The first annual OctoBREWfest, held a week ago today on September 17th in Ohio, was an all-around success. Featuring a large variety of traditional fall beers such as Octoberfest, harvest, and pumpkin along with a selection of limited releases and rarities, there was something for everyone to enjoy.

What set this fest particularly apart from other fests was the sheer number of the seasonal beers. It was a great way to compare similar offerings from a number of breweries on one setting. Going by the official list of beers for the fest (which numbered almost 100 different offerings) there were 30 Oktoberfests and 16 pumpkin beers alone! Truly a fall seasonal lover’s delight.

The event was primarily sponsored by Vintage Estate Wine and Beer, organizers of the popular Big Tap In, and rated as the #1 beer retailer in the world. Those who have been to beer festivals in the past will be familiar with the set up: tables of helpful volunteers pouring as much beer as you’d like to enjoy, great music in the background, and great conversation from brewmasters and organizers. Those who have been to the Big Tap In will also be familiar with Master of Ceremony Phill Reda’s enthusiasm for the event, and the all-around fun time he makes sure everyone has.

The event was also for a worthy cause. It benefited the Alliance Firefighters Charities, a nonprofit that raises money for various organizations in need. The attendance was fair for the first year, though it was less attended than similarly sized festival in the area. It was enjoyable, and I imagine will definitely grow in popularity as word of mouth gets around for next year.

Visitors to the OctoBREWfest were greeted with 42 tables of wonderful craft beers. Live music was provided by an event band, as well as a bagpipe group that walked through the crowd regularly and put on a great and entertaining show. Sam Adams also provided some fun beer entertainment by having a stein holding contest, with the national winner receiving some fantastic prizes. The Brew Guys in attendance didn’t do so hot, but hey at least we got some great hats out of the deal!

Food was provided by area and national retailers, and included Herman’s Hot Sauce, B-Hoppy Candy (a wonderful treat!), Rude Dawgs, Tastefully Simple, Uncle Jim’s Mustard, and Primo’s Ristorante from Canton.

There was some particular winners among the lineup of beer offerings available (which you can view at the OctoBREWfest website). We were particularly impressed by the number of offerings from Germany, with a couple of them being difficult to find state-side for most people. Some winning Octoberfest beers included Brew Kettle Oktoberfest, Weihenstephaner Festbier, Victory Festbier, and (no surprise) Hofbrau Octoberfest. Each of them were great examples of the style, with a wonderful grain character from the malts which typically included Munich and Vienna malts. Oktoberfest beers and perfect for the season, and I could have spent the whole day just tasting Oktoberfest beers and been perfectly happy!

Pumpkin beer lovers rejoice! Not much makes me thinkmore of Fall than pumpkin beers. Whether it be a heavily spiced pumpkin beer or one that relies more on flavor from the pumpkin itself, there were representations of every interpretation. The ever popular Dogfish Head Punkin Ale was in attendance, with other wonderful pumpkin brews such as Hoppin’ Frog Double Pumpkin Ale, Heavy Seas Greater Pumpkin (aged in bourbon barrels), and Southern Tier Pumking rounding out some of the best there. Somewhat disappointing was Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin, which we were looking forward to trying. It was very malt forward with a distinct lack of much pumpkin or spice flavor. A fine beer from a great brewery, but not a great pumpkin beer in my opinion.

There was no shortage of beers which were special releases and hard to find. Hoppin’ Frog brought along their Fifth Anniversary beer, dubbed “Barrel Aged Naked Evil BBW Belgian-style Barley Wine-style Ale”. It was a delicious, strong beer with a nice Belgian yeast character. Heavy, but not overtly sweet, and surprisingly drinkable. Sierra Nevada brewing also brought an anniversary beer, their 30th Anniversary “Jack and Ken’s Ale”, which is best described as a black barleywine. It was an excellent beer with nice dark malt character, and at a strong 10.20% ABV was unusually smooth and full of flavor. Both of these beers were only brewed once and will only ever be brewed once, so definitely give them a try if you ever get the chance.

With a nice atmosphere, good music, and great fall seasonal beer selections, I expect the OctoBREWfest to grow in subsequent years and look forward to what the next festival has to offer. I would like to offer my thanks to Phill and Sandy Reda for hosting the event, and for their wonderful hospitality at Vintage Estate and every event that they are a part of.


What’s one of the more ancient beer styles you can think of? Chances are, it’s not as old as a traditional Finnish beer.. Sahti! Sahti is one of the older styles of beer that is still being brewed (even commercially). It’s actually doing quite well for how old it is, being brewed at home across Finland, and is typically served as a celebratory beverage.

So, what is Sahti? We set out to find out, and to try our hand at brewing both a traditional and a modern version.

Traditional Sahti is a juniper-infused ale with no hops that is not boiled, that is typically fairly high in alcohol content (one source states the original gravity should be no lower than 1.075). It is quite cloudy, as the traditional yeast is a very, very poor flocculator. Even after days in the fridge you won’t be able to clear this ale up. The flavor profile is interesting and very complex due to the unique ingredients that go into it. Primarily among these is the juniper, which lends a pinous, “Christmas-y” flavor to the ale, which is somewhat reminiscent of hops, and helps balance out any residual sweetness from the malts.

The second primary flavor contributor to sahti is the yeast. Traditionally, it is brewed simply with Finnish baking yeast. Though you can certainly get away with substitutes, using Finnish baking yeast is very important, and practically necessary to brewing this ancient ale. The flavor profile is a far cry different than baking yeast you can get in the US, and I would suspect different from that of other areas. It’s somewhat similar to a German Hefeweizen strain (with some banana and clove notes), but it comes through a bit more spicy (somewhat like a saison strain). It’s very unique, and certainly is a powerful fermenter, shredding through sugars like it’s nothing. If you can get your hands on Finnish baking yeast, certainly do so, but you can make due with a German weizen strain in a pinch if you ferment it in the low 60s.

So let’s walk you through what we learned about this fascinating beverage, and how we went about brewing both a traditional batch and one with a more modern approach.

Our goal for the traditional version of this ale was to keep it as authentic as we reasonably could. We opted for no boil, no hops, and a reasonably traditional grain bill. With the modern version, we took the exact same wort but did a short 10min boil with 1oz of Williamette hops. The goal was to give it some shelf life so that we could bottle it and have it last for awhile without spoiling.

Grain Bill
You definitely have some wiggle room when it comes to the grain bill you want to use as it’s not particularly set in stone, and differs depending on which part of Finland you are in. There is a Sahti malt blend available in Finland that is about 80% Pilsner malt, 10% enzymatic malt, and 10% crystal malt, but many brewers of Sahti throw in some dark rye malt to compliment this. Rye malt is commonly used, so we opted to use a percentage of that as well. Be somewhat adventurous with your grain bill if you’d like (you can even use 100% Pilsner malt), but in our opinion using some rye malt really helps keep it in line with what the brewers in Finland are doing, and adds some nice spicy qualities.

The Mash and Sparge
Given that Sahti has been brewed for centuries, it makes sense that the ancient brewers really had no idea what mash temps they were hitting! There were typically multiple hot water additions to the wooden mash tuns, hitting multiple temperature rests. What is unbelievably interesting is that, according to a Brewing Techniques article on Sahti, their mash schedules corresponded fairly nicely to some modern temperature rests. A first rest would have come in at about 122F (a protein rest), a second at 140-149F (first saccharification rest), and lastly at 158-167F (second saccharification rest). We roughly followed this mash schedule, mashing in our 7.5gal boil kettle so we could hit our step temps by direct fire on the stove (plus our mash tun isn’t big enough for the grain bill we needed).

Traditionally, after mashing the Sahti is ladeled into a “kuurna”, which is a long trough-like vessel. It is lined with juniper branches to filter the mash, and has a drain on one end to collect the runnings. Given that I couldn’t fit a kuurna into my apartment, we improvised by lining the bottom of our mash tun with juniper branches and ladeled our mash into there for the sparge. Alternatively, you could try putting juniper branches into your mash for the whole time, but we’ve heard from a few people that that imparts way too much juniper flavor.

Recipe and Technique
So with all of that information, here’s what we did to come up with 2.5 gal of traditional, and 2.5 gal of modern sahti.

Estimated OG: 1.086 at 65% efficiency
Final Gravity: No idea, we’ll find out soon!
Color: 6.2 SRM
Batch Size: 5 US gallons

Grain Bill
14 lbs  Pilsner (77.8%)
2 lbs Light Munich (11.1%)
2 lbs Rye Malt (11.1%)

Misc. Ingredients
- Enough juniper to line the bottom of your tun
- 1 oz of a low alpha acid hop for the  modern half (we used Williamette)

Yeast : Finnish baking yeast. We used 12 g of yeast for each version

- Mash in at about 122F, and hold it for 20 minutes. Raise mash temperature to about 150F, and hold for 35min, then raise to about 162F and hold for 30min.

- Line the bottom of your mash tun with juniper about 4 inches thick (berries, branches and all). Ladle the mash into the tun to filter through the juniper. If you have a 5 gal tun like us, you’ll need to drain the tun before you have the full mash in  to be able to get it all through. If you have a 10 gal tun I’m sure you could fit the whole mash before you sparge. Warning: I don’t know if it was just us or not, but you may have a stuck or very slow sparge. At one point we had to redo the juniper bed to be able to sparge, but that may have been just bad luck on our part.
- At this point you should have collected 5 gallons of wort, strained through the juniper. Check your gravity at this point, and now we diverge for the traditional and modern versions.

TraditionalTake 2.5 gallons of the wort that you just collected and put it into a carboy. That’s it! No boil, no hops, nothing else but yeast. Oxygenate the wort, rehydrate and pitch your yeast appropriately, and you’re done! For fermentation, we let it go on it’s own for about four days until it was done fermenting, then cooled it to cellar temp of 55F for one week. It’s not unusual for traditional sahti to have been stored in the cellar for awhile before being drank.

Modern – Take the other 2.5 gallons of the wort, transfer back to your now clean boil kettle, and do a short 10min boil with one ounce of low alpha acid hops. Cool, then transfer into a carboy of its own. Oxygenate and pitch your yeast. Now that one is done! Like the traditional version, we did not control fermentation temperature and let it go wild. This one did not have a period at cellar temperature.

So we have Sahti brewed, now what?! The traditional you’ll want to drink very young. The only preservative quality it has going for it is the somewhat high alcohol content and, while that will help, it is eventually going to spoil.  Do not bottle or carbonate the traditional version! Transfer to a secondary before drinking if you want to get it off the majority of the lees. Drink it like our Scandinavian brethren of old: cloudy as hell, flat, and directly from the fermentation vessel! Drinking horns are optional but strongly recommended! Also optional, juniper mustaches.

We’re right at the tail end of fermentation for both of these. The modern version we are letting sit for 2-3weeks following a more standard protocol, and we will then bottle and carbonate it lightly to maybe 2.5 volumes of CO2.

Since we are at the tail end of both of these, you aren’t going to have to wait long for a report back on how the batches turned out, what they taste like, and our overall impressions. We did sneak a taste of the traditional version already, and boy is it interesting! Very tasty, but look for a full update within the coming week or two.

Questions? Concerns? Did we miss explaining something crucial? Please comment below and let us know, we’d be more than happy to help you out if you want to try brewing something like this yourself. Until then, Kippis!

The Brewers Association, the trade association representing the majority of U.S. brewing companies, has released strong mid-year numbers for America’s small and independent craft brewers¹. Dollar sales were up 15 percent in the first half of 2011, excluding brewers who left the craft segment in 2010². Volume of craft brewed beer sold grew 14 percent for the first six months in 2011, compared to 9 percent growth in the first half of 2010.

Barrels sold by craft brewers for the first half of the year are an estimated 5.1 million barrels. Despite many challenges, the mid-year numbers show signs of continued growth for craft breweries. The industry currently provides an estimated 100,000 jobs, contributing significantly to the U.S. economy.

“Craft brewers continue to innovate and brew beers of excellent quality,” noted Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. “America’s beer drinkers are rapidly switching to craft because of the variety of flavors they are discovering. And they are connecting with small and independent craft brewers as companies they choose to support.”

The U.S. now boasts 1,790 breweries—an increase of 165 additional breweries since June 2010. The Brewers Association also tracks breweries in planning as an indicator of potential new entrants into the craft category, and lists 725 breweries in planning today compared to 389 a year ago. Additionally, the count of craft brewers was at 1,740 as of June 30, 2011.

“There is a growing interest in establishing new breweries,” Gatza added. “It seems like every day we are hearing about a brewery in planning. Will they all make it? No, but many will if they produce high-quality, interesting craft beers and can get them to market through self-distribution and beer wholesalers and beer retailers.”

I found this interesting graph here that shows the number of US breweries over the past 110 years. Finally we’re at 2011, and we’ve just surpassed our highest number of breweries pre-prohibition! Nice to see we’ve been on the upswing and finally got back to “normal”.

Multiple sources have reported recently that InBev/Anheuser-Busch has been trademarking various area codes throughout the country. A list of area codes confirmed trademarked by the company:

314 (St. Louis), 412 (Pittsburgh), 305 (Miami), 619 (San Diego), 202 (Washington DC), 602 (Phoenix), 704 (Charlotte), 702 (Las Vegas), 214 (Dallas), 415 (San Fransisco), 216 (Cleveland), 303 (Denver), 615 (Nashville),  713 (Houston)

There are some hot spots on that list for craft beer. So what does this mean exactly? It’s hard to say. As  you might know, Goose Island (recently bought by InBev) has a “312″ beer, which is the area code the brewery is located in. It’s possible InBev/A-B wants to expand this concept across the country, but it’s ALSO possible that they are buying up the trademarks so that other craft breweries are not able to use them. And really, would anyone be surprised by the company doing that?

For now we’ll have to wait and see, and we’ll be sitting here in Pittsburgh wondering if we’ll soon see a “412 Golden Lime Bud Light Wheat” concoction or something of the sort. Prost!

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