Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Holiday Beer Recipe: Original Gravity Brewing's Sweet Potato Brown

Posted By on Wed, Dec 23, 2015 at 12:00 PM

Tony Ammendolia of Original Gravity & Final Gravity Brewing Co. began brewing at home in 1993. He opened Original Gravity, his home-brew supply store in 2011. It quickly outgrew the space and moved to 6118 Lakeside Ave. last fall.

Part of that expansion included room to commercially brew beer, and Ammendolia began serving Final Gravity beer at the end of the summer.

“In the future,” he says, “we look to offer kits of some of our beers so you can make them at home, as well as classes for those looking to get into brewing.”

Until then, Ammendolia graciously shares this recipe Growler’s for home-brewing readers.

Sweet Potato Brown
Yield: 5 gallons


3.5 pounds sweet potatoes (peeled and cubed)
5.5 pound Maris Otter malt
1 pound 6-row brewer’s malt
0.7 pound Crystal 40L malt
0.35 pound flaked barley
0.35 pound Crystal 120L malt
0.35 pound Victory malt
0.06 pound Carafa III malt
0.06 pound chocolate malt
0.5 pound lactose (add last 15 minutes of the boil)
1 ounce East Kent Goldings hops (60 minutes)
1 vanilla bean (5 minutes)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (5 minutes)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (5 minutes)
1 vial RVA101 Chico ale yeast
4-5 ounces priming sugar


Mash the grains and sweet potatoes together and cook at 153 degrees for 60 minutes. Follow the directions for each ingredient. Allow the wort to cool. Take a hydrometer reading — original gravity should be 1.056. Add the yeast, cover and ferment until two consecutive hydrometer readings are the same. Add the priming sugar and bottle. The beer will be ready to drink in about two weeks.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Richmond Designer Tom Brickman on the Craft of Making Ardent’s Tap Handles

Posted By on Fri, Dec 18, 2015 at 12:15 PM

It takes more than 85 different steps to make one Ardent Craft Ale beer tap handle.

“I made a bunch of different prototypes for them,” designer and fabricator Tom Brickman says. Once the decision-making process was over, the final design turned out to be extremely labor-intensive.

“They’re made of maple on the sides, bamboo in the middle, and they’re tapered on all four sides,” Brickman says. The Ardent rosette is inset and is silkscreened twice — and the Ardent brand is silkscreened twice on the sides well. Each handle also has a slot so that the names of the different varieties of beer can be inserted and switched.

In other words, there’s a lot of precision cutting, gluing, sanding and custom fitting going on.

“I was trying to keep the same feel as the interior of the pouring room of the brewery,” he says. “I wanted it to jibe with the space.”

He went into it with his eyes open — after all, he came up with the complicated design. To streamline the process, he arranged an assembly line and fabricated 200 handles at the same time.

“It’s pretty intense,” Brickman says, “but I wouldn’t want to leave any one of those steps out or it would just be a different thing.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Craft Beer Business May Be Booming in Richmond, But One Key Ingredient is Hard to Find

Posted By on Tue, Dec 15, 2015 at 11:50 AM

Hops are king. The fragrant, conelike plant is a vital ingredient for flavoring beer, especially the hop-heavy craft brews dominating Richmond’s bar taps. But the rapid boom of the craft beer industry has left the crucial flavoring agent in short supply.

Breweries must purchase hops on futures contracts — buyers and sellers agree on a price for the product and its delivery before the crop is planted.

If a particular variety of beer unexpectedly takes off, there won’t be enough hops to meet demand when the crop is ready for harvest. And that’s when it gets difficult to find more hops to make up for contracted hops. Either the hops are unavailable, or they cost considerably more.

“For new breweries, finding the hot hops is extremely difficult since contracts have not yet been established,” says Chris Ray, co-founder of Center of the Universe Brewing Co. “Another issue is that if the farms have a bad crop year on a specific hop variety, even though you have the hop contracted for X number of pounds, you could very well get shorted, leaving you stranded at the end of the year unable to brew the beer that uses that hop variety.”

Virginia is working to become a player in the hops industry, but forces driving the U.S. and international market are affected by factors unrelated to Virginia, such as drought in the Pacific Northwest, record heat in Europe and a rise in demand here and in Asia and South America now that they’ve moved toward producing American-style beers.

Virginia is still a relative newcomer to the growing industry, with only about 50 to 100 acres statewide devoted to hops, according to Jonathan Staples of Black Hops Farm. It’s a labor-intensive business. It takes several years to establish plants and get new fields producing, so it’ll be a long time before in-state growers will be able to satisfy even a fraction of the rapidly growing in-state demand.

“A good analogy is grapes,” Staples says. “Virginia is now a big part of the U.S. wine market — and we make great wines — but it took the first growers a long, long time to get there since the initial years were spent learning what grew in our climate and soil, what our yields would be relative to the West Coast and building the market.”

Conditions to grow the industry include vigorous state support of agriculture, abundance of water, a strong farming community and proximity to large markets.

As home to so many top-rated breweries and talented brewers, the vibrant beer community hopes that as Virginia farms grow more hops, knowledge will increase, and growers will begin to get economies of scale that will ensure more price competition.

Allen Young of BSG Craftbrewing, a company that supplies the industry with ingredients and small equipment, sees efforts in that direction already with new acreage around the state and Black Hops Farm’s plans for a huge state-of-the-art hops processing facility in Loudoun County. Black Hops is investing nearly $1 million in the project and the state has given the county a $40,000 grant to accomplish the task, according to a statement from the governor’s office. Tellingly, brewers also are adapting to available varieties when a specific variety of hops sells out.
Larger craft breweries purchase hops in quantities that dwarf those of smaller operations, so their leftovers can be significant to breweries such as Center of the Universe.

“Craft breweries generally are helpful to others in the industry,” Ray says. “The only way to increase craft beer sales is working together. Trades, excess purchasing and advice are common. Usually those types of transactions occur when there’s a prior relationship between the breweries. Just last year, Stone [Brewing Co.] helped us out with some hops.”

And every little bit helps. “New startup brewers have the hardest time,” Young says. “So they must rely on the kindness of others — like Blanche DuBois in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’”

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Other Brew: Root Beer Sheds Its Soda-Pop Image in Richmond

Posted By on Wed, Dec 9, 2015 at 12:30 PM

There was a brief rumble and then the family could hear a series of explosions coming from the hallway.

While each member rushed from the different parts of the house to the source of the sound, a brown liquid could be seen seeping out of the closet under the stairs. And when the parents opened the door, they saw sopping coats, scarves and hats.

The case of homemade root beer my friend secretly bottled and stashed in the back of the closet had exploded.

Root beer, the stuff of ice-cream floats and birthday parties, is a specifically American beverage. Although drinks made from roots and berries have been made since, well, the beginning of time, root beer is thought to be a colonial-era creation.

Ingredients to make regular beer weren’t always on hand, so canny settlers came up with their own versions using what they had — things such as ginger beer, birch beer, sarsaparilla and sassafras beer.

These were typically small beers — beer with a low-alcohol content that was often served, surprisingly, to children because the water at the time was unreliable. But low alcohol is a subjective term. Small beer ranged anywhere from 2 percent alcohol to as much as 9 or 10 percent.

Pharmacist Charles Hires invented — or perhaps marketed is the better term — the first commercially prepared root beer. It began as a tea, which evolved into a nonspecific, cure-all syrup.

“To drink Hires is to absorb Nature and reproduce it into glowing cheeks, clear lively eyes and lively step,” the original advertising materials claimed. Soon he added carbonation and the transformed product became Hires Root Beer. It debuted it at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial exhibition and was a hit.

Traditionally, root beer’s main flavoring agent was sassafras root, but in 1960, the Food and Drug Administration banned the root because studies showed that its oil caused cancer. Today, extract avoids that nasty little problem, although the main ingredient in most root beer is wintergreen, which is said to have a similar flavor profile.

You can make root beer at home, but to create a drink with more than a small amount of alcohol, you’ll risk the kind of explosion my friend had to explain to her family.

One successful version has made waves from Wauconda, Illinois. Small Town Brewery made Not Your Father’s Root Beer its first national roll out in the spring. It’s been a conversation piece around town, with the brewery citing recent measures that show it “becoming the No. 1 craft SKU in the United States.”

And now Richmond has its own version. After seven months of tinkering with its recipe, Isley Brewing Co. released Drunken Uncle Hard Root Beer on Friday, Nov. 28, with an alcohol content of 6 percent. It’s actually a sassafras-spiced porter with a hint of vanilla, general manager Patrick Bisha says.

“There are some other [hard root beers] out on the market, but those are distilled beverages,” he says. “Ours is truly brewed.”

And with seven barrels on hand, Drunken Uncle will be easy for root-beer lovers to find and try at the brewery and bars around town. Ice cream is optional.

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