Growing Hops in Whiskey Barrels: Week 10 Update

Hard to believe it’s been 10 weeks and the hops are doing well. Since moving the barrels to the side of the garage that has more sunlight prior to week 6 they seem to be doing better. Just in the last two weeks both the Centennial (on the left) and the Cascade (on the right) really took off. I was worried about the Cascade around week 6 but I now think the Centennial is the one that is a bit slowed in growth. 

The Centennial has also dropped some leaves towards the bottom and I see some browning towards the middle. I did some research and some say this is normal, others say that they are over watered (could be possible, we’ve had a ton of rain in northern Ohio) or have a disease. Who knows…I’ve found it’s really hard to diagnose plant problems and I’m no expert. Here is a picture of the browning leaves on the Centennial if anyone knows what’s going on.

The Cascade clearly don’t have this problem but I do see some slight browning on some of the bottom leaves but none have withered and fallen off yet. The Cascade seems healthier to me. Let’s see what happens in a few weeks. I’m going to hold off on fertilizing (I’m using Miracle Grow Shake n’ Feed) for a few weeks and I’ll cut back watering to about every other day vs. every day. Also, I might have to extend my trellis out a bit as I’m already running out of space! :-) One thing I’ll be doing next year is selecting two or three strong vines and pruning the rest. I’ve read that this is the preferred approach to maximize growth. In addition, you should prune the leaves off of the bottom two feet as this will improve air circulation to the plant.

Are you growing hops this year? If so, how are yours doing?

Growing Hops in Whiskey Barrels: Week 6 Update

So far so good with the hops I planted about 6 (close to 7) weeks ago. I had moved the barrels a few weeks ago to the side of my garage that had a lot more sun. Hops need a lot of sun and less shade! I’ll get at least 6 hours of sun in this new location. The Centennial hops seem to be growing faster and slightly better than the Cascade for some reason. I had a few of the vines literally crumble off on the Cascades but the shoots seem to re-grow rather quickly.  Here are what the Cascades look like:

The Centennials are clearly doing better. I’ve watered them every day and put in some Miracle Grow Shake n’ Feed about a week ago. Here are the Centennials:

I made a trellis with some twine and eye hooks drilled into the side of my garage. Since these are first year hops I’m hoping that I won’t need a large trellis…we’ll see! 

Are you growing hops this year? How’s yours growing? I’m interested in any tips or tricks you might have for other hop growers.

Growing Hops in Whiskey Barrels

This year I decided to try my hand a growing hops! I’ve read that it’s easy to do and figured it would be fun to brew beer with my own hops. I was inspired by a past episode of Chop n’ Brew where the guys talked about growing hops in backyards and in whiskey or planting barrels (side note: Chop n’ Brew is a great homebrewing podcast, you should check it out). Earlier this year one of the online hombrew shops had a pre-sale of hop rhizomes so I ordered two Cascade and two Centennial rhizomes. Once I received the rhizomes I put them in the fridge to keep them fresh.

Next, I picked an area near the southern side of my house that gets the most sun, hit the Home Depot for some supplies and got to work.

Here’s my supply list if you want to do this on your own:

  • 2- Whiskey Planting Barrels
  • 1- bag of Gravel or Crushed Stone
  • 3-4 64qt bags of Miracle-Gro Potting Mix (I only needed 3 bags and 1/4 of another bag)
  • 2- Tomato Cages
  • Hop Rhizomes (two for each barrel). I pre-ordered mine from MoreBeer

Word on the street is that hops will grow like gangbusters so make sure you have space to build a trellis of some sort so the hop vines can grow. I’m going to run some twine from the tomato cages up to the side of my house once the vines start growing and training the vines to use the twine to grow. I’ll be posting the progress in the next few months to see how this is working out.

Next, I drilled a few additional drainage holes in the bottom of each barrel and filled the barrels with a few inches of gravel to help with drainage.

I then filled each barrel with potting mix and with some metal cutters chopped down the size of the tomato cages so they were secured to the bottom of the gravel. I read an article that said to use tomato cages so you can easily train the hop vines before they get too big.

Finally it was time to plant the rhizomes! I dug about a 4-5 inch hole and spaced the two rhizomes about 2 inches apart from each other.  Make sure the buds are facing up and cover them with potting mix to form a small mound. I did this with the other barrel and…mission complete!  Be sure to water your hops once a day. I’ve been using about half of a watering can for each barrel.

If everything goes well you should see your hops growing like this in a few weeks! I’ll be posting updates throughout the season on my progress. Are you growing hops this season?

Almighty Cascade Pale Ale Brew Day Pictures

Last weekend I brewed up a brand new brew I’m calling “Almighty Cascade Pale Ale”. It’s a variation of an extract recipie that I made last year.  I’ve now converted the recipie to all grain and added more late addition hops…about six ounces of cascade goodness! I’ll post a follow up when it’s ready to drink. Here are some pictures from the brew day:


My National Homebrew Competition Results

The results are in! The two beers I entered scored the following:

  • “Austin Powers” British IPA – 34 (Very Good) and went on to the mini-best of show
  • Blackberry Wheat – 27.5 (Good)

I honestly wasn’t expecting much as this was my first Homebrew competition but for my first two all grain brews I think this is pretty decent. I received some good comments from the judges and after I tasted my beers I think they were dead on in regards to what the judges said. Specifically the British IPA should have been more malty. I also noticed this and I’m going to blame it on the mash temp or that I  may need to add more base malt. Either way I’m going to play with the recipe and see where I can improve. I’ll post the recipe for the IPA to see if any of you have some improvements.  As for the Blackberrry Wheat, I wasn’t surprised at all. The judges said it was a bit too tart, a little watery. This was the “small batch” beer that I made in a previous post. Not sure I would do a BIAB (Brew In A Bag) again as I know I had pretty bad efficiency on my electric stove.  All in all not a bad first attempt for a Homebrew competition! On to next year and to better brews!


Preparing and Shipping Beer for the National Homebrew Competition

I was lucky enough to get two entries into the National Homebrew Competition this year. This is the first year I’m entering the competition. I don’t plan on doing that well but I’m more interested in getting feedback from the judges and see how I can improve. I’ve submitted my “Austin Powers” Brittish IPA and a Blackberry Wheat several weeks ago to the competition. Both beers came out pretty decent and I’ll share taste results in another post. As I patiently wait for the judging results I wanted to share the packing and shipping process I went through. Hopefully what I learned will help other homebrewers that want to send in their beer to a competition. 

First, since I submitted two beers I had to submit two bottles for each submission. I made sure the bottles were clean, no markings and double checked to ensure these weren’t my Sam Adams bottles that have the Samuel Adams signature in the glass. The competition also requires one label per bottle attached via a rubber band. One thing I forgot was that you need to put the labels in a plastic ziplock bag then put the label attached with a rubber band. Don’t forget this like I did! I had to unwrap then rewrap my bottles to put the labels in the ziplock bags then rewrap.  The labels need to be in ziplock bags since printer ink (I have an ink jet) will bleed from condensation and the judges won’t be able to read your labels if the temperature changes during shipping or at the judging center.



Next came the box and packing material selection. I found a nice box that I ironically had homebrew supplies shipped in and gathered together as much bubble wrap as I could find.  I lined the box on the bottom and all the sides with bubble wrap then wrapped each bottle with a few layers of bubble wrap, taped the top and bottom ends of the bottle with packing tape and finally put each wrapped bottle in a large ziplock bag.  This is to ensure that if one bottle breaks, it will be easy for the judging center to tell.


Lastly, I stuffed newspaper between the bottles as well as anywhere else I could minimize movement of the bottles. I then taped the box up with packing tape and made haste to the UPS Store. 



One important thing to note is that it’s prohibited to ship alcohol via the USPS so you have to use a private carrier like UPS or FedEx.  I still played it safe when UPS asked me if anything banned or fragile was in the box.  I said “glassware” and it’s packed really well. :-)

Good luck to others that entered their beer into the National Homebrew Competition this year!

Fun with Small Batch Brewing

A few weeks ago I decided to try and make a 1 gallon all grain batch using the BIAB (Brew In A Bag) method.  I had a Blackberry Wheat beer recipe that I wanted to try out but not invest in a full 5 gallon batch.  I ran into several issues which have led me to think that I should have just done a 5 gallon batch. :-)

First, do not try to brew on an electric stove!  It took close to an hour to get my strike and sparge water to temperature (each time). Getting to the boil was also that long as well.

I ended up finding a 2 gallon Igloo cooler which worked well for a 1 gallon batch.  However, I forgot to pre-heat the mash tun and I had to add more hot water then I wanted to.


I mashed in the Igloo cooler for 60 minutes.  My thermometer told me I lost about 2 degrees which isn’t too bad. It doesn’t look like a lot but I did get some nice wort out of the first runnings.


Small batch calculations get crazy when converting a 5 gallon recipe to a 1 gallon.  I used Brewsmith to do this automatically but it was still a pain because my digital scale only has a graduation .05 oz which means I can get close but not exact. This is a problem with measuring hops to an exact amount. Thanks to my wife Jill for helping me out with this since I’m not as patient as her. The picture below shows the grain bag soaking in the sparge water.  I soaked the bag like a tea bag for about 15 minutes, dipping it in and out and rinsing the grains as much as possible.  Once done sparging I combined the wort from the Igloo cooler with the wort in the boil pot and started the boil.


Again, getting to the boil took forever on an electric stove.  I won’t be doing that again…next time I’ll head outside and use the propane burner, even if it’s 12 degrees outside. :-)  The last issue encountered was that I used White Labs American Hefeweizen (WLP320) yeast (about a half a tube) and this is a very slow yeast to get started without a yeast starter.  However, after about 12 hours I finally started to see a head of foamy krausen start which is a good sign that my yeast is happy.  I fermented in a 5 gallon carboy.  During primary fermentation its OK to use a larger carboy since all the headspace will be filled with CO2.  Headspace only becomes an issue in secondary if you rack to a secondary for dry hopping or clearing.


About a week later I racked to a 1 gallon jug and added about 5 oz of de-thawed frozen Blackberries (Giant Eagle brand).  You can see in the picture below that the beer has a nice purple tint to it from the Blackberries.  I’ll bottle in about a week or so and savor the results a few weeks after that.  One other thing to note is that I’ll probably increase the grains so I don’t have to sparge.  Grain is cheap, why not? For this recipe I ended up with about 50% efficiency.  Not great.


British IPA Bottling Day

Today I was finally able to bottle my British IPA. I’ve been dry hopping this brew with East Kent Goldings for about 3 weeks. Unfortunately I don’t have a free keg or I would have kegged most of it. I’ll be honest, it’s been awhile since I’ve bottled! Kegging my homebrew has saved me lots of time and frustration.  This beer though is going to be entered into the National Homebrew Competition in a few weeks so I had to bottle this batch anyway. Bottles are such a pain. :-(

Clean up time after dry hopping!

Clean up time after dry hopping!

I was fortunate enough to get this beer in as one of two entries. The second entry is going to be a Blackberry Wheat which will be going into secondary on Tuesday with some Blackberries. The Blackberry Wheat was a small batch (1 gallon) BIAB (Brew In A Bag). I’ve got another blog I’ll be posting soon about small batch brewing and some of the challenges I had with making a one gallon batch using the BIAB method. It went OK but lots of lessons learned. This IPA recipe called for Maris Otter malt and tasting this brew before bottling had a great malty flavor…very British. I’m calling this beer “Austin Powers IPA” and it’s my first all grain recipe. It’s hard to believe that I did extract for as long as I did.  All-grain brewing isn’t bad at all.


Homebrew Hack: Use a Plastic Bottle to See if Your Beer is Carbonated
One handy tip that I read on Homebrew Forums when I first started homebrewing was to use a plastic bottle for one of your beers when you’re bottling. You can reuse a plastic soda bottle or get some 16oz PET bottles with a bag of plastic caps at your LHBS or online. Fill up one of these bottles then lightly squeeze the bottle while you twist the cap on. Once your beer starts to carbonate the bottle will expand and give you a good idea when the rest of your beer is carbonated.

Plastic bottle to test carbonation level

Plastic bottle (on right) to test carbonation level

British IPA ready for carbonation

British IPA ready for carbonation


In two weeks hopefully I have a carbonated British IPA! Yeah, Baby…

The Obligatory First Post

Hello everyone!  Thanks for checking out my blog.  My hope is that this blog is a way to share my experiences with homebrewing, get others interested in this fine hobby and to learn from all of you that have been doing this far longer then I have. I also plan on using this blog to document my brew days, share recipe experiments as well as get advice on brews I’m creating. I’m sure some of these experiments will be successful and others will be full of fail…but that’s what makes homebrewing fun right?My IPA

Of course I will also be posting and sharing homebrew hacking techniques.  What do I mean by “hacking“?  In my day job I get to be a hacker (finding ways to break into computer systems and/or make a technology do something it wasn’t designed to do or alter the way something works..legally of course) so I’d like to apply that same concept to homebrewing.  That’s where I got the idea for the name “Homebrew Hacking”. I’m very interested in doing experiments with my homebrew such as adding odd ingredients, stepping up a recipe for increased ABV, making a light beer that doesn’t taste like water, hacking equipment, homebrew gardening and brewing technology (these are just a few projects I’d like to work on, there are more). Also, this blog is not limited to beer.  I like to experiment with wine, mead and cider as well.  If it will ferment, I’d like to hack it. :-)

Lastly, I have a several people who I’d like to thank for getting me into homebrewing and many more that I have huge respect for in the homebrewing community here in Cleveland Ohio and all over the world. Hopefully I’ll get to “pay it forward” and also share some of their stories with all of you. If you’re interested in sharing your homebrew experiences or have a great hack to talk about hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Email (tom[at] or comment on the blogs. I’d love to have all of you share your experiences and thoughts on this blog as well.

Happy Homebrewing and Cheers!