Brewing English Beers

10708601_820562431317839_7253150899409655501_oEnglish beer styles are some of favorites.  Malty, easy-drinking, and distinct, English ales are fun to brew and present a unique challenge for experimentation.  The different styles of English beer are not extremely popular in America, where American IPA tends to rule the land.  However, they can be some great beers to brew.  Best enjoyed fresh, a bottle of Fuller’s gathering dust on the store shelf can never compare to a nice English-style pint made nearby.

So, what defines an English beer?  First, it’s the malt.  English barley is more highly kilned, producing a flavor that is toasty, with a touch of honey.  With Maris Otter or other UK barley as the base for the beer, you’re going to get a fuller malt profile even without specialty grains compared to a pilsner malt or American barley based beer.  Graham cracker isn’t too far off.

Second, it’s the yeast.  English beers use English ale yeast, top-fermenting yeasts which tend to be a bit fruitier than American ale strains.  They can also leave more residual sugar, resulting in a fuller malt profile, which compliments the grain bill.

Third, it’s the hops.  In comparison to spicy noble hops or citrusy American hops, English hops tend to taste earthy and sometimes floral.  You might get a bit of fruitiness, but more like orange marmalade rather than grapefruit or mango from Centennial or Citra hops.

Last, English beers tend to be more restrained in general.  You’re not looking for the bold roasty flavor of a robust porter, the in-your-face citrus of American IPA, or the high ABV of an imperial ale.  You don’t want that.  More hops and roasted malts will cover up that great toasty malt flavor.  Furthermore, with English hops, a little goes a long way.

From a brewing perspective, I like designing English-style beers that are a bit outside the box.  It’s a challenge, since the styles are generally fairly restrained and simple.  Here are three recipes I greatly enjoy, named after my setter, Logan.  The first is a pretty standard beer, but the rest are something you don’t see too often.  As you can tell from the recipes, I am a fan of the Fuller’s strain.  Ferment cool and perform a diacetyl rest for optimum flavor.  I also love Target as a dry hop–it has an orange flavor that is a nice compliment to earthy EKG hops.

Logan’s Song: English pale ale

This is a really basic English bitter that is a fantastic everyday beer to have.  A nice showcase for Maris Otter and crystal malt.  Just killer on nitro.

5.5 gallon batch size

1.050 OG

30 IBU

8.5 lbs Maris Otter

0.75 lbs Crystal 60

0.25 lbs Crystal 120

0.5 ounces Warrior (18.9 AA) @ 60 minutes

2 ounces East Kent Goldings @ 2 minutes

WLP 002 or Wyeast 1968 yeast

Bad Boy: Black ESB

This beer is interesting and very tasty.  Think of it as a stout, minus the roastiness.  It’s dark, smooth, and hoppy, with a firm bitterness.

1.060 OG

40 IBU

8 lbs Maris Otter

0.75 lbs Carafa III special (dehusked)

0.5 lbs Crystal 15

0.5 ounces Warrior (18.9 AA) @ 60 minutes

2 ounces East Kent Goldings @ 2 minutes

1 ounce Target dry hop

WLP 002 or Wyeast 1968 yeast

Lord Logan: English IPA

This is a pretty cool beer that is a bit like a hoppy English barleywine.  It tastes similar to Avery Hog Heaven.  Amber malt is a great way to give a quasi-smoked flavor to beers reminiscent of pre-industrial revolution porters that used malt kilned over wood fires.

1.085 OG

75 IBU

14 lbs Maris Otter

1 lb Amber Malt

1 lb Turbinado Sugar

0.5 lbs Caramel 120

1.5 ounces Warrior (18.9 AA) @ 60 minutes

2 ounces East Kent Goldings @ 2 minutes

1 ounce East Kent Goldings dry hop

1 ounce Target dry hop

WLP 002 or Wyeast 1968 yeast

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2015 Brewery Garden

20150416_131541 I like to use the term “farmhouse nanobrewery” to describe our Leesburg location.  If you’ve ever visited the brewery, it obviously isn’t on a farm, but you might not have noticed our little garden and the multitude of cool things we grow.  The nanobrewery garden may be small, but like the brewery itself, we put a surprising amount into a small space.

Here’s a short rundown of the produce we grow and what we use it for. First, we have three hop plants: Willamette, Chinook, and Columbus.  This year, we are adding a fourth: Sorachi Ace.  This hop, developed by Japanese macrobrewery Sapporo, has a very distinct lemon flavor.  We will be using it in our hop-forward hefeweizen, Laughing Man.  The other three plants are harvested for our two fresh hop beers: Nature’s Warden dark IPA and Force of Nature double IPA.  When you use hops fresh rather than after drying, it gives the beer a vegetal, resinous quality.  The hop trellises are made from bamboo that we heat, cure, and seal with polyurethane. The next new addition are wineberries and mulberries.  These berries, native to Asia, are invasive species in Virginia and can be found all over the place.  Fortunately, they produce some tasty berries!  Wineberries are very much like raspberries, and we’ll be using them in our sour brown ale, Provisionale.  They tolerate shade very well and should grow nicely in their new home against the fence. Also new this year: carrots!  These heirloom carrots will turn out in all three natural carrot colors: orange, white, and purple.  The Dutch popularized the orange carrot, but a hundred years ago it was common to find carrots in a multitude of colors.  We will be using them in our imperial carrot saison, Doctor Feelgood. The last new addition are hot peppers.  It’s still too cold to put the seedlings in, but we will be planting out habaneros and cayennes for the two variants on our IPA, Storm: peach habanero and cherry cayenne.  If you haven’t tried these yet, they are some really great chili beers.

In addition, we also have an elderberry tree for our elderberry quad, black currants, some nice perennials such as salvia and coreopsis, lavender, lantana, and some lobelias which I will be putting in soon. If you have any questions on anything, feel free to ask here!  Looking forward to another great year in the garden!

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Chili Pepper Beers

IMG_20150501_131012I love chili beers.  The bright flavors and heat go perfectly with fruity hops in an IPA, and the heavier, smoked flavors make a great addition to a porter or stout.  Before I had tried a chili beer, I thought the concept was interesting, but more of a novelty.  After trying Stone’s Smoked Porter with poblano peppers, I realized that a properly made chili beer is delicious.

I wanted to offer a chili beer at Crooked Run, but in smaller batches, preferably as a variant on one of our other staple beers.  Last weekend I put the two experimental variants of our American IPA, Storm, on tap.  They both turned out perfect and sold out in two seconds!

The two beers were a peach habanero and cherry cayenne version.  The peach habanero is really cool because the fruitiness and heat from the habanero combines really well with the peach flavor.  It makes a really bright beer with a light heat.  The cherry cayenne is quite different but equally as enjoyable.  Cayenne has a “dirtier” flavor than habanero–think a bowl of chili versus bright fruit.

Storm is a single hop Galaxy IPA, with intense tropical flavor from my favorite hop.  When designing these beers, I wanted to be very careful to not create something that was difficult/impossible to drink.  While I found Habanero Sculpin to be enjoyable, it was a bit too hot.  I felt comfortable backing off on the heat, with the fruit addition as another element to keep the beer interesting with a subtle spicy flavor.

Here are the recipes for these beers for a 5 gallon batch size:


1.065 OG

63 IBU

12.5 lbs two row

1 lb C-15

Bittering hops: Warrior @ 60 minutes

Aroma hops: 3 oz Galaxy @ 2 minutes

Dry hops: 3 oz Galaxy for 5 days

Yeast: US-05

Peach habanero: add one can of Vintner’s Harvest peach puree to cooled beer before pitching yeast.  Add 3 ounces of de-seeded and de-stemmed habaneros, sliced in half, to beer along with dry hops for 5 days.

Cherry cayenne: add one can of Vintner’s Harvest sweet cherry puree to cooled beer before pitching yeast.  Add 9 ounces of de-seeded and de-stemmed cayenne peppers, sliced in half, to beer along with dry hops for 5 days.

As you can see, this is a very simple twist, and the results are great.  The fruit adds a nice color to both versions.  One note: the capsaicin content of peppers, particularly habaneros, can vary wildly.  I erred on the side of caution with these beers, and I believe these amounts are a good starting point to produce pleasant but noticeable heat.  Your mileage may vary, but even if your peppers are considerably hotter, you should still end up with a drinkable beer.  Chilis are naturally anti-microbial and don’t need to be sanitized, so just add them directly to the beer.  One further note: always wear gloves and do not touch anything when handling habaneros or other hot peppers.  I did a good job of this, except that I forgot to wash the handle of the knife I used to prep the peppers.  A week later, I picked up the same knife and touched my nose later…oops.

This year we are planting habaneros and cayennes in the brewery garden, and will be producing these two beers regularly!  Cheers!

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Stainless Steel Fermenters

Friday was a very exciting day for us.  We got our stainless fermenters!  We purchased two 1.5 BBL and one 3 BBL stainless fermenters from Stout Tanks in February and have been counting down the days until they would ship.  Well, they finally arrived!


So what’s the big deal?  Not only will it mean better beer, but it will also mean more beer, as we will be doubling production in order to get some beer out to some accounts in preparation for our expansion, as well as bottles.  In addition, we have one 14 gallon conical en route from SS Brewtech, which we will use for test batches and variants. For the past year and a half, we have been using plastic inductor tanks from Ruralking to ferment our beer, a great cheap option for nanos.  They have served us reasonably well and we have made some fine beer with them, but they have some limitations.

So why the change, and why after this long? First, the inductor tanks are neither airtight nor lightproof.  Even after lining the collars with food-grade sillicone, I was never able to get them completely sealed.  In addition, HDPE is oxygen permeable, although the rate is so low it is negligible for a two week fermentation time.

Second, the inductor tanks do not have a port for racking above the yeast.  When I kegged, I would hook up a diaphragm pump to the bottom of the cone and pull from there.  Even after dumping yeast, I would inevitable pull some of it into the kegs.  Not terrible, as it would settle out, but it required my kegs to be babied, as any shaking would result in the yeast getting kicked up.  Even handled gently, they still sometimes required a period of 15 minutes to settle after moving them in order to serve brite beer.  Not good, and especially not good for sending beer to restaurants and festivals.  Why not install a port on an inductor tank?  My feeling was that this would be an easy point for contamination, using a bolted on ball valve or plastic spigot that would be very hard to remove and clean.

Third, dry-hopping isn’t as effective in an inductor tank.  Since I had to pull from the cone, I couldn’t add my hops directly into the beer since they would end up in the keg.  Instead, I had to add the hops inside a nylon paint strainer bag tied to the side of the fermenter.  With less dispersion and contact area with the beer, I would get less flavor out of my dry hops. Lastly, there was no way to deal with the negative pressure when kegging.  Air would be pulled down into the top of the tank as I kegged the beer.  Not terrible, as there is a fair amount of CO2 sitting above the beer, but not optimal. With the new tanks, beer can be racked from above the cone using CO2 pressure.  By simply taking the blow-off tube from the top and attaching it to a CO2 tank and regulator outfitted with a low pressure gauge, I can push the beer out of the racking port at 2 PSI and into the kegs.  No exposure to air or light, just brite beer. Why didn’t we get these sooner?  When we opened in 2013, there was only one manufacturer of smaller conicals, Blichmann Engineering.  While Blichmann makes some cool things, their fermenters were around 3 grand a piece.  Now, there are a couple companies making nanobrewery-sized equipment.  Our fermenters ran $1200-$1500 each–much more affordable for us. We celebrated the arrival of our new tanks by brewing our Galaxy single-hop American IPA, Storm, and two variants: a peach habanero and a cherry cayenne version!

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Necessity is the mother of invention.  At Crooked Run, we not only make beer, but a lot of other things as well!  With a tight budget and a lot of needs, we have crafted a lot of items and built out much of the interior ourselves.  We re-purpose and reuse whenever possible.

First, we needed tap handles when we began draught distribution.  The first attempt at tap handles was to purchase stock handles and design stickers for them.


This proved to be a very bad idea, as the blank handles are commonly misappropriated by bars when they don’t get a handle for a new beer.  They just take a blank handle and put a sticker on it.  At $30 a piece, we could not afford to lose any handles.  We set about coming up with a solution: a relatively inexpensive handle that could not be used for any other beer.  On such a small scale, custom-fabricated handles from manufacturers were out of the question.  We needed to be able to make something ourselves.  Fortunately both Lee and Sean have a lot of skill in construction and wood-working, and have been able to make some pretty cool stuff.

These handles are made from live-edge cedar.  The all-purpose handle has the lettering burned in using a wood-burning kit.  The metal leaf-seal is fabricated by our friend with a water-jet.  The other handles we are making are stamped with linoleum-cut artwork created by our friend Mike.  These handles are for individual beers we commonly serve, and there are more to come!

10550864_795952187112197_500670771091456988_n (2)


Tap handle

Using the same techniques, we also made coasters.  The leaf seal on the other side is a lino-cut, and the lettering is once again burned in.


Our jockey box cover is made from slats from a pallet, painted with a dark walnut stain.  A metal strap gives an appearance reminiscent of a barrel.


Our bar top , tables, and shelves were made by our friends at Eco-Friendly Lumber in Warrenton.  A lumber mill and furniture maker, Eco-Friendly Lumber specializes in large pieces of live-edge wood.  Getting the bar top into the brewery was quite a challenge: 500 lbs of American white oak!  The shelves are also oak, and the tables are cherry.

Table and bench


Bar top

We like to use a lot of chalkboards around the brewery.  Sean made all of our chalkboards, and our bartender Daniella is an excellent chalkboard artist!


Sean made our big cabinet for the brewing area.  Using a projector screen, Lee and I superimposed the leaf logo on the cabinet and painted it in.


Our flight paddles were a Sean creation.  We wanted to design something that could hold our narrow flight glasses securely, and would not tip over.  Drain holes allow them to drain and dry while hanging on the wall.

Flight paddle

We put in chair rail made of pine trim and Pergo.  Pergo is a faux-wood that floats freely on the wall, so it can expand and contract without warping.  The chair rail adds to the decor, but also protects the wall from inevitable scuff-marks when moving fermenters and equipment around.  The ledge is made from pieces of the old deck at Market Station that we salvaged from the dumpster, sanded, and sealed.  The upper trim is made from the cutouts from the wooden barrel rack that Lee made.

Chair rail

The brewery garden contains three kinds of hops, elderberries, raspberries, black and red currants, and a variety of flowers.  Bamboo poles give the hops structure to climb.  I harvested the bamboo from a friendly Leesburg resident’s yard, cured it with a heat gun, and sealed it with polyurethane, which keeps it from splitting and getting discolored.


Lastly, our newest addition is a window sign.  Lee made the sign out of wood from his parents’ barn in New York.  The slats are over 100 years old!  On the other side of the sign is a chalkboard where we can write messages for departing patrons.


Sometimes having a tight budget is a good thing.  It forces you to be creative, to work with your own two hands, and to produce something unique.  If you have any questions about these designs, feel free to message or email me!  Coming soon: new patio furniture for 2015!

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Wheat Beer Project

One thing we struggle with at Crooked Run is keeping multiple beers on tap.  I try to have 4, sometimes have 3, and would like to have 6 on tap at a time.  We do brew on a small (1.5 BBL) system, but we also have limited room to store beer.  If I want to get to six beers, I am going to have to get a bit creative.

Enter the wheat beer project.  When I first opened, I told people I was never going to brew a wheat beer.  Nothing against them–German hefe is one of my favorite styles.  I just didn’t feel that excited about them, and I didn’t think others would feel that way either.

As it turns out, I was pretty wrong.  Our first wheat was a big kettle-soured batch of Berliner weisse with sweet orange peel called Weisse City.  I was quite surprised at how much people enjoyed it, especially since it was a Berliner (quite tart).  The second wheat beer we did was a small batch of a beer called You’re Cool.  It was a cucumber mint wheat.  People are still talking about that beer!

Anyways, I came to see wheats in a different light.  To me, a wheat beer is a blank canvas to showcase different ingredients.  I started coming up with different wheat beers that I really wanted to do, but I haven’t gotten around to doing  them.  Now, I can!

The plan is to do 45 gallons of simple wheat beer base.  1.045 OG, 25 IBU, 50/50 pils/wheat malt.  After the boil, run off beer into 6.5 gallon bucket fermenters and then add my different ingredients.  Here’s the breakdown of what 45 gallons can produce:

10 gallons Berliner weisse

10 gallons cucumber mint wheat

10  gallons beet wheat

10 gallons imperial dark vanilla wheat

So, that’s the plan.  In two weeks I am going to give it a go!   After kegging these beers, I’ll release one each weekend.

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Building a Recipe

Photo1 I’ve designed, brewed, and served over 30 different beers at Crooked Run.  Brewing on a small system gives me the flexibility and freedom to experiment with many different styles and ingredients, and this is my favorite part of the job.  Sometimes people ask me if I have ever made a beer that didn’t turn out well and could not be served.  My answer is that, aside from infection, I have not.  In fact, I’ve only made minor tweaks to subsequent re-brews a few times–mostly raising or lowering the IBU’s by a couple points.

At this point, recipe formulation is second nature to me, and designing recipes is what I love. This did not happen overnight.  Rather, it took me many years of homebrewing and many batches to become familiar with the different malts available.  You can read about ingredients, but only by using them over and over can you learn exactly what flavors they contribute in varying amounts and how they interact with one another.

So, if you’re interested in developing your own recipes, where do you begin?  A great place to start is the book Brewing Classic Styles by Jamil Zainasheff.  I believe this is the greatest homebrewing book ever written.  Free from fluff, it contains 80 award-winning recipes from one of the most venerable home (and now pro) brewers.  Five years ago I purchased this book and began working my way through different recipes.  Even if you don’t brew every recipe therein, Brewing Classic Styles is a great visual aid, since you can flip from style to style and take note of what ingredients they have in common and what sets them apart. After you’ve brewed some proven recipes, you can start to notice the flavors that malts contribute, and you can start to play around with them.  For example, let’s take Jamil’s best bitter recipe:

1.047 OG
30 IBU
9.5 lbs Maris Otter
0.5 lbs Aromatic
0.5 lbs C-120
0.25 lbs Victory

A great beer.  But let’s say I want to make a bitter that emphasizes caramel malt a bit more.  So I lower the IBU’s, increase the caramel malt, and cut the aromatic and victory.

1.044 OG
25 IBU
9 lbs Maris Otter
0.75 lbs C-60
0.25 lbs C-120 

There’s my English pale ale recipe, called Logan’s Song. After you’ve been tweaking recipes for a while, you can start to venture into completely uncharted territory and create beers that are blends of styles or don’t fit into any category at all.  You can also start to use non-traditional ingredients, such as fruits, vegetables, and spices.

When creating a recipe, I like to explain things in terms of direction and dimensions.  The direction of the beer is sort of like the beer mission statement.  For example, let’s work on a Belgian single recipe.  This beer will be called Hopsail.  It’s direction is:

A malt-forward, easy-drinking Belgian ale finished with extra Saaz hops.

The dimensions of the beer help define it and help it accomplish this direction.  I am all about complexity through simplicity, so I use the term “dimensions” because it helps set limits for the beer.  You don’t want a beer that is one-dimensional, but you don’t a five-dimensional beer either.  By focusing on a few flavors, you will accomplish more by letting your ingredients shine, and avoid muddling flavors. For Hopsail, I choose to work with three dimensions: pilsner malt flavor, Saaz hops, and Belgian yeast.  So I create a recipe that looks like this:

1.042 OG
18 IBU
8 lbs pilsner malt
0.25 lbs aromatic malt
3 ounces Saaz hops at flameout
WLP 530/Wyeast 3787

Low bitterness and a touch of aromatic helps emphasize the pilsner malt.  A bit more finishing hops than a traditional single helps give it a little kick of spicy Saaz flavor.  Trappist yeast fermented at 70 degrees gives a low-to-moderate touch of esters. There you go. After you brew your recipe, taste it.  Ask yourself, did it go in the direction you wanted?  If not, what can you change to get it right?  For Hopsail, I lowered the IBU’s until I hit a point where the pilsner malt flavor really came through, from 22 to 18. Here is a list of tested recipes.  If you would like a copy of any recipe, please feel free to comment or email me.

Session Ales:
Hopsail Belgian single
Logan’s Song English pale ale
Thunder American pale ale
Jake o’ Lantern pumpkin amber ale
Wishing Well dry stout
Roganbier roggenbier
Red Kolsch Irish red/kolsch
Storm American IPA
Logan’s Bite English IPA
True Vision Belgian IPA
Force of Nature fresh hop double IPA
Nature’s Wrath brett trois triple IPA
Summer Storm raspberry dark IPA
Hellfire black IPA
Summer Dawn blackberry saison
Endless Summer basil rye saison
Summer Night raspberry dark saison
Heartsong Belgian dubbel
Seek Truth cherrywood-aged tripel
Shadow of Truth black Belgian tripel
Realize Truth elderberry quad
Stoicism coffee quad
Pure Fiction sour tripel
Provisionale sour raspberry brown
Cardinal Jake Flanders red
Free Yourself brett brux pale
Weisse City sweet orange peel Berliner weisse
Nature’s Wrath brett trois triple IPA
Carrera Torcida Vienna lager
Commando imperial American pilsner
Bad Boy black ESB
Coconut Boy coconut ESB
You’re Cool cucumber mint wheat
Stovepipe smoked pumpkin imperial porter
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