Thursday, January 2, 2014

One Man's Perspective: Reflecting on the Past Year

As you may know, Low Dive started out as four guys excited about brewing beer. We got this crazy idea to take it to another level, and pursue a brewery venture. Near the end of 2012, those ideas came to a halt, and we agreed to bring our focus back to just brewing beer. At that time, it was also agreed to build two separate brewing systems so that we each could individually brew at our own leisure and avoid transporting equipment from location to location. Before then, we were transporting our equipment between Matt's house and Tim & Sean's house—not exactly ideal. As fair as we possibly could be, we divvied up the existing equipment, and whatever equipment each half lost, it was that half's responsibility to find replacements in order to make their build complete; Tim & Sean were gonna build their own setup, while Matt and I built ours.

There were 3 batches brewed in the first quarter of 2013 before the divvying took place. After that, the changes began. By June 1, Matt and I mashed in the first beer on our new setup, a Farmhouse style ale appropriately named Farmhouse 001. 001 because we plan on playing around with this style often. On our next batch, we began experimenting more with Brettanomyces. This is a type of yeast that has gained popularity in recent years. Mostly known for either it's funky or sour aromas and flavors, we set out to see for ourselves what can be accomplished with this species. So far, the results have been rather amusing. For example, the first Brett batch brewed on June 23rd remains in it's primary fermenters (with the exception of some blended in our Gueuze, Hirschfeld, in September), while a different Brett beer brewed in late September is nearly all consumed. The result was 35th Ward Pale Ale. With the use of Brettanomyces, we're giving ourselves more options. And interesting one's at that.

To date, since June 1st, Matt and I have brewed 26 different beers, some the result of split batches and one parti-gyle. In addition to the Farmhouse and Brett beers during that time, we also brewed styles like Gose, Roggenbier, multiple Lambic style ales, Stouts, IPAs and even cider fermented with a SCOBY (Sembiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast), which normally is used to ferment tea known as kombucha.

On the same day we brewed our Roggenbier in mid-August, Tim and Sean had their first brew day on their new setup, brewing a split Saison batch. The best part of it all? They took first place in the Saison category at Brixtoberfest in October with the French half.

In November, our friends at Spiteful Brewing handed us some small bourbon casks. Literally within the time I wrote this, Matt and I pulled a sample that finally showed progress in the development between the barrel and Oatmeal Stout we filled them with. It won't be long now before we're enjoying this beer with friends.

Also that month, I brewed a beer with Tara Zanzig. We've been together for a couple years now, but this was our first homebrew together (her first ever), and she chose English Barleywine. There were a couple "first's" for me that brew day too, however: we eliminated the sparge entirely and caramelized the first 2 gallons of wort down to less than a gallon before adding it back to the main boil kettle. We started with 15 gallons of water at the beginning of the day, and ended with about five and a half gallons of beer at the time of bottling!

As we close the year, I'm enjoying the best IPA Matt and I have brewed. Also, there are a few different beers currently in fermenters, some of which we'll be bringing to the upcoming Brew Hahahahahahahahahaha later this month. And we're planning an experiment with yet another new strain of Brett in conjunction with wine yeast before January expires.

2013 was a fun year, especially the second half. I can't necessarily speak for anyone else, but I plan on keeping the current pace, experimenting and learning as I go. There are a lot of good ideas in the pipeline, so I'm excited to see how this new year unfolds. I suspect there will be surprises, but for now, I'm happy with what was accomplished during the last year, and I'm determined to make 2014 the best yet.

Cheers and happy new year.

Monday, December 24, 2012


One of the best things about loving beer these days is the endless number of styles & variations available to the inquisitive consumer.  Whether you like your malt beverages hoppy, sweet or tart, black, brown or pale, there truly is a beer for every taste.  With all the styles that are out there, we at Low Dive have become very interested in what might be missing from even the best stocked beer shelves.

Throughout the history of brewing there are styles that, for some reason or other, have fallen out of favor with brewers and as time progresses, these styles are threatened to be forgotten.  Being American brewers originally hailing from Indiana, we have become enamored with the Kentucky Common; a style native to Louisville & the southern most parts of Indiana.  

References to this style can be found in the 1902 edition of Wahl & Henius' "American Handy Book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades", the recently released "Hoosier Beer" as well as online at Kentucky's Beer Heritage.  Through these references we learn that Kentucky Common was a dark ale that may otherwise be similar to a cream ale or California common (steam beer).  The Kentucky Beer Heritage site also speaks to its popularity & origin in stating that "In 1913 it was estimated that 80% of the beer consumed in Louisville was of this type."  They also go on to say that "many local breweries made this type of beer only" and that "It is a distinct beer style originated in Louisville".  This would make Kentucky Common one of the few styles that is completely American.  Furthermore, due to its Kentucky origins, it is not too far fetched to assume it shared some of its production techniques with the region's most famous beverage, bourbon. This would mean that this beer would utilize a grain makeup somewhat similar to the distillers grist; depending heavily on corn, in addition to malted barley and possibly wheat and rye to a lesser degree.  Knowing that by law bourbon is aged in only first use barrels, it is safe to assume that bourbon barrels may have been used as the fermenting vessel to this Kentucky native.

One aspect of this beer that is debated in home brew circles is whether it was soured or not.  While Wahl & Henius make no mention of any tartness, "Hoosier Beer" states that "Until 1857, all beers were fermented by wild yeasts."  "In southern Indiana, a specific style of beer made this way was called Common or Kentucky Common."  they go on to describe the style's make up, stating that "The recipe used about 30% corn and 70% barley malt.  Some roasted malt or artificial coloring was often added to the mix to darken it.  Fermentation of Common was done by sour mash process.  The brewery added (inoculated) a bit of beer from the last batch to introduce the yeast."

With so many different breweries once making this style of ale, variations would be expected as each brewer would impart his personal tastes to each offering. I imagine in its hayday one could find examples displaying various levels of nutty, caramel, roast and sourness, but we may never really know.

Although there are two commercial brewers we are aware of currently brewing Kentucky Common (Local Option & New Albanian), our brew was conceived & brewed without having tried either.  So with all of this in mind, Low Dive set forth to recreate this all but dead style of pre-prohibition ale. Our example presents itself light on the palette, although almost black in the glass.  A slight roast quality up front is quickly met with a mellow tang provided by our sour mash technique. The beer is rounded out with a little nutty/caramel backbone before it finishes crisp and refreshing due to its low ABV. (3.8%). 

Monday, July 2, 2012


Saturday was an interesting day for us. In the past, we’ve never pitched more than two different yeast strains to one batch of beer. When we do, it’s often part of our Separated at Birth Series where we split the wort in half, and pitch a different strain to each half, resulting in 2 different beers. This time however, we split the wort into nine different vessels, pitching a different strain into each. The point to all this is testing strains we’ve never used before (with the exception of one for comparison to the rest). A good portion of these strains should finish around the same time, making what should be a fun tasting in the near future. Yeast plays a huge role in a beer’s aroma, flavor and even mouthfeel. More so than many people may realize. We’ve used several different strains in the past, but we do typically use one or two strains most often. It’s important that we learn about the different strains in order to pitch the right one for whatever characteristics we might be trying to achieve. White Labs (one of the few yeast manufacturers in the world) has an impressive tap room at their San Diego location. With about 30 different beers available, all fermented with their yeast strains, they provide a wonderful opportunity to taste the differences straight from the source. Unfortunately, traveling to San Diego isn’t going to happen anytime soon, so the next best thing for us was to make our own samples.

The strains we chose include: American Ale, American Farmhouse, Australian Ale, Belgian Ardennes, Brett Brux Trois, British Ale, Czech Budejovice Lager, London Ale, and London ESB. For the sake of having more than just 1-gallon samples however, we decided to pitch the Czech Budejovice Lager strain to about 6 gallons of the wort. It was a couple years ago where Matt first drank a hop forward American lager, and had since spoke about it every once and a while. The time had come for us to brew one of our own. We used a conservative amount of Citra in the boil, and we’ll dry-hop with more Citra. We’re looking forward to enjoying it next month as the heat will sure to be every bit as intense as it has been of late.

We'll revisit this project once all the beers have been sampled and notes recorded.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Moving Forward

We wanted to take a moment to follow up on on a recent experience and what it means for the future of Low Dive Brewing.

On the morning of Friday, April 13th we were contacted by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).  As you may know, we were scheduled to sample our beer at OhNo!Doom that same evening to help celebrate the opening of their current show.  The TTB informed us that we would be unable to do so, however, because as home brewers we are restricted from making our beers available for public consumption.

What we learned that day took us by surprise, as we have always been under the impression that we could share the fruits of our labor and were simply prohibited from selling our beers.  The growing popularity of home brewing and the emergence of nano-breweries are factors that have apparently lead to increased visibility and legal grey areas around sharing hand-crafted beers.  Through this experience we have gained valuable insight into the evolving regulatory environment and have identified a couple of key resources that can help us navigate these waters.

We just want to say that regardless of what occurred last Friday, Low Dive remains focused and positive and we'll continue moving forward working with the community and opening our brewery in 2013.  There will simply be a change in our approach as we are now prohibited from providing our beer for public consumption.  However, trust that Low Dive will continue to consult our new found resources to explore opportunities to share our beers with our friends and supporters whenever possible.

Sadly, we will be forced to detach ourselves from the Screens 'n' Suds benefit show Friday, April 27 for fear that it may compromise our position when we begin applying for our licenses.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Friday the 13th

Flyer designed by Steven Fiche.

If you're in or near the Bucktown neighborhood Friday the 13th, stop in at OhNo!Doom starting at 6pm. This will be our second time offering samples at their gallery so far this year, and we're excited to debut three new and entirely different beers on this night.

But first, the main attraction. (This is an art show after all.) Curated by the great Joey Potts, It's titled A Walk Through the Dark (Art Works of the Macabre, Strange, and Bizarre), and will feature work from Ego, Ben Lyon, Steven Fiche, Scarecrowoven, Stephanie Brown, Scott Shellhamer, and Jonathan Bergeron. This is a not-to-be-missed showing of extremely talented artists. DJ Paisley Babylon will also be in attendance to set the pace. All beer aside, we'd be at this show regardless. Such a solid lineup.

Thankfully however, we will be there with beer. In fact, we'll be presenting our Mini Series which will consist of our "small" beers resulting from past parti-gyle brew days of this year.

In January, we brewed an English Barleywine. But what you'll be able to sample from that day is our Spring Barleywine. This beer, although from the second running's of the mash, finished at almost 9% abv, and will have gone through a total of three separate dry-hoppings!

A month later, we brewed a Scotch Ale. Using the third running's, we produced a much smaller beer by comparison of the Spring Barleywine and finished around 5% abv. However, we took a drastically different cold side approach by pitching a Bavarian lager yeast, introducing to everyone our first ever Märzenbier, which as
Matt explained is more commonly referred to as Octoberfestbier because breweries traditionally brewed the beer in March and would proceed to lager through the Summer months.

Only days after we brewed the Scotch Ale, we brewed another beast of a brew with an entirely new Imperial Stout recipe. Like the English Barleywine brew day, we used the second running's in order to produce our take on a new style: German Stout, or Starkbier. We used only German Noble hops, and fermented the wort with German Kölsch & Alt yeast strains.

One last little plug... There are a few remaining Low Dive shirts available at the gallery. These little gems were designed by Joey Potts, and it may be a while (if ever) until they're printed again. So get'em while you can!

See you all next Friday!


EDIT (4/13/12): TTB has informed us that we can't serve our beer tonight at OhNo!Doom. You should still come out and peep all the great new work on display.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Two Months / Six Styles

Imperial Stout - so black it's blue
(runoff from mash / boil)

In our last brewing update we discussed our Barleywine brewday & the process of using the grist for all it is worth; partigyle. With the next two Low Dive brew sessions we again used this method of frugality to produce four more unique styles

First up was our take on a Strong Scotch Ale; a very malt forward ale known for its deep smooth flavors & low ester profile. To achieve this sweet complex ale we used a relatively light hopping approach paired with a dark brown wort composed mainly of an English base malt, backed up with a decent amount of Munich and just a touch of roasted malts. To ensure a malt focused beer after fermentation, we utilized an Ale yeast, but fermented at a lower temperature more often associated with Lager strains.

The smaller cousin of the Scotch came from the same grist, but because the wort was collected after the Scotch, will clock in a little lower in the abv department. For this beer we decided to use all German hops alongside a Bavarian Lager strain in what will be Low Dive's first Marzen. If you are unaware, Marzen is a popular German Lager, traditionally brewed in March & released in late April or early May. Most often though, breweries will cold condition (Lager) Marzens until September and release them as the more familiar Octoberfestbiers.

For our next adventure in parti-ing we decided to brew a big Imperial Stout that (like the Barleywine) would again test the boundaries of our equipment. For this huge black monster we relied heavily on a blend of English & American base malts plus a huge character addition of Roasted Barley. As you may have guessed from its name, Roasted Barley has a very strong roasted character often associated with a coffee like quality it lends to wort. This strong black ale will take awhile before it is ready to be packaged and probably won't see a snifter until summer is gone & autumn is back upon us.

It wouldn't be a parti without a small bier, so with the second runnings from the Imperial Stout we decided to conceptualize a new style: German Stout. In order to showcase a Germanic influence over our stout wort we used only German hop varieties and ferment with a combination of the German Ale strains kolsch & alt. The result is definitely a stout but with a floral aroma from noble hops and a malt accentuated character from the German yeast strains.

While January and February were months of the partigyle, March's theme has been to celebrate the old & new. First the new; early in March we brewed an Imperial Brown Ale with a noticeable honey-like presence from Honey Malt. To this beer we added a very healthy dose of peanut butter to the boil. This Peanut Butter Brown Ale is currently conditioning, but as of our last sample, this new addition to the Low Dive family has a wonderful roasted peanut flavor, backed up by a honey-like caramel maltiness. Think Honey Roasted Peanut Brown Ale. We plan to have this in bottles soon, so hopefully you will have the chance to sample this innovative nutty treat.

Lastly we revisit the old. This past weekend we dusted off the old recipe book & brought out the first Low Dive Saison; a French-style Ale called Summer's Here, Man. While our artisanal approach to brewing has this batch just a little stronger than the last, it should still prove to be a refreshing & crisp ale for the warmer months & the weather we've been experiencing as of late seems to fit in perfectly with the name for this pale spicy ale.


 Summer's Here, Man
(boil / running off into into fermenter)

If all of this talk of fine malted beverages has got you thirsty, no worries. Just make sure to mark your calendar for your next opportunity to sample some of the aforementioned Low Dive Brewing treats. We will once again be pouring our fine ales at OhNo!Doom Friday April 13th. Please come out, drink some beers, check out some art & say hi.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beers at OhNo!Arcade

Saturday, February 11 marks the opening night for OhNo!Doom's first monthly show for 2012. However, the space will temporarily transform to OhNo!Arcade in the spirit of the show's theme: a tribute to video / arcade games, and the gamers that play them. Super Button Mashers will consist of over 60 different artists contributing work, food from the Duck N Roll truck, music from Saskrotch & Kkrusty, coffee from The Wormhole, and beer from yours truly! That's right, we'll be pouring our Bitmap Porter Series on this night. In fact, there's more being announced as the date nears at OhNo!Doom's Tumblr, but we'll also keep you updated here as well. We're excited to be a part of an event involving so many great people, and it all starts with our friends at the gallery. We promise you won't want to miss this.