty plate of pickled items: tomatoes, jalapenos, pickles, and cactus. Never tried pickled cactus before, but I’m a believer now.

Lou's pickles and jalapenos
Lou’s pickles and jalapenos

Beware the chipmunk!

It wouldn’t be a brewing session at Tom’s without a visit from the local wildlife. This is Lorraine, a fan of all things homebrew, but particularly the smell of mash in the tun.

Chipmunk Lorraine

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