Jun 6, 2014

German Wheat Review

Several weeks back, I brewed up a German Wheat beer.  Well done wheats are one of my favorite sipping beers, and I felt this style would be perfect for summertime.

Because I brew 10 gallons (a lot of one style of beer), I decided to split the batch by making two different beers off of one base.  Down the road, this will provide many options in terms of extra ingredients, varying dry hops, or even yeast options.  For this batch and for the next few I have planned out, I am going to keep one carboy true to the Reinheitsgebot, the German purity law, while the other I will "Americanize" by adding extra something to it.

For the German Wheat, I kept one strict to the Reinheitsgebot with only water, grain, hops, and yeast.  The other, which I cleverly named German Wheat X, I dry hopped with one ounce each of orange and lemon zest as well as about 2/3s an ounce of Hallertau hops.

As far as process, I simply used a single infusion mash at 152F.  There is always conversation about decoction mashing when it comes to German Wheat beers, but, through reading up on it and weighing my options, I decided it wasn't worth trying at this point in time.  Down the road, I would love to try a decoction mash to taste any difference.  For now, I went straight simple.

It was a standard wheat recipe (50% red wheat, 50% pilsner malt), with some Hallertau hops at 60 minutes.  I used WLP300 for both batches, grown up in a starter.  Fermentation was at 62F for 14 days.  In the German Wheat X, I added the zest and hops after 6 days of fermentation.

Review - German Wheat
Aroma - Very pleasant aroma.  More clove than banana, which I like. There is a bit of a sweet spice to the nose.
Appearance - Beautiful color.  It is a deep orange, surely from the red wheat.  Head is bright white, but doesn't last as long as I would like.  Minimal lacing on the glass.  Slightly hazy, as an unfiltered wheat should be.
Taste - Very pleasant flavor.  No off-flavors detected.  An ever-so-slight sharpness on the tip of the tongue, but it is not unpleasant.  Could have a touch more bitterness.  Most of the flavor fills the roof of the mouth and tip of the tongue.  The bitterness would help balance that out.  Very passable as a wheat; it is a beer I would proudly serve anyone.
Mouthfeel - Full body, full flavor.  Carbonation is a little lacking (time to bump up the CO2 on the kegerator).
Overall Impression - I am quite pleased with how this turned out.  Even though I am not comparing it side by side to any commercial beer, I would pick this one over many commercial wheat beers I've had recently. (It seems they are all trying to get "cute" these days.)

Review - German Wheat X
Aroma - Lemon.  Citrus.  It slaps you in the face.  It is strong - almost cleaning supply strong.  Too much.
Appearance - Looks the same as above.  Slightly less hazy, but not out of style.
Taste - Lots of lemon.  There is definitely too much citrus zest in this beer.  It overpowers any other flavor the beer has.  It still has that "wheat" taste (mostly from the yeast), but I'm a bit disappointed.
Mouthfeel - Carbonation on this one is lacking, too.  Again, lemon dominates all aspects of this beer.
Overall Impression - Unfortunately, I added too much zest.  I thought I would be in the "safe" range with 1 ounce of fresh lemon zest, but I guess not.  Maybe next time I'll try just orange zest or half the total amount.  I got zero dry hop aroma.  This beer is ok and I would give some to my friends, but I would have a conversation about it first.

Well, there you go.  If you have any questions about my process or the German Wheat I brewed, just drop a comment below.  Overall, I am happy with the brew.  For my first brew in SC, not too shabby.


May 18, 2014

H.3512 / #scbeerjobs / the Stone Bill

Few things get me as excited as beer.  So, when I heard that Stone Brewing Company was planning to open an east coast brewery (#StoneEast), I got a little excited (being an east-coaster and all).  I got more excited when I read that Myrtle Beach, my current place of residence, was vying for Stone to open up here.  "Pipe dreams," I thought.  Though, now it was in my brain.  I sooo wanted it to happen.

Then I read this article on beerofsc.com which made me give my hopes up entirely.  Apparently, SC law doesn't even allow for what Stone would want to do: a production brewery with a restaurant.  Nail in the coffin.  I still had hopes Stone would open up somewhere close, like in NC so I could at least visit.

But then, some even-keel, open-minded politicians decided SC should change its laws!  By golly!  The result was H.3512 (ok, really, the 'Stone Bill' is an amendment to H.3512, but whatever. You get the point).  For a full rundown of what the "Stone Bill" does, head back over to beerofsc.com.  But, essentially, it allows larger breweries to function more like brewpubs - food, pints, etc.  It goes way beyond making beer.  They can produce beer for sale in house or distribution AND sell you a pretzel!

And this was more than just Stone (or the minute possibility of Stone).  This meant that ALL SC breweries could do this.  They could open up tasting rooms that were actually welcoming and hospitable.  They could sell food.  They could be a place where I would want to hang out.  They could do so much more.

I jumped on emailing my representatives by using scbeerjobs.com, like all the other beer nerds in SC.  Luckily, thankfully, the bill passed through the SC House with flying colors!  On to the SC Senate. That is, until, the bill was pushed to a Conference Committee to reconcile language between the House and Senate versions.  (Drink. Blog. Repeat. has a fuller explanation.)  Not a bad thing, but a delay.

But then - THEN! - the Anheuser-Busch letter...  That got me fired up.  I've never written a letter to a politician in my life.  Not even when I was in second grade and that was what you did for Social Studies.   But this got me worked up.  I had to put my thoughts down.

So below, you will see the letter that I sent to the six SC legislators who will be on the conference committee.  I am not sure if they will actually read it, but it made me feel better.  And if any of them does read it, it will be worth my time.

While this post deviates from my homebrewing blog, I feel this is important enough to get the word out in whatever ways I can.  If you would like SC to be more open for breweries and beer, I encourage you to contact your representatives (the SC.gov website makes it pretty easy to both find and contact your representatives).  Share the word.  Use some of my language if you want to/have to.

I appreciate any help you can offer.


So, on a mobile device, the letter isn't showing up.  Try going to Google Docs to view it if you are having issues.


I am writing to encourage you to support H.3512 and its amendments - what has become known as the “Stone Bill.”  I believe passage of this bill will do very good things for the state of South Carolina.  
Recently, a letter was sent to members of the SC Senate from a representative of Anheuser-Busch.  In the letter, it is mentioned that not as many jobs will be created if a brewery (such as Stone) opens up a satellite brewery in the state.  
I think this bill is more about the breweries who are already in SC instead of who may or may not come.  There are already plenty of breweries present and active in this state who would benefit from passage of this bill.  They will have increased opportunities for food, drinks, and other sales - all requiring more employees.  More employees are more jobs.  
Along the same lines, this bill makes it more attractive for other breweries to open up in South Carolina - be they new breweries or satellite breweries.  More openings means more jobs.  
Also in the letter from Anheuser-Busch, they mention that their Williamsburg brewery, which produces 8.5 million barrels, only has 72 salaried employees, nowhere near the 400 that this bill is claimed to create.  For my arguments about the jobs, see above.  The point I want to make with these numbers is that they are trying to keep out a brewery who produces less than 500,000 barrels of beer.  Anheuser-Busch just claimed they make 17 times that amount of beer.  Seventeen times the amount!  And it is only one of their many breweries.  
It seems to me that Anheuser-Busch is more concerned about the status quo and legislating their competition out of the market.  They should be concerned about innovating and producing a product that will compete with a brewery less than one-seventeenth its size.  If this isn’t proof that craft beer and smaller breweries are a growing, booming industry, I don’t know what is.  I want South Carolina to be in the game.
On a personal note, after living in Pennsylvania for over six years, I have recently moved to back to my home state of SC.  And, as you can probably tell, I am passionate about beer.  While in PA, we visited many local breweries and all were fantastic experiences.  Food was wonderful, tours were great, and it was nice trying samples or buying a few pints of beer.  These places were local hangouts and tourist attractions.  
When we moved back to South Carolina, we visited some breweries in Myrtle Beach, where we now live, and in Columbia.  While the beers were good (what little we were allowed to try), the overall experience was lacking.  Passing this bill would allow production breweries to do more.  Those who choose could open up a restaurant, a beer garden, or a nice tasting room.  It would become a place people would want to visit.  (On a side note, Anheuser-Busch still has a major presence in PA, despite all the breweries who can make beer and also sell food!)
In the end, this bill is good for everyone.  Jobs will get created.  Brewers will have more freedom to be creative and get their products out.  And customers will be happy.
Thank you for voting in favor of H.3512.

May 16, 2014

Solo Brewing

Not what I mean when I say, "solo."
My first South Carolina brew session is behind me.

As I mentioned in my previous post, it was a solo brew.  This whole "brew by yourself" is a new thing for me.  While a typical brew day involves conversations over mash tuns and pints of beer over boil kettles, this one was a little different.  Ok, very different.  It was all up to me.  From hitting mash temps to sanitizing a plate chiller, it was all mine to do.

"What's the big deal?" you may be asking.  "People do this solo brew
thing all the time."

Well, yeah, people do brew solo all the time.  But I think having a brew partner is a favorable thing - and it's something I am quite accustomed to.

Sharing stories and beers is one of the best things about brewing with someone else.  But division of labor ain't bad either: one can monitor the boil-overs while another cleans the mash tun.  I knew that I wasn't going to have the luxury of splitting the duties on this particular brew day.

Nor is this...
So, here are a few things that I learned on my all-grain solo brew day.
  1. Know the process.  And I am not just talking about water, grain, sparge, boil, cool, pitch.  I mean, know what needs to be done and when.  What do you no longer need so you can go ahead and clean it and put it away?  Once the boil starts, you don't need the mash tun; clean it.  Having brewed on my current setup many times with a friend helped me tremendously when starting out by myself.  If you're new to brewing, prepare for some long-ish days until you get in a good rhythm.  If you can, recruit someone else who is interested or, preferably, more experienced.  The partner aspect will help you out until you get comfortable.
  2. Planning is essential - unless you want to be cleaning all day.  Part of planning is knowing the process (see above), but having a game plan for what can happen now or 15 minutes from now can make things run more smoothly.  Know what you have to pay attention to and when in the brew process and plan your cleaning and sanitizing around that.  If you plan right, cleanup gets segregated and seems way less burdensome.
  3. Beer is not your replacement friend.  It's tempting to drink a lot while you brew.  You're out there for hours, often thirsty, and beer is on the forefront your mind.  But, let me tell you, drinking doesn't do any favors at the end of a brew day.  Motivation is sapped.  Thought processes are slowed.  There are hot liquids and glass containers and the most important part of brewing happens at the end:  yeast!  Screwing up that part can ruin a whole day's effort.  I didn't drink a beer until the kettles were away and carboys were in the fridge.  I probably could've loosened up toward the end of the boil and had a lovely, refreshing, delicious beer.  It just ended up that I was too busy to drink.

    Or this.
So, there are a few things to think about.  I'm sure these are painfully obvious to some of you - and they even apply if you brew with a partner.  I may catch flack about #3 above, as many people brew because it is an excuse to drink beer at 9:00 a.m., but I stand by my list.  If you want a safe, efficient brew day, keep the brewskis to a minimum.

If you are a solo brewer, anything you would add to the list?  Partner brewers, what would you miss most if you had to brew alone?

Until next time, brewers.


May 7, 2014

Back in the Swing

It has been over a year since I last posted.  For anyone that is (or was) even remotely interested in this stuff, I'm sorry to have kept you waiting.  Life happens.  With a second baby and a move under my belt, I feel like I am finally at a place where I can pick blogging back up.

And while I wasn't writing about it for the world wide web to view, I still brewed.
I still thought about what to write.
I still want to share my experiences in hopes that one of you can relate or maybe even learn a thing or two.

Now, since I have moved away from my brew buddy, Eric, the whole brewing process is up to me.  That makes for longer, tougher, more lonely brew days, but it does open up blog post topics.  (Silver lining, I suppose.)
So, going forward, expect to see posts about differences in solo and partner brewing.
I'll still be brewin' up 10 gallon batches in two separate carboys, so that also opens up a lot of potential.
And I am in a whole new area with a whole different brew scene and homebrew club; we'll see if any posts arise there.

This post isn't super informative (and maybe not even very interesting), but take it as my foray back into blogging.  I hope to share more of my brewing journey and I hope you share yours, too.


Feb 11, 2013

Review - IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale

So, I purchased the IPA book.  I was in a mental bind about whether to get this book or the new Hops book, which is part of the Brewing Elements series.  I posted about my delima on various social networks: "which one should I get?"  To which the reply was mixed.  Get this one if you want this, get that one if you want that.  So, to make a short story boring, I bought both of them - but read the IPA book first.  (Have not yet gotten to the Hops book.  Can you say, "future post"?)

I chose the IPA book because it is more in line with what I want to brew and learn.  I want to brew a good IPA, and to a lesser extent, a good pale ale.  I figured the Hops book would talk about hops in each style, growing, selecting varieties, etc.  Not what I am wanting now.  So, on with the IPA!

The book goes in depth in to the history of the India Pale Ale style, going way back in history to its roots.  It tracks the evolution through the centuries - 1700s to present - and through the locations - Europe, India, America.  He brings in the "newer" IPA styles - double, black, Belgian, even white.  It was... moderately interesting.  I wasn't as taken with the story of the IPA as I thought I would be.  Maybe it is because the IPA of yore is quite different than what I drink when I order an IPA.

Also, I felt as if the history chapters were written individually of each other and were more for reference and research papers than for an actual narrative of history.  I felt like I was reading/reminding of the same thing over and over each chapter - lots of Burton on Trent and their water, if you catch my drift.  But this isn't to say that the history piece was bad; it just didn't flow or resonate with me as well as I would have liked.

The history piece takes up a majority of the book.  So, the subtitle, "Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale" is really a misnomer.  The book should be titled, "IPA: Evolution, Recipes, and some Tips" because there wasn't a whole lot of "technique" explained in the book.  There are a couple of pages here and a paragraph there, but what I was hoping to be a "how to build an IPA" book fell a little flat.

The tips Steele gives are good tips, but can be applied to any brewing - use fresh ingredients, use good tasting water, sanitation...  I wish there would have been a little more to this section, especially since it is the first item in the subtitle.

The recipes are plentiful, if not hard to understand and decipher.  Steele tries to make the recipes adaptable to any size brewery - 5 gallons to 50 barrels - but sometimes he just leaves out important information.  More accurately, he makes the pertinent information (i.e. - HOPS) difficult to figure out.  Let me give you an example.

Stone IPA.  We all love Stone IPA.  If you want to brew it from this recipe, though, you need to know a lot about bitterness formulas (see Palmer's, How to Brew).  Mash and grains are pretty simple, but for the hop schedule, quoting directly here, "Combine 26% Chinook with 23% Columbus and add at the start of the boil.  During the whirlpool stage, add 51% Centennial."  (Steele, pg 257)  Not like any other hop schedule you've seen, is it?  What he means is 26% of the total hop weight you use comes from the Chinook, 23% of the weight comes from the Columbus, and 51% comes from the Centennial.  He does give you the total IBUs for the beer: 75.  So, you need to know 1) math and 2) hop utilization formulas.  Which, most people don't know either.

I'd look at these recipes more as guidelines.  Some are more helpful than others (stating each hop addition should equal X number of IBUs, which is a little easier to figure out.)  You can simplify the above Stone IPA recipe into 1 ounce of Chinook, 1 ounce of Columbus, and 2 ounces of Centennial.  How many IBUs is that?  Depends on your utilization, of course, and the alpha acids of the hops, too.  So, not too helpful.  (In playing around with numbers, it would seem that 1.25 ounces of the 90 minute additions and 2.5 ounces of the whirlpool addition will get you close.)

Overall, the IPA book was an interesting read, though not exactly what I was hoping for.  If you want to know about the history of hoppy beers, by all means, this is a great book.  But if you want an end-all, be-all book on how to brew a modern version of an IPA, you will probably want to open up a different book.

I would give this a 3 star rating.


Jan 26, 2013

Waxing, but not Poetic

Waxing bottles looks bad ass.  I think almost everyone will agree to that.  So, when our homebrew club racked out the Russian Imperial Stout from the Maker's Mark barrel, Eric and I decided to bottle (who needs that on a keggerator?), label, and wax cap our share.  Coming up with a name is post all its own - as is labeling, so I won't talk about that here.  What most people want to know about is how to wax.  I found a very helpful post over on Passion Beer's website and we followed their example.  

I'll walk you through our steps and give you our details.  We were going to wax about 48 bottles.

1.  You need crayons.  We used 12 Crayola crayons.  There were cheaper options, but I decided on quality.  I hear that when school supplies hit in the fall, these 8-packs are about 25 cents.  I ended up paying 79 cents for these.  But now I can do this seven more times.

2.  You need hot glue gun sticks.  I went with the mini sticks because I could get more glue for the price (50 mini-sticks for the same price as 20 regular sticks; and 2 mini sticks have more glue than 1 regular stick.)
3.  You need a tin can.  I went with one of the "Soups that eat like a meal" soup cans.  Rinsed it out well and took the label off.  (More on the can below.)
4.  You need to heat up all the glue and crayons.  We added half the glue sticks and waited for them to melt, then the other half and waited for them to melt, then the crayons, which melted immediately.  As you can see, we put the can straight on the burner.  We started off with the can in a skillet to help diffuse the heat, but that didn't work; the glue wasn't melting.  We also tried a double-boiler kind of deal, but that didn't work either.  Putting the can directly on the burner was the only thing that melted the glue.  I was nervous that it would get too hot, but I never turned the heat to "high."  I kept it just below the highest setting and things finally started to melt.  I used an oven mitt to handle the can and a stick to a broken spatula to stir.
5.  You need to bottles to dip.  Once everything is melted, dip the bottles in the wax, pull out, spin, set right side up, and let it dribble down.  This picture to the left was one of our first attempts.  We did not dip far enough in this example.  I think it probably ended up looking alright once the wax started dripping, but there are much better examples, as you can see below.

So, what would I change?  What would I do again?
  • The hot glue to crayon ratio:  I felt like the wax was a little thin and my best guess is that it has to do with the amount of hot glue.  In Passion Beer's process, their glue to crayon ratio was closer/more even than ours  (in my little own way of calculating, theirs was about 3:1, ours 9:2).  I like the way their glue covers the caps a bit more and runs.  The crayons add the thickness, but I think too much crayon and the wax would get brittle.  Finding the right ratio is something I would work on for next time.
  • Get a wider can:  It was hard to dip the bottles toward the end because the mouth of the tin can was not wide enough to get the caps/necks submerged enough.  But too wide and the wax wouldn't be deep enough.  Again, a balance is needed.
  • Pretty much everything else.  The process was fairly easy, fun, and way cool.  Once we figured out how to melt the glue, things went along smoothly and quickly.    If you have bottles you want to keep for a long time or give away as gifts, I highly recommend waxing.  It gives an extra layer of protection from oxygen and it kicks the presentation up a few notches.  

The finished product.  
Hope you learned something.  I learned that waxing bottles isn't as intimidating as I initially thought.  Give it a try!


I wonder how hard this will be to clean off... . . . . . .  .  .  .  .  .   .   .

Dec 30, 2012

Equipment Progression

I am an all-grain, fermentation-controlled, kegging homebrewer (with other bells and whistles thrown in there, too).  But I didn't start out that way.  I was thinking about my progression as a homebrewer and wondering if I would change anything about my journey (hindsight is 20/20).  So, I made a list of my progression.  The list below doesn't contain every gadget or step, and some steps include multiple purchases/equipment, but it hits key milestones.  Here is a brief overview of how I have progressed so far as a homebrewer:
  1. Extract on the stove top
  2. Wort chiller
  3. Turkey fryer/Burner for outdoor use
  4. Kegerator
  5. Pump
  6. Fermentation control
  7. Yeast starters
  8. All-grain (all the equipment at once)
  9. Plate Chiller
  10. Oxygenation system
So, what would I change?  How would I choose to progress now that I am more advanced?  Or, I guess a pertinent question also is, where did I get the most bang for my buck?  What was most worth the money?  Below is my list answering those questions.

Here are my assumptions with my ideal list.  I am going to assume that you are able-bodied and can lift 5+ gallons of wort to pour and that you don't mind a little bit of effort.  Also, I am going to assume we are starting from the beginning - extract on stove top.  I will also assume that you have all the basic equipment - big pot, fermenters, PBW, sanitizer, etc.  I will also assume you have space - space to store equipment and space to use said equipment.  Being stuck in an apartment, you may not be able to adhere to this list.

1.  Extract on the stove top
I said I was going to start here, so here I am.  Nearly everyone starts here.  No shame if you are.

2.  Turkey fryer/Burner for outdoor use
Get out of the house, man!  Having a fryer gets you out of a cramped kitchen, boilovers are nowhere near of a hassle, and your kitchen stays much cleaner.

3.  Yeast Starters
"Brewers make wort; yeast make beer."  I am a firm believer in that saying.  As brewers, we are trying to give yeast an optimal environment to do their thing and do it well.  Up until now, you can toss in several vials or smack packs and get away with good beer.  But pitching several packs of yeast is not the same as making a starter.  A starter really awakens, multiplies, and energizes the yeast so they can do what they do best.  It also provides enough yeast so that they aren't overworked or strained.  Starters really helped make my beer better and is one of the more inexpensive ways to make better beer.

Immersion Wort Chiller
4.  Wort chiller
Up until this point, there are lots of ways to chill wort without dedicated equipment.  Frozen 2-liter bottles (sanitized) can work wonders.  So can a snow bank.  Or an ice bath.  Or time.  All that being said, a wort chiller can help get the wort to a reasonable pitching temperature much faster.  Most people use an immersion chiller, which works really well.  If you have warm ground water, you may want to think of a pre-chiller so you can get everything down below 75F.  It would be best to get it a few degrees cooler than your fermentation temperature.

5.  Fermentation control
In making sure yeast can do their thing in the most optimal way, we need to have enough of them (a starter), pitch them into an environment appropriate for them (wort chilled to fermentation temp), and then control the environmental temperature, which is where fermentation control comes in.   Most people have a fridge (Craigslist!) dedicated to fermentation with a temperature controller.  This combination makes it easy to set your IPA at 68F or your Lager at 50F and let it go.  The work and worry is taken out yeast getting too warm and producing off flavors.  For some, a cool basement is perfect for fermentation, but a fridge takes it to the next level.

6.  Kegerator
Most people think this is the best choice you can make, but if you are producing crappy beer, why would you want that on tap?  I say, worry about making good beer before you worry about how you are going to dispense it.  But homebrew isn't the only thing that can go on a kegerator.  You can easily get commercial kegs and sixtels for your beverage enjoyment.  So, if you are impatient, go ahead and jump on this early.  It is super helpful for when you do want to put homebrew on.  Cleaning and filling one big bottle is a lot more fun than 54 little ones.  You can check out how I went about building my own kegerator at this post.

7.  All-grain
If you are finally making the best beer you can with extract, it is time to go all-grain.  We waited nearly 18 months before we brewed our first all-grain batch.  Some people thought we were crazy for waiting that long but neither of us wanted to make crappy beer on more expensive equipment.  I recommend getting your fermentation situation under control before you go to all-grain.  Equipment is expensive, it takes more time, and there is more to clean/learn/do.  Take your time in getting comfortable with brewing before you go all in.

A gravity fed system.
8.  Pump
A pump (or two) is very helpful on a brew day.  It can move lots of liquid easily (no more broken backs) and safely (no more broken carboys).  But it is not necessary to brewing.  Is it helpful?  Heck, yeah!  But not necessary.  You can do all-grain with a three tier gravity system, letting liquid flow from one pot to another lower one.

9.  Plate chiller
Is this even necessary?  No, but it chills wort to a cooler temperature faster than almost any other method.  We can get our 10+ gallons of wort cooled to 65F and in fermenters all in about 15 minutes.  It is great - expensive, but great.  I could go into a long diatribe about "cold break" and "chill haze," but you can look that up yourself.  Just know that a plate chiller does a great job at the one thing it is supposed to do.

10.  Oxygenation system
For most brewers, aerating their wort involves pouring, splashing, rocking, and shaking.  We did it that way for the longest time.  But, finally, I purchased an aeration system to use pure oxygen.  With it, I no longer have to lift up fragile, wet carboys full of sugar water and pour it back into the pot.  And then back into the carboy.  It saves a lot of effort.  Plus, an oxygenation stone does the job of aeration so much better than pouring.  I have noticed a step up in the quality of my beer.  The flavor is crisper and cleaner; the yeast flavors are what they are supposed to be.  It is last on the list because it is a bit of a specialty gadget and there are other ways to get air in the wort that are cheaper and nearly as sufficient.  An oxygenation stone is really one of those things you want to get if you really want the best beer possible.

So, there is my list.  It is my opinion; you may differ.  I'd like to hear if you do, why you do, what you did, etc.  You may have insight I do not.

I should also note that you shouldn't just race down this top ten like a checklist.  Only move once you feel like you have a good handle on what you are doing AND you feel like the next step will help you make better beer.  You need to have both of those things be true in order to get anything out of that money spent.  Also, some of the things on the list have nothing to do with better beer and instead are for the sanity of the brewer (kegging and plate chiller, for example - though some would argue that those two pieces of equipment can produce better beer).

Best of beer in the new year, readers.


Dec 13, 2012

Adding Spices to Your Brew

As I mentioned in a previous post, I didn't think my Pumpkin Ale had enough spice character to it.  The general process for adding spices, which we followed, is to add them with 5 to 0 minutes left in the boil.  You can add them earlier or later, but adding them around knockout is the general practice.  Some spices or flavors (like vanilla) can be added to the secondary.

Some whole spices - cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.
But, I don't really want to make this a "how to" spice post.  I am no expert in the world of spices.  I can just tell you what I did when my beer had too little spice.  I wanted to add more.  But more of what?  And how much more?  Since I keg, dumping in a bottle of ground cinnamon would've been easy, but over-spicing is really, really easy to do and it can ruin a batch of beer.  (Please note, a bottle of ground cinnamon IS too much to add to 5 gallons of beer.)  I wanted a way I could add a little bit of spice to a pint to find the right balance of flavors.

Not the brand I used, but cheap nonetheless.
So, here's what  I did:  I collected several clean jars of all types - baby food, Mason, salsa, but they don't need to be big.  In fact, smaller may be better.  To each one I added a "serving" of spice - cinnamon, all spice, clove, ginger, nutmeg.  "A serving" is relative, but about a tablespoon or so is what I did.  I tried to use whole spices where available and just crush them a little bit before putting them in the jar.  For some, I used McCormick brand ground spices, and I think it worked out ok.  Once I had all the spices in their own little jars, I poured just enough (cheap) vodka over them to cover.  Then, I let them sit.

What I got over the next few days was a spice-filled liquid to add to my beer.  I bought some plastic droppers and would add a little of this and a few drops of that to each pint I poured.  It is amazing what 3 drops of cinnamon could do to a beer.  Then I started mixing and tweaking - vanilla (bought extract from the store.  Shortcut!), cinnamon, all spice... they all brought something to the beer.

While I didn't end up opening the keg and adding spices to the whole batch, I got to play around with different spice mixes and I have a much better idea as to where to start next time I make a pumpkin ale.

Another benefit to this process is scalability.  I know that 4 drops of "Spice A" in a pint is spot on; 8 pints in a gallon; 5 gallons in a batch.  So, 4 x 8 x 5 gives me 160 drops per keg.  My droppers are marked for measurements, so I can figure out how many drops in a mL and figure out how many mL of spice to add to a batch.  I guess the tough part will be figuring out how a number such as '24 mL' equates to dry spices.  But it should at least give me a starting point and a ratio to the other spices I'm adding.  Or, I could brew the beer and only add spices at kegging.

After a while, I took some coffee filters and filtered all the crushed spices out of the vodka, leaving me with pure spice liquid.  I hope to save it and use it in another beer sometime soon.  Or, maybe I brew well enough that I won't need to add any more spice to my beer.

But that day isn't here... yet.


Nov 30, 2012

Pumpkin Beer Review & Recipe

Life has a way of filling up pretty quickly.  But, no excuses.  I haven't been as diligent as I want with this blog.  Now that Thanksgiving is over, maybe I can get back in the swing of things.

For this post, I am going to review our pumpkin beer, Fairytale Debacle.

The beer looks great.  It is one of the clearest beers I have brewed with an amber color, almost with an orange tint.  The head is nice and fluffy.  Very respectable pint of beer, if I do say so myself.

I get some spice flavors coming through the nose, though, not a whole lot.  Has a good malt presence, too.  Nothing to overpowering, but pleasant.

Good beer, easy drinking.  I get a bit of pumpkin flavor with some spice, but not a whole lot going on.  The spice flavors are more subtle and in the background.  Also, I think there is too much nutmeg or ginger which gives it a bit of a sharp aftertaste, but that is not unpleasant and mellows as I drink the pint.

Good and easy to drink.

Overall Impression
Overall, I think we did a very fine job with this beer.  It looks good, smells good, tastes good.  I do wish there was a little more spice to it - not an overpowering spice flavor, but something a bit more than what is present.  It was fun using pumpkin in the mash and the beer had a nice, orange-y hue to it.  That may have been my imagination, but I like to think the pumpkin actually DID something.


So, there is the review.  It is kind of funny that I am doing a review on this beer now considering the keg kicked before Thanksgiving.  I did have some notes jotted down from actual pints I drank, so I am not making up anything above.  We had a birthday party for my son and all the guests drank up my homebrew!  Guess they enjoyed it.

As I mentioned, there wasn't a whole lot of spice going on.  I wish we would have added more... but there is a way to correct that, or at least supplement that.  But that will be a post for another day.

Here is the recipe for a 10 gallon batch:
Malts/Adjuncts (lbs)

15 Rahr 2-row Pale
5 German Munich Malt
1 Briess Caramel 80
0.5 Bries Caramel 60
1 Rice Hulls
8.25 Roasted Pumpkin

Mash at 152 F for 60 minutes.
Our OG - 1.052


2 ounces of Cluster (6.8%) @ 60 minutes
Added spices at knockout (use any pumpkin pie spices you like)

Fermented cool, around 67 F.

So, while it may be a bit out of season, give the recipe a shot.  I was quite pleased with the results.


Sep 28, 2012

Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout

As our homebrew club did about a year ago, we again decided to age a beer in a bourbon barrel.  The Belgian Dubbel turned out nicely last time and this year we are upping our game and going for a Russian Imperial Stout.  (Here is the brew sheet for the RIS.)

To be honest, there isn't a whole lot of stuff for me to talk about... 11 of us brewed 5 gallons of the beer and brought it to our local meeting place, Canal Street, and all siphoned our individual beers into the one barrel.  We'll let it sit for a couple to a few months and transfer back out into our individual kegs/carboys.  

I have an idea on a few questions you may be asking, so let me take a stab at what may be on your mind.

How did you get a barrel?
One of the main guys in starting the club, Colin Presby, works for Weyerbacher Brewing.  They use Maker's Mark barrels for some of their brews.  Last year, he got one of their barrels after it was used.  This year, he got one that was left unused.  Straight bourbon barrel, baby!  It will give off a lot more bourbon and barrel flavor in less time.

What did you do to prepare it before you put your beer in?
The barrel was pretty new still, so Colin didn't do much.  He added a little bit of the RIS to keep the barrel wet, but other than that, nothing.

What if someone's beer was bad?
We wouldn't have put it in.  We tasted everyone's beer before it went into the barrel.  Even though it was all the the same recipe, the beers tasted different.  Some were stronger up front, some had lingering flavors, some still had some attenuation yet to go.

How do you know it is finished?
We will taste it!  We are going to pull out a sample each month at the brew club meetings to taste the changes.  When we think it is ready, we'll pull it.  Expected aging time is two to three months because the barrel hasn't been used for beer before.

What are you going to do with it?
Besides drink it, you mean?  I plan on bottling my 5 gallons worth, even though I typically keg.  This is a beer I will want to save for a while and share with family and friends.  I plan on bottling in 22 ouncers and coating the caps with wax.  I am sure the wax coating will be a post in the future...

Lots of Russian Imperial Stout getting ready to age.

Our barrel.  The one in the back is an old, dried out barrel that is used as a table.

Colin explaining... something.

Some of the brewers.

Transferring from keg to barrel.

The finished product.  

So, if you get a chance, head by Canal Street Pub in Reading, PA to take a peek.