Archive for the ‘ideas’ Category

barrel sampling

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015


one important task in the barrel house involves the maintenance of barreled beer, which includes airlock, bung, and barrel upkeep as well as periodic sampling of barreled product.  although the image of a group of guys with clipboards standing around sampling dozens of labeled beer glasses sounds fun, in actuality it gets pretty labor intensive.

  • first off, there is the challenge of finding barrels to be sampled.  even though we initiated a cloud-based shared barrel log that is continually updated with new product, barrels are moved constantly as different beers are selected to be kegged, bottled, fruited, and blended.  as a result, BL, DI, and myself are always seen shimmying between barrel stacks with a flashlight for a good portion of our QA time.  when you do find the barrel, it is inevitably on the top of a stack, so access requires a little bit of acrobatics and/or forklift maneuvering.
  • once the barrel is sourced, we have to schlep over a bucket of sanitizer with a thief and spare airlock/bung parts for sampling.  although I use the “vinnie nail” sampling system in my basement barrel, we at phantom carriage we sample using a wine thief.  although this undoubtedly results in more exposure during sampling, my though process is that making sampling more difficult (by having to clean and sanitize a thief) reduces sampling frequency and eliminates meddling by curious passersby.  I personally try to minimize interaction with developing beer, dipping into barrels only when absolutely necessary.
  • once the beer is sampled, we label the glass/cup with the barrel identifier and move on until we have a sufficient amount of samples to compare.  I usually try to sample similar styles together to make it easier to pick up different nuances between barrels or to see how fruit additions add to the overall complexity of a finished beer.  there are various objectives during QA sampling – we can be checking a maturity level of a batch, seeing how bright a fruit addition is in the barrel, and/or picking out flavor and aroma components for an upcoming blend or collaboration.
  • no matter what the objective is, the tools stay the same – a clipboard or notebook for detailed tasting notes, plenty of bread and water (I prefer sparkling) to cleanse the palate, a diverse group of tasters to get a wide spectrum of opinions, a dump bucket or floor drain for handling heavy pours, and a clean glass with some rinse water.  limiting discussion of each sample to a few minutes ensures that the tasting doesn’t unravel, and after a few hours of analysis everyone’s tongues are shot and most people are jonesing for a full pour of a nice pils or session IPA.
  • after filling and sampling from hundreds of unique wine barrels (and a slowly increasing number of spirit barrels), I am happy to report that we have a bunch of fun releases on the horizon, both on draft and in bottles. be sure to check out the phantom carriage website for updates!



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bottling barrel aged wild beers

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015


wow, has it really been a year since my last post? these past twelve months have flown by as the phantom carriage has grown and expanded.  we took on a head brewer, an assistant brewer, a bar manager, and a graphic designer, and our employee count is now in the double digits.  since we have a great team in place, I feel comfortable jumping back into blogging and plan on monthly updates that focus on different wild beer production implementation aspects.

  • specifically, I hope to highlight instances where our team was able to apply a DIY homebrewing approach to the professional arena to achieve one or more benefits (e.g., improved quality, money savings, etc.).
  • for example, one of our team’s recent goals has been the bottling of our beers.  however, off-the-shelf bottling solutions easily run thousands of dollars, and appear to use a trough system that seems to expose beer to oxygen during the bottling process.
  • luckily, commercial brewers utilize a forum similar to  while researching bottling implementations I came across a post describing a home built rig capable of counter pressure bottle filling (which minimizes oxygen exposure) which cost a fraction of the pre-fab systems.  the next week BL and I put our rig together with a morebeer order, a sawzall, a drill, and some elbow grease (morebeer sells a similar rig for a pretty steep markup here).
  • after some successful practice runs, we got the team together and ran more than a thousand bottles of non-barrel aged beer through the system.  once we had our setup dialed I started tinkering with our barrel aged offerings, which require a little more care to bottle condition.
  • more specifically, the high gravity and significant age of our barrel aged wild beers necessitate the addition of yeast during bottling to ensure adequate carbonation.  I have done this successfully many times in the past at home, and slightly tweaked my implementation to give even our double-digit ABV beers the best chance of carbing up in the bottle.
  • before bottling day I whipped up a large yeast starter and calculated my priming sugar amounts to achieve my target volume.  since we currently only bottle one oak barrel worth of beer at a time, I primed a half barrel sanke keg with the sugar solution, filled the keg halfway with beer, added a portion of my yeast starter, and topped off the keg with beer.  once the keg was full, we hooked it up to our bottling line, bottled and capped, and refilled once the keg was empty (the keg was only refilled two more times).  keg filling can even be performed in parallel with bottling to save time, although once you start getting into higher volumes it becomes more prudent to bottle straight off of a brite tank.
  • building our own bottling line has really simplified the bottling process while maximizing the quality of the beer in the bottle.  I only wish I had one of these suckers when I was bottling at home, especially since a two-head system will only run you a couple hundred bucks!

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firestone walker: rough cuts & remixes trip

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014


last weekend I accompanied my fellow LA beer bloggers up to los olivos, buellton, and paso robles for another unforgettable blogger’s weekend held by firestone walker.

  • the event was a follow up to last year’s journey to the center of the barrel, a whirlwind of barrel-aging, winemaking, beer blending, and local-focused fine dining that left me  humble and grateful for the opportunity to participate.  honestly, I felt that last year’s experience was too over-the-top to be matched, much less bested, by any subsequent event.
  • I couldn’t have been more wrong – FW doubled down and pulled out all the stops to create an experience unlike any other.  upon our arrival david walker ushered us to FW’s original grassroots brewing facility, which is now the home of andrew murray vineyards.  andrew himself poured us a glass of his recent harvest and ran through some winemaking 101 before we all headed back to a luxe campsite for some amazing santa maria-style barbeque and some breaking news.
  • the news had to do with my favorite topic – wild beer.  DW and AM were joined by jeffers richardson and “sour jim” crooks from their barrelworks program, who poured samples of their upcoming (and very impressive) bretta rose and let it slip that many future wild projects were in the works.  I was stoked to hear that these projects involved collaborating with andrew murray and aging on both grape juice and pomace – we tried samples of both techniques and I was excited to see the potential for pomace aging (it imparted a vivid strawberry character that was very unique).  later that night I was able to share some bottles of cabrillo, vizcaino, and my kriek while talking shop with the whole crew.
  • the next morning we cruised up to the paso robles facility where head brewer dustin kral gave us a comprehensive tour of FW’s latest developments, including massive fermentation space increases as well as intricate kegging and canning(!) lines, which should help streamline production and make it even easier to get fresh beer in your hands (I’m pumped for the possibility of some canned pivo pils in the future)!  speaking of fresh beer, we also participated in a quality control tasting session, where we saw firsthand how age and warm temps warp fresh, hoppy beer into something less than desirable.  I’ll have to bring the whole QC thing up the next time AP questions the three beer fridges humming along in the basement.
  • the trip ended with a bang over at villicana winery, home to RE:FIND distillery.  alex and monica villicana treated us like family, walking us through their four-run distillation process on their alembic still and talking us through a gin blending session that resulted in one-off custom gin and tonics.  we finished the night with an amazing outdoor dinner provided by FW’s chef that was accompanied by outstanding custom cocktails and FW beers.  before leaving, alex and monica presented us with bottles of writer’s blanc, a white whiskey commemorating the LABB weekend that was made by distilling a massive quantity of FW’s 805 blonde ale.  I was humbled not only by the thoughtfulness and generosity of FW and RE:FIND, but also by the spirit itself – like their brandy, the whisky has wonderful character and body, especially when compared to many white/neutral spirits.  the fact that they re-purpose an otherwise disposable juice cut to make their brandy is icing on the cake.  I cannot overstate how cool this place was to visit.
  • on the ride back to LA my head was spinning (and not because of the parabola JV cracked open to share on the blogger bus).  collaboration, innovation, community pride/support, and local sourcing of high-quality ingredients to create a great product with a local identity are all ideas that FW champions, and those ideas make it easy to stand behind a brewery, regardless of whether they make a world-class product (which FW undoubtedly does).  the weekend left me inspired and motivated to not only continuously strive to improve my own brewing/business processes, but to also appreciate and support an area for what makes it unique.  thanks again for a great weekend!

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brett pale ale variations

Saturday, February 1st, 2014


as you may have guessed from my earlier posts, I have a thing for pale ales that have brettanomyces added in secondary.

  • as a result, I was motivated to create something in the same vein as beers like orval, rayon vert, brux, etc.
    – beers that are somewhat sessionable yet earthy and spicy, with a rocky head and a funk that grows over time in the bottle/keg.
  • I was also intrigued by beers such as the historic ballantine IPA that was supposedly aged for a year in oak and aroma hopped with hop extract, and wanted to incorporate some of those unique characteristics as well to create a unique “wood aged brett pale.”
  • I ended up going with a grain bill of maris otter, vienna, crystal 80 and 40, and wheat for a solid malt backbone, with a starting gravity of 1.062.  I bittered with columbus and added late aroma additions of chinook and simcoe for layered pine notes and a smooth bitterness (~55 IBU).
  • for fermentation purposes, I split the batch between ECY17 burton union and WLP510 bastogne.  I had originally planned to go with ECY10 old newark (one of the original ballantine strains) but my starter was so violently active (after less than six hours) the majority of top cropping yeast blew out of my erlenmeyer flask and my leftover pitch didn’t go anywhere.  east coast yeast is the only provider whose vials I will directly pitch into wort without stepping up (the ECY17 vial took off in only an hour or two after pitching).
  • after two weeks in primary at a controlled 65F, the WLP510 fermentor was at 1.01 and the ECY17 fermentor was at 1.013.  I racked both into corny kegs, primed with 2.5oz. sugar, and pitched orval bottle dregs into each.  I was planning on adding an american oak cube to each keg as well, but didn’t have any lying around.  I am also tossing around the idea of dry hopping them before serving (which might be challenging now that I primed the kegs).
  • I’m planning on tapping the kegs after three months and seeing which version works better with brett.  the base beers both tasted great during kegging, so hopefully they’ll keep improving!

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happy new year!

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

happy new year!

2013 was full of memorable events:

2014 should be even more exciting – for starters, the phantom carriage brewery/blendery/cafe will be opening in carson, hopefully sooner than later (and with plenty of goodies in store).  hopefully all you blog readers can come check out the facility!

have a great new year!


applejack, ice concentration techniques

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013


as hinted in my earlier post, I decided to use my new freezer real estate to jack (fractionally freeze) my cider.

  • originally intended as a basque-style cider served in sagardotegis, after two years(!) in a keg my cider was dry and satisfying, but not significantly funky or complex, as I had hoped (I believe this has to do with apple selection, wild yeast availability, and the quick initial fermentation brought on by simple apple sugars).
  • as a result, with a little under four gallons of cider hogging one of my four house taps, I decided to free up space and simultaneously create some holiday-appropriate hooch by jacking the cider.
  • although my previous attempt at jacking/eising was successful, it was slow and involved significant oxygenation of the resulting product.  in fact, most online eising references suggest simply freezing your beer/wine/cider in a plastic gallon jug, inverting said jug over a receptacle, and letting the end result trickle out of the bottom over the course of a two hour period until the ice in the jug is clear.  although this technique would seem to maximize yield, it would do so at the expense of a higher proof (and oxygenates the hell out of the liquid as it drips out).
  • as a result, I decided to try a different technique for jacking my cider.  first, I transferred the cider from a 5 gal corny keg into a 2.5 gal corny keg (after purging the latter with CO2), leaving about a third of the keg empty to allow for expansion during freezing.  then I tossed the smaller keg into the freezer of my new kegerator for a 24hr period.  after removing the keg from the freezer, I knocked the bottom of the keg against the ground a few times to center the ice in the keg.
  • I then purged some sanitized bottles with CO2, tapped the keg, and began filling the bottles from the tap (my growler filling insert/tube didn’t fit my portable tap or I would have used that as well to further limit oxygen exposure while bottling).  at first, the tap yielded a small trickle of liquid (presumably from ice in the dip tube), but after a little pouring, shaking, and knocking, all the ice was dislodged and my bottles filled up in a matter of minutes.
  • after no more liquid could be poured from the keg I popped the lid and saw that at least 2/3 of the keg’s volume had turned to ice.  I dumped this ice in my sink, but it would be possible to use the drip method described above to wring out every last drop of cider and increase your yield.
  • now for the tasting notes:
    • applejack (sampled ice cold immediately after jacking)
    • appearance: straw gold, minimal carbonation, hazy (likely due to chill haze)
    • aroma: boozy, floral, apple esters
    • taste: palate coating and prickly, strong warm apple
    • overall: a great, easy drinking holiday alternative to standard cider
  • my 3.5-4 gal of 7%abv cider yielded approximately one gallon of applejack.  the results of my jacking method were great – compared to other drip methods, “keg jacking” is much faster (10 min vs. 2 hours+), results in a higher proof result (at the cost of a reduced yield), and minimizes oxygen exposure.  I’m definitely planning on repeating this process with my next cider.



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new kegerator

Thursday, November 7th, 2013


after over three years of dutifully servicing hundreds of homebrew pours, my keezer/kegerator gave up the ghost.

  • it wasn’t too surprising, as I had purchased the chest freezer used, and cycling the freezer repeatedly to act as a refrigerator using an inline temp controller couldn’t have been good on the compressor.  despite the significant effort I had put into my now-dead keezer, I wasn’t too sad to see it go.  the lack of air circulation and humidity control resulted in an accumulation of moisture that even a large dessicant couldn’t control, and it was always a pain swapping in full kegs since they had to be awkwardly lifted to fit over the lip of the keezer collar.
  • therefore, my replacement was a full-size refrigerator.  I scored a used model on craigslist that matched my other basement fridge – many thanks go out to MS for helping me swap fridges though my narrow basement staircase.  after getting the fridge into position, I cut one head off a full-sized barrel using a sawzall and mounted it to the fridge using some threaded bolts.  four faucet holes and a little internal hacking/improvising later resulted in a kegerator that clearly conveys my preferred aging vessels.
  • the fridge fits four corny kegs without modification (with room for bottles in two bottom drawers), and my tiny CO2 tank tucks nicely into the door.  as a bonus, the freezer seems sizable enough to start working on some more ice concentration projects.  a little thanksgiving applejack, anyone?


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bkyeast experiment update

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

a copy

it’s hard to believe that it has been over eight months since I first pitched bkyeast’s isolates into some neutral blonde wort to experiment with.

  •  the initial tasting was a little underwhelming, likely due to the fact that I hadn’t given each strain enough time (only about a month) to work its magic.  therefore, I stashed some bottles aside and promptly forgot about them until a few weeks back, when I popped them into the fridge to chill.  here are the results.
  • Picture 153WY3191 brett isolate
    • appearance: fluffy white head that lasts, good clarity
    • aroma: citrus, lemon, earth
    • taste: dry, lemony, slight mustiness, great prickly carbonation, slight acidity
    • overall: very tasty, great end product, good option for a long-term saison











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  • cantillon iris isolate C2
    • appearance: bubbles rush to top of bottle when opened, fluffy, fine head
    • aroma: complex dirty funk with slight medicinal edge, unique, almost floral
    • taste: creamy, coating mouthfeel, slight perceived sweetness
    • overall: interesting aroma, lacks the dry effervescent brettiness that I prefer










  • Picture 164cantillon iris isolate C3
    • appearance: vigorous, fluffy, long-lasting head
    • aroma: chalky, fruity hard candy, medicinal finish
    • taste: creamy, sweet, floral
    • overall: another interesting result with good carbonation, just not as exciting or dramatic as WY3191











  • in the end, I preferred the carbonation, finish, and acidity of the WY3191 isolate.  who knows, maybe it will make another appearance in the future…

firestone walker invitational

Friday, June 7th, 2013

the flood gates

last weekend’s firestone walker invitational was incredible.

  • after reviewing my photos of the event, it became clear to me that the focus of the invitational was on relationships – friendships between brewers, media, and industry representatives, valued business and social ties between producers and consumers, and the intertwining of a brewery and its community.  the majority of my shots were portraits of those involved with and passionate about beer and its associated culture, local to international in scope.  as the day progressed I discussed current events with south bay media, caught up on the latest releases from northern california, the midwest, and the east coast, and swapped beers and stories with brewers from as far away as germany and japan.
  • oh, and then there was the beer.  the available selection at the festival was over-the-top, and included dozens of world-class beers of all styles and gravities, from the palate-assaulting three floyds barrel aged dark lord and cigar city’s brandy barrel hunahpu to the sessionable birrifico italiano tipopils and refreshing barrelworks/mikkeler lil’ mikkel.  those examples were just the tip of the iceberg – the selection was really comprehensive and unique, and was likely the best I’ve ever encountered at an event.
  • my unforgettable barrel journey to paso robles was my first exposure to the passion and generosity of firestone walker, and the fw invitational picked up right where the former left off.  both satisfying and inspiring, this event is one I can’t wait to revisit for many years to come.

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phantom carriage muis, vizcaino bottling, beer paper LA

Monday, May 20th, 2013

     vizcaino II

time for some overdue professional, homebrew, and beer scene updates!

  • a couple of weekends ago the phantom carriage’s first release, muis, made an appearance at the tour of long beach’s craft beer garden.  inspired by my all-brett blonde experiment, muis is an all-brett belgian blonde with terrific mouthfeel, a smooth backing bitterness, and a great earthy tropical fruit aroma.  this batch was keg conditioned instead of being force carbonated, which results in a fine effervescence and great fluffy head.  stay tuned for mainstream release information – this beer will be on LA south bay taps soon!
  • last weekend I kegged and bottled vizcaino II, the latest iteration of my golden strong wild ale.  while my other pipeline wild beers were inspired by commercial brews, vizcaino’s recipe was formulated from scratch, and my first stab at it left me a little disappointed.  however, after reworking the recipe and mash schedule based on my pipeline experience and racking the batch onto a mess of raspberry puree, I ended up with what I can only describe as an “imperial framboise” – a 10.23% (finished at 1.005) brilliant red brew with an intense yet smooth acidity that transitions seamlessly into some serious raspberry flavors.  I can’t wait until this carbs up.
  • on a final note, I want to congratulate beer paper LA on the release of their first physical publication.  I stopped by their release party at beachwood BBQ long beach and was filled with pride for the ever-evolving LA beer scene (kip at bierkast has a great writeup that I completely resonate with).  it’s never been a better time to be a beer drinker in LA!  

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