Category Archives: Homebrewing

This page has all of my posts that are about my home brewing efforts.

2014 Year in Review

You’ve probably been seeing this sorts of articles all over the interwebs. If so, thanks for reading mine as well.

First things first, my wife and I had our third baby this year. That means I didn’t accomplish as much as I wanted. And that’s still the case. I’m lucky to have signed Scoville when I did since we were sort of “between kids.” Since we had our third my homebrewing and board game design endeavors have faded.

But I’m not one to make excuses. Having our third child was our biggest accomplishment of 2014. However, this blog isn’t about babies and being a daddy. It’s about beer and board games. So let’s start with the Barley and see what I actually managed to accomplish…

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Barley Review

My goal for homebrewing in 2014 was 6 batches of beer. In that list was a pumpkin ale, an IPA, and a lagered Oktoberfest. I did none of those.

I ended up brewing three batches, one of which is sitting in a carboy waiting to be bottled. The brews were a brown ale called “Nobody Plays Brown,” a hefeweizen called “You’ve Been Wheated,” and the third is a Belgian dubbel called “Rolling Dubbels.” For each I created a beer label, which was quite fun to do. Here are the labels:

NobodyPlaysBrownLabel051314   

The brown ale and hefeweizen are currently in corny kegs in my basement refrigerator. I have a very generous neighbor who has loaned me a bunch of brewing equipment including the kegging stuff. The dubbel is sitting patiently for me to devote an evening to bottling.

Overall I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t brew more. That’s something I’ll try to remedy.

On the consumption end of brewing I had a pretty successful year. I began using UnTappd and have been able to have a great record of the brews I’ve enjoyed. In 2014 I logged 107 distinct beers. That’s a new brew every 3.4 days… not too shabby.

So despite the lack of homebrewing I’d say that it was a successful beer year. It’s unlikely I’ll be able to log 100+ new unique beers in 2015, but I’ll try my best.

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Boards Review

Obviously the highlight of my 2014 from a board game perspective was the successful Kickstarter campaign that Tasty Minstrel Games ran for my first published design, Scoville. It raised over $106,000! It was amazing to watch all that support come in during the campaign and I cannot thank all you backers enough.

The next highlight was getting to play Scoville with a final production copy at Gen Con. Punching out the little peppers, holding the pepper shaped bits, and planting and harvesting on the nice thick board with my close friends was a great memory.

On the design front, I didn’t sign any games in 2014. But I blame that on the fact that I didn’t really design any games in 2014. The biggest effort was for The Grand Illusion. This is a game where you are a street performer trying to work your way up to having a big time show in a theater where people come to watch you perform a grand illusion. Thematically it was my favorite game to work on. I love the theme of Victorian era magicians competing over audiences. My efforts for The Grand Illusion included making several prototypes, ordering a deck of cards from The Game Crafter, and playtesting it about a half dozen times. The end result was that it felt like it was lacking. So I shelved it.

Otherwise the only other thing of consequence from 2014 was a new design called Ziggurat. This is a resource management game where players are trying to be the best contributors to build the ziggurat. This game has one of those unique elements which sets it apart. It has been played about a dozen times now. While it plays through to the end, plays smoothly, and players are generally positive about it, it too feels lacking. It currently struggles from a “One path to victory” mentality and is devoid of any catch-up mechanisms. To alleviate that I want to add some private scoring conditions as well as allow scoring via different paths. This will make the game more “Euro-y” as well as more enjoyable. I’m hoping that Ziggurat will become my next signed game and I have big plans for it in 2015.

2015: Year of the Ziggurat

2015: Year of the Ziggurat

Unlike beer consumption, which I track with UnTappd, there is no app to track board game plays. Please don’t tell me to use the Board Game Geek site to track my plays as I do not care for that interface. I’ve documented the games I played all year in my Monday Brews articles. However, I do not feel like reading through all of them and trying to figure out how many games I played, let alone how many unique games. It was a lot. But I have one favorite…

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2014 Game of the Year – Five Tribes

When my friend Ben and I were in the exhibit hall at Gen Con we wandered past a demo of Five Tribes by Days of Wonder. We were immediately in awe of its beauty. The game simply looks fantastic. As we stood and watched the demo we quickly realized that this would be a good game, and a game we would like to own. Ben went to the counter and asked if they had any left, which they did not. However, he was told that they would have something like 50 or 100 copies the next morning when the exhibit hall opened.

So Ben got in the hall and in line as early as he could and was fortunate enough to snag a copy. His copy has since been played more than any other game by our gaming group.

The game not only has beautiful artwork, but it also has excellent wooden components. The palace and oasis pieces are particularly nice. Days of Wonder has a really excellent game with this one.

HONORABLE MENTION:

Istanbul: This game is clever and interactive. Players move their merchant around the markets in Istanbul trying to purchase or earn rubies. By making clever use of their assistants they create opportunities to earn those rubies. I love that the game is pretty easy to learn and understand while simultaneously creating interesting and deep decisions.

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Moon Yeti Games

MY Small Logo Dark Blue FontThe final thing of note for this 2014 Year in Review is that three friends and I decided to begin a board game publishing company. We will be Moon Yeti Games and our plans are to publish great games with beautiful art and high quality components.

The highlight of 2014 for Moon Yeti was that we gave away about 100 copies of our first game, Mutiny, at Gen Con. Adam Buckingham designed a 4-card social deduction and back-stabbing game to go on the backs of our business cards. We played it a ton and settled on a design, had them printed, and gave them away at the convention. That was pretty awesome.

Moon Yeti is currently developing a version that goes up to 8 players. We hope to have it for sale through our website over the next few months.

For more information, check out moonyeti.com. Thanks for reading and I wish you a fantastic 2015!

Brewology 101: Kegging

You'll never want to bottle again!

You’ll never want to bottle again!

I have an awesome neighbor who used to brew. One of the ways he is awesome is that he is letting me borrow (indefinitely, I believe) his 6 gallon carboy, wort chiller, and double keg system!

A friend came over the other night to help me with kegging. I had never done it before and I was a little nervous.

But before we get to the kegging I wanted to mention my process for bottling:

  1. Save bottles from friends. You typically need 45-50 bottles per 5 gallon batch. (Time requirement: months)
  2. Soak bottles and peel labels off. (1 hour)
  3. Wash bottles in dishwasher. (1 hour)
  4. Transfer beer from carboy to plastic fermenter. (15 minutes)
  5. Sanitize a group of 10 bottles. (3 minutes)
  6. Fill and cap ten bottles. (10 minutes)
  7. Repeat Steps 5 & 6 four more times. (~45 minutes)
  8. Clean counter, plastic fermenter, carboy, tubes, etc. (30 minutes)

All told the bottling process usually takes about 3 hours on any given evening, which doesn’t include the bottle soaking/label peeling portion. It’s not enjoyable work. Thus, I was very happy when my neighbor loaned me his kegging gear.

What is a Keg?

Cornelius (“Corny”) Keg

A keg is basically just a metal tank in which to put beer. The keg allows for the introduction of high pressure (~10-25 psi) Carbon Dioxide to the beer.

Soda producers and beer producers often use these types of kegs to store their product. These will be distributed to restaurants and bars where they will be connected to the taps.

You can buy these types of kegs online or at a local brewing store for roughly $50.

But you’ll also need some other equipment. The American Homebrewers Association has a nice run-down of the equipment you’ll need here.

These include connectors for the keg, plastic tubing, a CO2 tank, and a pressure regulator. I’m not providing an exhaustive list of the items you need. You can find that elsewhere. Rather, today’s kegging article if focused on the kegging process.

Racking Your Beer

Usually a homebrewer till use a carboy for secondary fermenting. If this is the case for you, you’ll want to rack your beer before transferring it to the keg. This is a simple process.

First, make sure everything that will touch the beer is sanitized. I use One Step for my sanitization. This means you’ll need to sanitize your plastic fermenter, the transfer tubing, the keg, etc.

Then I prefer utilizing an auto-siphon to draw the beer out of the carboy and into the plastic fermenter. By doing this step you help eliminate much of the sediment from the beer getting into the keg.

Fill the Keg!

This is the portion of the brewing process that replaces bottling. Instead of doing all those steps I listed above, simply use your auto-siphon to transfer your beer from the plastic fermenter into the keg. So. Much. Easier!

Do You Have Gas?

I hope you’ve got gas. Once the beer is in the keg, seal the keg and hook up your CO2 tank. Here’s where you’ll need a little information. You’ll need to know the temperature of the beer so that you can apply the right pressure. Here is a handy (?) chart to help you set your pressure correctly (Click for full size):

Image courtesy of KegOutlet.com

Some people force carbonate their kegged beer. This can be seen in the video below. Basically this utilizes a higher pressure of CO2 for a few days. Once those few days have passed, hook up your dispensing line, lower the pressure to dispensing levels (10-20 psi) and try your brew!

Today was a very brief article on kegging. Here are some picture of my kegs and equipment:

Helpful Video:

Nobody Plays Brown – Homebrew #5

NobodyPlaysBrownLabel051314

I brewed my first batch of beer for 2014 last week. It was a bit chilly sitting in my driveway while the wort was boiling. But I powered through and now my brew is transferred to the carboy getting tastier by the day.

There’s just something about brewing your own beer. It’s manly. It’s adventuresome. It’s rewarding. So in a few weeks I’ll have about 50 bottles of Nobody Plays Brown. How cool is that?

Brown Ales… What are they?

Brown ales are described this way on BeerAdvocate.com:

Spawned from the English Brown Ale, the American version can simply use American ingredients. Many other versions may have additions of coffee or nuts. This style also encompasses “Dark Ales”. The bitterness and hop flavor has a wide range and the alcohol is not limited to the average either.

And since you may not know what an English Brown Ale is either, here is the BeerAdvocate.com description for that:

Spawned from the Mild Ale, Brown Ales tend to be maltier and sweeter on the palate, with a fuller body. Color can range from reddish brown to dark brown. Some versions will lean towards fruity esters, while others tend to be drier with nutty characters. All seem to have a low hop aroma and bitterness.

And since you may not know what a Mild Ale is either, here is the BeerAdvocate.com description for that:

The quintessential British session beer, like its name suggests, a Mild is known for its low level of hops character. Alcohol content is traditionally very low. Grainy to toasty malts might be present, but expect some body from the high dextrins produced in brewing. Low carbonation with a near still, bubbly head. Colors can range from gold to dark brown. Traditionally a draft beer made popular in London and the Midlands of England.

Brown Ale

So what did we learn? Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of Brown Ales:

  • Low level of hops
  • Low alcohol level
  • Malty
  • Can be nutty (Can’t we all?)
  • Reddish brown to dark brown

There you go. Now you know as much as I do about Brown Ales!

Caribou Slobber = Nobody Plays Brown

This brew was a kit I received as a Christmas present from my older brother. It is called Caribou Slobber and is a kit based on Big Sky Brewing‘s Moose Drool.

For 2014 I am choosing board game related names for my brews. I twitter-sourced this name and must give credit where credit is due. Thanks to the Cardboard Jungle Podcast for the suggestion!

The kit includes the following:

  • Specialty grain (Breiss Caramel, Fawcett Pale Chocolate, Black Malt)
  • 6 lbs Amber Malt Syrup
  • 1 lb Amber Dry Malt Extract
  • 1oz US Goldings Hops
  • 1oz Liberty Hops
  • 1oz Willamette Hops

Those are the key ingredients for the brew. You can check out the recipe here: Caribou Slobber Recipe (pdf).  It’s a pretty easy kit to brew and I had an enjoyable time brewing it.

In another week and a half I’ll bottle it and then the aging begins. I think I’ll see if I can save most of it for fall.

Anyone know of a cheap place to buy glossy label paper so I can make some labels for this brew?

Real Favorite Things

April Fool's Version of B&B

April Fool’s Version of B&B

Most of you understood that my “Hexes & Hops” article was an April Fool’s joke. Others mentioned that they actually preferred the green motif. If you missed out on the fun and want to see what it looked like, just click the image to the right.

I had fun writing that article and I hope you enjoyed reading it. Today I’m posting a true version of my favorite things. And I’m using all the same categories from the April Fool’s article.

Let’s get started with my favorite Barley things…

Barley Favorites:

BEER STYLE: Just about anything Belgian

I love Belgian beers, specifically Trappist beers. They have floral notes and beautiful body. And they are easy enough to understand with the names Dubbel, Tripel, Quadrupel, etc. Of those varieties I would say Tripel is my favorite. But be careful because these tend to be on the strong side. Here’s a picture from Wikipedia showing some of the best Trappist beers and their glasses:

For the next Board Game Night???

Honorable Mention: Honey Anything, Scotch Ale, Hefeweizen

BEER ESTABLISHMENTS: Breweries/BrewPubs

If I’m going out for a beer I’m gonna go someplace where they either brew beer or they serve local beer on tap. There are actually two new places being built near me that will be great Beer Establishments. I’m also blessed to have a brewery within 1 mile of my house, another big one 25 minutes away, and several more within the city. Madison, Wisconsin is a great beer town!

So I’m not going to bother going to one of those places with the bucket of Miller Lite. I’m going to a place that offers at least 10 different “good” beers on tap. I recommend this strategy.

BEER: Duvel or Orval

To go along with my favorite beer style, I would say my favorite beer would be either Orval, which is trappist, or Duvel. These are both awesome beers with amazing flavor. Of course Chimay, Rochefort, Westmalle, and La Trappe are great substitutes.

Honorable Mention: Leffe, New Glarus Cabin Fever Honey Bock (local), Lake Louie Warped Speed Scotch Ale (local)

BEER BREWING PHASE: Cracking open the first of a new batch!

I’d be fooling myself if drinking that first new beer wasn’t my favorite part. It’s way better than the boiling, racking, or bottling. Obviously we don’t brew beer so we can have fun brewing. That’s a side benefit. The real reason we brew beer is so that we savor and enjoy fine beer!

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Boards Favorites:

GAME MECHANIC: Worker Placement

I love worker placement games. Some of my favorites are Agricola (which I rarely play), Belfort, and Stone Age. I like the idea that each player has a “crew” to work with and the winner will be the player who best utilized their crew.

If you want to learn more about the Worker Placement mechanic check out iSlayTheDragon’s guide: Take This Job and Place It.

PLAYER STYLE: Fun People

Games are all about fun. So if you are playing and conversing in a manner that is fun and you are fun to be around, then you fit in the category of “Fun People.”

GAME NIGHT HABITS: Contributors

I like it when people bring beverages, snacks, and games to a Board Game Night. It shows you are taking ownership of it. It shows you are there to have a good time. It shows you are part of the group rather than a clinger-on. I also like it when people take charge and read game rules ahead of time or come prepared to teach a game that they enjoy. Be part of it, people!

GAME ART: Merchants & Marauders

This game wins for the board and the player mats. I absolutely love the use of vivid and bright color. I’ll skip the explanations and just show you the art:

This doesn't even do it justice.

This doesn’t even do it justice.

When you’ve got ships out there on the board sailing around then you can really immerse yourself in the Pirate culture!

GAME: Scoville

Alright… call me out on loving my own game. That’s fine. But I wouldn’t have designed it if I didn’t at least like it. And it turns out that I really love Scoville. I’ve played or taught it over 125 times and I’m not sick of it. It is simple, elegant, easy to learn and play, but deep in the interaction and gameplay departments. When it gets produced I hope you’ll check it out.

GAME DESIGN TIPS (Rebuttal of the fake ones):

  1. DO NOT hire an artist for a prototype. Let the game persuade a publisher and then THEY will hire an artist.
  2. DO NOT quit your day job after one successful game. Board game design doesn’t pay the bills.
  3. You should playtest a game no less than 40 times. Preferably closer to 100. Fine tune that thing like it’s a 50s Corvette that still roars like a lion!
  4. Playtest your game enough to find any place where it might be broken and fix those places. Broken games suck and demonstrate that you probably haven’t put enough work into it.
  5. Don’t go hog wild over adding tons of components. Try to keep the component list as streamlined as possible. But if you need to components to make your game great, then go for it!
  6. Don’t sell out a Kickstarter campaign by adding minis. Just make a great game.
  7. Don’t force a long playtest on people. Play long enough to get valuable feedback.
  8. Don’t use spinners. There are almost always better, more fun ways to design random elements of gameplay.
  9. Paper money works, but I prefer chit coins.
  10. Don’t design a CCG. But if you do, make it great!

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There you go. April Fool’s is over and this article should fit much more closely with your Boards & Barley habits. Feel free to chime in with your favorites as well!

Goals for 2014

2013 Was a great year for me. So I’ve decided to have some big goals for 2014. Normally on a Friday I review a game or post a Design Me challenge. But since it is still the first week of the year I’m taking this opportunity to share my goals for the rest of 2014. Let’s start with the Barley goals…

The Barley Goals:

In 2013 I brewed my first four batches of beer. They were an Amber Ale, Honey Ale, Oatmeal Stout, and Scotch Ale. I can do better than that, so my first Barley goal of 2014 is:

#1: Brew 6 Batches of Beer

I received the Northern Brewer Caribou Slobber kit as a Christmas present, so that will be the first brew of 2014. I will plan to brew it on the first day when the temperature is over 35 degrees since I brew outside with a turkey fryer.

Other styles of beer that I’d like to brew are:

  • Hefeweizen
  • Oktoberfest
  • Pumpkin Ale
  • India Pale Ale (for my hop-forward friends)
  • Winter Warmer

In 2013 I named by beers after renaissance men. In 2014 I will be naming them (and hopefully labeling them) with board game related things. I am going to work on a Boards & Barley label that I can put onto the bottles and make them look more official. I’ll likely have way too much fun with that.

#2: Get away from brewing with kits

Beautiful raw ingredients!

I have an awesome beer brewing store close to where I work. They have buckets of different types of barley and malt. I wish I had asked for a beer recipe book for Christmas. So my goal is to tailor at least three of the beers listed above to my own particular recipes. For example, I would likely soften the hoppiness of whichever IPA I want to brew so that it is more drinkable by people like myself who don’t care for overly hopped beers. So by getting away from using beer kits I can free myself to make the beer however I want it to be.

#3: Branch Out

This refers to my beer consumption. It’s easy to drink only the few styles or brands that I know I enjoy. So in 2014 I want to branch out and be willing to try many different styles of beer. I’ll be keeping a list of the beer styles that I enjoy throughout the year and hopefully have a sweet beer report at the end of 2014.

The Board Goals:

While the Barley goals are all something that I know I can accomplish on my own, board game goals are more dependent on other people. You need playtesters, publishers, artists, etc. With that in mind I am setting board game design goals that I believe I can accomplish without those other people. For example, I could set a goal of getting a game signed, but that would require a publisher to help me accomplish the goal. However, if the goal was to design a “signable” game, then that is something that I can accomplish on my own. Rule for life: set yourself up to succeed. So these are goals that I can accomplish without requiring publishers or artists.

#1: Print on Demand – The Game Crafter

POD FTW!

One big goal of mine is to put two games up for sale on The Game Crafter. Why would I want to do this instead of approaching a publisher? Because game design is all about fun. I think it would be a lot of fun to create a couple of games that people could buy directly without having to wait for a kickstarter campaign or for distribution or whatever.

So I want to take two designs, create my own original artwork, and post them to TGC. The first one I post will likely be Quantum Orcas. With the recent improvements to the design I believe the game is getting close.

To make the goal “achieveable” I plan to post one game to TGC in the first six months of 2014 and the other game in the later half of 2014. This is something I’m pretty excited about. I’ve used TGC to make prototype stuff, but never to sell my own games. It should be fun!

#2: A Heavy Game

While Scoville will be a “big box” game, the design of the game is quite simple in nature. In 2014 I want to design a really heavy game in the realm of the Uwe Rosenberg games. I want there to be a high level of player interaction and an intense decision space. I want each decision to feel uber important. And I want to spend a long time balancing cards/events/scoring options. Seth Jaffee recently posted an article about balance that will help me approach a heavy game like the one I want to design.

This is a tough goal since so much goes into big game designs. Fortunately I have two friends on board to co-design with me and I have a theme in place already. I’m excited to see how things develop throughout the year.

#3: Pitch a Game

I’ve never really pitched a game. Scoville sort of pitched itself thanks to the kind words of the awesome people at Protospiel-Milwaukee last March. My third boards goal for 2014 is to have a game that is pitchable, and to actually schedule a meeting with a publisher and sit down to pitch the game. This is one of the most interesting parts of being a game designer. Can you also be a salesperson? I hope to find out in 2014.

#4: “Finish” Some Lingering Game Designs

You're going down, Trading Post!

You’re going down, Trading Post!

Coming up with a game idea and making a prototype are the easy part of game design. It’s the playtesting, modifying, balancing, and other stuff that make game design challenging. I have numerous game design concepts that I would like to “finish” in 2014.

“Finish” is an interesting word since, like most art, how do you ever know if you are actually finished with something. I like the rule of thumb where you could consider a game design “finished” if someone says they would buy it. So that will be my measuring stick for 2014.

I particularly want to finish three designs: Trading Post, Brooklyn Bridge, and Conclave. I think all three are unique enough to warrant my time and effort to “finish” them. We shall see!

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So to recap, I want to brew 6 beers and design (or finish) 6 games. That works out to 1 brew and 1 board game every two months. I think I can do that, but I’d better get to work!

Did I leave anything off the list? Are there things you would like me to do in 2014?

Also, what types of articles would you like to see on this blog? I didn’t set any specific blog goals, but I plan to continue providing mediocre content on a regular basis. If there are topics you would like to see, please let me know!

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