Wednesday, December 12, 2012

American IPA

I brewed my first straight forward, traditional IPA this past weekend.  While I put a little bit of my own twist on it by using some Golden Naked Oats and untraditional flavoring/aroma hops of Warrior and Nugget (and planning to dryhop with some German Opal) the recipe was one of the most "to style" that I have made. I had some trouble keeping the mini mash part at a low temp. It actually was around 146-148 for a while but slowly raised to 160 after adding some heat, we'll see what that does to the body. The OG was measured at 1.068 and had a refreshingly bitter finish before fermentation. This should end up a nice dry hoppy IPA.


Finally bottled with 4 oz. of sugar

Cracked the first one of these open.  Certainly not as bitter as I had expected, more balanced with sweetness but it seems to be a nice pale ale at this point.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Spiced Belgian Tasting

Haven't done a tasting in a while and just popped open my strong/spiced Belgian ale.

A- Cloudy amber with a large head that fades slowly leaving no lacing.  Pretty bubbles in the tan head.

S- Spice, clove and cardamom, lead the way with some caramel, prune and fig notes.

T- Like the nose the spice dominates with clove dominating but a mild toasty flavor and some fig/cherry fruit also in the mix. Finishes long and dry with a bit of tang and hops.

M- Fairly thin, accentuated by the fairly high carbonation.  The carbonation gives it a bit of a bite on the dry finish.

O- A quite pleasant beer with the Rochefort yeast giving strong spice notes that are even more accentuated by the additions.  The wine has faded entirely giving no noticeable contribution.  This one wasn't what I was going for with the beer and the carbonation could be dialed back some, but still very enjoyable.  The alcohol also really sneaks up on you in this one. Very strong but no alcohol presence until you feel it all over.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

BKYeast Brett Isolate (Funky Kast #3)

The very cool Dmitri from BKYeast recently had a post about giving away 4 strains of Brettanomyces to those who ask (and pay for shipping). While I thought it was a longshot I decided to send an email inquiring about C2, one of the 3 Brett strains he isolated from Cantillon Iris.  I was happy to hear back that I am one of the 15 people he will be shipping his samples of C2.  I'm super excited for this chance to experiment with such an original yeast (and one from a brewery I very much like and recently visited).  I'm already thinking of a few recipes that have potential to use this yeast as the sole fermenter.  Depending on what characteristics I get out of the yeast I will also probably use it in the secondary or at bottling with saisons, dubbels or old ales.

I hope to have a chance of doing some yeast ranching of my own within the next few months, maybe even starting with the bottle of Cantillon I brought back from the brewery.  It's awesome the number of homebrewers who are already doing it and are giving these options to us... Thanks BKYeast!

Made a 1.5 L starter for this, plan to step it up in about 48 hours

Stepped up the starter to nearly 1 gallon. The extra starter wort (in excess of the gallon) was placed outside during the Redskins game and is now sitting in an open (but sanitized) juice container. We'll see if anything comes of that.

Brewed up the best bitter/saison hybrid for this beer yesterday, and added the homemade candi sugar today.  OG of 1.049.

Took a gravity reading and tasting.  Gravity down to 1.012, the flavor is interesting.  Up front there is a strawberry and damp wood sweet sensation that is followed by a horsey, funky, sour flavor mixed with mild bitterness.  The flavor is far from ideal but hopefully it will blend a little better over time and I am wondering whether oak or fruit may play up the nice parts of the front while balancing the strange flavors on the tail end.

Gravity seems stable at 1.010. Flavor has certainly melded as the bitterness faded revealing mainly a woody, lightly fruity and moderately sour beer. This could definitely be a nice base for a fruit beer, I'm not quite sure which type of fruit would go best yet though.  I'm thinking about bottling some and taking a wait and see approach with the rest.

Bottling Day!
Racked from under the pellicle and onto 2.6 oz. of sugar.  I went for the low end of carbonation to avoid bottle bombs if the Brett eats a little bit beyond the 1.010 gravity that it's been at.  1 case (about half the batch) were bottled while the other half was simply moved to secondary, where it might end up receiving some fruit or other addition.  It tastes pretty good: lightly sour, lightly fruity and a bit of a damp woody character.  I look forward to reviewing it once it is finished carbonating.

Added 2 pounds of blackberries directly to carboy. Planning to bottle in 2 or 3 weeks though it could probably go longer on the fruit with the Brett eating away at it

Finally bottled the blackberry half. Side by side tasting to come in a month or so.  As of now the blackberry is subtle but balancing and pleasant.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Sour Brown (Funky Kast #2)

I brewed a sour brown ale back on August 26th, 2012. This was intended to be a bit like the traditional flanders brown/oud bruin .  I haven't made one of these before and have only even drank the similar Flanders Red style but it seemed pretty similar to a Northern English brown ale in terms of recommended ingredients.  In this spirit I used a grain bill similar to one from an English brown with a full pound of victory malt and an oz. of willamette for bittering.  This beer will probably sit in the primary for 1-2 months, secondary for 6-12 and bottles for another 6-12.  It's a long way off from the first tasting but I'm already excited.

BIAB Mashed at 148F for 60 minutes. Sparged at 160 F. OG was only 1.032. Pitched the Roeselare pack with no starter.

Realized that the OG was so low due to forgetting a pound each of Caramunich (not a big deal in terms of gravity) and DME (a big difference).  I steeped the pound of caramunich in a little over a half gallon of water, then added the DME and boiled.  Cooled and added into the glass carboy.  Big blow off began within an hour.

Added dregs from 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze.

Big lacto bubbles on top of this beer now (hard to see in the picture but there's one in the top left), seems the Drie Fonteinen dregs were pretty aggressive..  I added dregs from Lindemans' Cuvee Rene. With dregs of two of the better geuzes I've tried this one should end up nice and funky.

The lacto bubbles have faded and now a thin brett pellicle covers the top.  Gravity is now down to 1.007.  Smell is not very pleasant (a little bit of "outhouse") but taste is more berry and sour with just a touch of sweetness.  The initial characteristics from the malt of toast have faded almost entirely.  Not sure what to do with this one, so I will probably continue the wait and see approach.

Gravity continues to fall slightly, now hovering between 1.005 and 1.006.  This beer is tasty now, but probably won't be safe to bottle for another 6-18 months.

This beer continues to improve. Still around 1.005 but more complex in its sour and funk.

Tastes too good to hold off bottling anymore, full batch ha 3.5 oz sugar added with 1 case worth bottled an the rest moved to a 3 gallon Carboy for secondary. Flavor is moderately fruity with solid but not overpowering complex sourness. Possibly the best sour beer I've ever tasted even flat.

Taste a bottle, still fairly flat. Aggressively sour with some light fruit. Not quite the complexity I would like but it will be interesting to see where the carbonation takes it. I also added the BKYeast C2 Brett to the unbottled half which has taken over, hopefully upping the fruitiness to balance the sour.

Bottled 2 gallons with 1 oz sugar.  The previously bottled version is aggressively acetic which detracts from the roast/fruit flavors.  I don't have high hopes for this half of the batch but letting it go any longer would probably not help.

Banana Milk Stout

Brewed a banana milk stout beer beer on 10-13-12.  The beer is a pretty typical stout in terms of grain and I plan to add a pretty typical amount of lactose for a milk stout. Where this beer gets unusual is the use of weihenstaphen wheat yeast and the planned addition of banana's in secondary to give this a bright estery banana flavor to balance the chocolate and coffee of the roast malts.

I added approximately 5 lbs. of bananas to this yesterday. Not at home but I'm told this caused a large fermentation which blew off the airlock and put banana pieces all over the place. I'll have to assess the damage and see if this batch can still be salvaged.

Despite the mess the beer doesn't appear affected and has a nice chocolate covered banana aroma. I moved it to secondary to hopefully clear and finish up eating any banana sugars.  The gravity was down to 1.009 and the taste was somewhat bland and alcoholic, not at all like the smell.  Added 12 oz. of lactose, hopefully a few days and the milk sugar will help this one balance out.

Beer was looking a little funny but at a gravity now of 1.012 (after the lactose addition) it doesn't appear to be fermenting so I bottled.  Added 2 oz. sugar and 2 oz. lactose.  The beer had a nice chocolate banana flavor and aroma up front but the finish seems highly vegetal (probably due to either unripe bananas or too much time on them).  I'm hoping this flavor fades but I'm not overly optimistic...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Euro Trip 2012

Let me start by stating that I had never been to Europe.  Let me then follow that up with the statement that I love many European beers.  In planning our trip to Europe my girlfriend's number one request was that we visit a country she has never been to (she's been to Europe a lot) and my only request was that we got to experience some great beer.  The result: We spent 4 days in Belgium with visits to Cantillon in Brussels and De Halve Maan in Bruges. Our original itinerary also included Koln (home of Kolsch) and Dusseldorf (home of Dusseldorf Alt) but due to time and cost restraints we cut Germany entirely (it was still a bit of a whirlwind).

The itinerary was:

Now that I'm back I understand that there is no way I can do all the beers and all the experiences I had in Europe justice with a blog post.  That said, I'm going to do my best to keep it concise and record what I can.

I'll start with brewery tours:

Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, flashy and modern
While the Heineken Experience isn't as much of a brewery per se, it is the site where their main brewery once stood and, combined with De Halve Maan in Bruges, Belgium and Cantillon in Brussels, Belgium the 3 gave a very interesting view into the world of beer.  The Heineken Experience was a fun (but pricey) display of Heineken's history and ability to market itself. Much of the attractions inside are either wholly unrelated to beer (digital displays or soccer uniforms) or are high tech displays of the brewing process (films about the first 3 generations of Heineken or the We-Brew-You 4d ride.  The experience shows a world wide macro beer producer doing what it does best: putting forth a consistent and well advertised product.

A poster at De Halve Maan (formerly Henri Maes) brewery in Bruges,.
The second brewery we visited was De Halve Maan in Bruges, the only remaining brewery in a city that had 8 as recent as 50 years ago.  How has De Halve Maan managed to stay around?  A mix of modernization while holding some of their history and uniqueness.  De Halve Maan showed that the beers they offered have changed over time and that where once they malted their own barley (seeing the malting room and kiln were great parts of the tour) they now have it malted by a huge malting company.  While continuing to make ales with belgian yeast character, they have adopted their beers over time, to the point where their top seller currently is a Belgian pale ale using hops from the Czech Republic.
Old bottling line at Cantillon Brewery, Brussels
The third brewery we visited was the biggest blast from the past.  Built in 1900 Cantillon brewery still uses the equipment and practices utilized over a century ago.  Only one beer is brewed: a lambic with 65% barley, 35% barley, a lot of 3 year old aged hops and water.  This beer is then aged in oak barrels (we tried some of the 20 month old, still version straight from the barrel) and is either blended with 1, 2 and 3 year old versions (Geuze) or the 2 year old version is mixed with fruit (cherries for kriek, raspberries for rose gambrinus, apricots for fou foune). Cantillon is the only lambic producer remaining in the city of Brussels and they remain profitable by sticking to this style.

The three breweries were very different yet each had consistently stuck to their image of what beer should be and how it should be made with Heineken always using the most modern microbiology and marketing techniques, Cantillon the most classic processes and De Halve Maan moving forwards while holding on to their geographical style and past.

While the breweries were great, I made it a point to drink at least 1 beer every day of the trip and have one local beer from every region visited.  This taught me two valuable things:
1. Real Ales (especially very sessionable bitters) are very common, tasty but also expensive.  These 3-4% ABV beers typically cost around 5 GBP (about $8).
2.  Trappist (and Trappist style and lambic) beers in Belgium are extremely common (most restaurants seemed to offer a handful of each of these styles) and are extremely cheap.  It is about the same cost for Rochefort, Westmalle, Chimay, Duvel and Cantillon in beer shops and bars as it is for Heineken, Hoegaarden and Stella Artois!  Suffice it to say I LOVED Belgium and the problem was much more often too many beers to choose from than not enough.  I had my fill of a number of Geuzes.  In that arena Cantillon came in second to Drie Fonteinen in my book with a slight lead over Boon and Tilquin and way better than Oud Beersel. As for Trappists I liked Chimay more than I remembered but also enjoyed Rochefort a lot (wasn't a huge fan of La Trappe or Westmalle) and brought a Westy 12 and Achel home so I can try the only two trappists I'm yet to have experienced.

While I could write books and books about my trip, European beer or even just Belgian beer I think that's more than enough for one blog post.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Posting from Europe

Three days into our Europe trip and I've managed to have beer every day. One thing I wanted to note was the prevalence of "real ales" (I the the name, all top fermented beers are real ales in my mind, but I digress) these cask conditioned hand pulled session beers are quite tasty and unlike what I came to expect of esb's in the us with a much more refreshing malt balance. Tonight I am drinking a kronenbourg in Paris after a long walking tour of the beautiful city. Looking forward to more exploring and more beers.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Brett Saison (Funky Kast #1)

I brewed a Wheat Saison with Brett on 8-4-2012.  The recipe was influenced somewhat by the great brett'd saison's I've had recently including Sofie by Goose Island and some of the beers from Stillwater Artisinal Ales.  A very simple recipe, I hope to let the brett derived flavors shine through.  I also plan to move half the batch into secondary with asian pears harvested from my girlfriend's yard and some oak cubes.

Goose Island may have sold out to AB InBev but they still make at least one interesting and delicious brew.

8-26-12 Update
Took a sample today, the beer is already down to an astounding 1.006. The small sample tasted good, with a light hoppy and fruity aroma and taste with surprisingly high sweetness for such a low gravity.  I plan to bottle/rack to secondary within a few weeks if the gravity is stable.

10-7-12 Update
Bottled 30 bottles of this batch today, moved the rest of the batch into my 3 gallon better bottle with Asian pears and .5 oz. Hungarian oak.

4-1-13 Update
Double tasting with both the straight and oak/Asian pear versions.

Nearly two years since brewing and more than a year after my initial tasting I just opened another bottle of this one. Bottle is highly carbonated, but not overly so, especially given the style. Appearance is a pretty red with a fast fading, lace leaving head. Smell is pear, apricot, peach, vanilla, wheat berry. Taste is wheat and stone fruit with a touch of light phenol. Finishes sweet and fruity with a moderate body. Overall this beer seems remarkably unchanged and, if I didn't know better, I may have guessed this was the oak and fruit version, the pairing was very well matche for the base. Not my favorite beer and the Brett really never showed through, but something different and enjoyable enough on a warm summer night.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Lime hefeweizen Tasting #1

I brewed up an all grain hefeweizen a while back. Though I used a couple types of wheat it had a fairly simple, classic bill. I bottled half of it straight and it's a drinkable, though very mild, hefe without any thrills. The second half however I added roughly half a container (about .75 quarts) of Simply Lime limeade to.

Appearance: With all the wheat this beer pours with a big head and (purposely) cloudy.
Smell: The nose is yeasty and doughy with just a little hint of citrus and banana.
Taste: The flavor is fairly tart with the lime the dominant flavor and the other flavors backing it up.
Overall: This is somewhere in the middle of those I've made in terms of quality, with no major flaws and a refreshing quality, but without the hefe characteristics or malt-to-fruit balance I would have liked. I could see this going over well with ladies and those who are less into beer and it's certainly quaffable.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


I like to experiment with my brewing. Many brewers don't understand the desire to try new styles, split batches, add fruit, spices, oak, smoke or whatever else to beers. Personally I would be bored to death to follow someone else's recipe and get someone else's results. There are two great rewards to experimentation.

1. Experience- when I experiment I can really see how beer works, what I like, and where to go in future batches.
2. Variety- I don't want to just make a pale ale that's as good as one from the store I want to make beers that are better and different from those I can buy.

Experimentation isn't just something that keeps me brewing beers, it keeps me drinking them. While many beer drinkers will primarily stick to a few key brands I usually go for a new one to try when possible. When I do find beers I like I go back to them on occasion (like how I plan to rebrew my hoppy black saison soon) but they also inspire me to keep experimenting both with the commercial beers I purchase and the homebrews I make. While I hope to brew some more "to style" beers in the future I will be sure to experiment within the limited range of those styles. After all some brewers have made a living off of experimenting.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Peated porter

I recently brewed an extract porter with specialty grains. While the bulk of the bill was just dumping my remaining grains (chocolate, black patent, American roasted barley, carared, special b) in to a light base extract I did add one new grain I had purchased. Peated malt (also called peat smoked malt) is a malted barley that has been dried with smoke from burning peat (a type of moss).

Peat malt is not traditional to any style of beer (as many style snobs will quickly point out) but is classically used in Scotch whiskey, particularly those from the isle of Islay. It is known to give a harsh smoked flavor as well as briny and medicinal characteristics. Smoke, clove and medicinal (some say band-aid like) flavors all come from various phenols and can be pleasant or ruinous depending on the type, amount and personal tastes.

In this beer I hope to have a noticeable but not unbearable amount of smoke and peatiness.  5 ounces is higher than some recommend but hopefully is not too much.  Depending on the results I will likely brew a future smoked porter (and other smoked beers) with other types of smoked malt (rauchmalt, cherrywood smoked, oak smoked wheat, etc...) in addition or in place of the peated.

8-04-12 Update
Bottled this up finally.  I broke my hydrometer before getting a reading so I don't know the FG.  The flat beer that I tasted was a bit sweet and mildly peaty.  I'm not sure how this one is going to come out, the flavor of the peat seemed mild but interesting and first, but built over time to a strange and unbearable taste that overwhelmed the rest of the flavor.  Hopefully this effect will be lessened with a little carbonation and time.

8-26-12 Update
Tried a bottle today, very low carbonation and head retention is the first thing I notice.  Very sweet and pretty peaty.  The peat was overbearing at first, then subsided, then built up again to the point of unbearable. I'm hoping with a few more months (or years) the flavors will meld better but right now it is pretty much just sweet and peaty in a bad way.

My dad drank some of these with the review "It's kind of weird by itself, but with barbecue it's really, really good." I'll have to try the combination but I could definitely see the sweet and smokey character of this being good with bbq or even good in a marinade or sauce.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cleaning Bottles

I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again, cleaning bottles is the worst part of my brewing process. As much as people condemn bottling in favor of kegging I've always liked aspects of bottling (it's cheap, they're portable, the bottling itself is fairly straightforward and easy) but hated one aspect: cleaning bottles.

While part of my reason for cleaning bottles is to get the labels off the more important, time consuming and frustrating part is cleaning the interior which can have black mold and beer dregs stuck to the bottom. It usually takes me around 4 hours of letting them soak in a an oxiclean/hot water bath before 1-2 minutes per bottle of scrubbing before they get to my liking. For today's bottle cleaning session of 150+ bottles that means approximately 4 hours of active bottle cleaning time.

I might just buy new bottles from now on whenever I or others don't wash them out after use to avoid the mold.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wild/Sour/Funky Processes

I've been studying different types of wild beers a lot recently but am yet to have committed to brewing one or what style I want to start with.  I am by no means an expert having tasted only a few and brewed none, but this seems like a good place to compile some of the research I have done.

I wish there were a better term than "wild" (as a true wild beer would, in my mind, refer to one made with local, self caught yeast) but many beers are often called wild because they use living components other than traditional brewers yeast (Saccharomyces) and are typically made with Brettanomyces (so called "wild" yeast) and potentially bacteria (notably Lactobacillus and Pediococcus) or because they share traits with beers which do have these microorganisms.  There are many variations on what a "sour" or "funky" or "wild" beer is and for the sake of this article I will simply call them all "wild" as not all the beers I am referring to taste sour and many (even some made with Brettanomyces) do not taste "funky", while some beers that do not contain these traditional organisms (or acids) can taste sour or funky. While there are some classic styles known for their sour or funky qualities there are many wild beers being made today (and traditionally) which do not fall into easily defined categories. Instead of talking about styles I just wish to write about some methods of creating these types of beers that are commonly employed:

1. Adding (lactic) acid: Adding acid, usually lactic though I suppose others (malic or acetic for example) could be used, seems to be the least "craft" method of making a sour and might feel more like an industrial process or even "cheating" to some people.  This is utilized by brewers sometimes alone or in combination with other methods to create a sour beer.  As it sounds this process simply uses food grade acid, which can be added to the mash to lower pH or can be added at other stages for sour beers.

2. Sour Mash: A sour mash is achieved by adding raw grain to wort which has not had yeast added to it.  The grain is covered in Lactobacillus (among other things) causing a quick souring of the beer.  This can also be achieved, among other ways, by adding cultured Lacto. or with a yogurt culture.  Brewer's utilizing this method typically hold the Lactobacillus innoculated wort at a warm but not hot temperature then add to the mash of the final beer to heat the wort after a few days of souring to kill any yeast and bugs and stabilize the sourness level.  Anywhere from 10% to 100% of the wort can be soured in this manner, giving varied results.

3. Sour Malt: Sour malt, also known as sauermalz and acidulated malt, is a malt which is covered with lactic acid, hence lowering the pH of a beer it is mashed in.  This can be used in non-sour type beers to slightly adjust the pH, as the sole provider of sourness if used in large amounts, or in combination with other methods to form sour beer.  In most respects this process isn't much different from adding straight lactic acid in the end.

4. Pitching Brettanomyces without Saccharomyces: This process can be done with Brettanomyces as the sole yeast in which case a subtle fruity yeast character with flavors closer to a beer brewed without "wild" ingredients is produced.

5. Pitching bacteria (Lactobacillus) without Saccharomyces: This process is utilized sometimes by select craft breweries and homebrewers.  This is most commonly used in small beers, most notably some Berliner Weisses. This method needs specialized (heterofermentative) bacteria which produce both lactic acid and alcohol and can survive conditions enough to fully attenuate the beer themselves.

6. Pitching in addition to Saccharomyces: This is the most traditional and probably the most common method of sour productions and is typically used to make all 6 of the BJCP approved sour styles.  Whether added in primary or secondary (or traditionally as ambient yeast which are in the air/wood/fruit added to the beer) the idea here is typically to have the Sacc utilize simple sugars while Bugs and/or Brett work on more complex sugars and other side components to generate strong flavors ranging from tropical fruit, horse, goat and farmyard funk characteristics found derived from Brett to the tart and tangy flavors from Lacto to the biting, vinegary qualities from Acetobacter.

Hopefully I will soon have ventured into the world of funky and sour beers as I recently bought two yeast packages which come with additions to sacc:

White Labs American Farmhouse: A proprietary blend of belgian yeast and brett.  I hope to make a brett saison somewhat similar to Goose Island's Sophie.

Roeselare Blend: This is essentially a lambic blend with various lacto and brett strains in addition to sacc. I plan to brew a sour brown ale with this pack, allowing it to age for upwards of a year.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Rough Day

Well today was a rough day for me beer wise. After working my 9 to 5 I went to move half my hefeweizen onto limeade only to realize that my siphoning tube was dirty.  In addition to this the bottles that I thought I had clean to bottle the other half into were at least somewhat dirty and most of the other bottles sitting around had mold in them.  I dropped my hydrometer case with beer and hydrometer in it (the hydrometer didn't break but the beer went all over) and it took me over half an hour to clean residual krausen gunk out of my better bottle.  Like I said, it was rough day for me beer wise and I hope that I'm still able to bottle half the batch, rack the other half and brew up a smoked porter this weekend without too much more difficulty.  Some times this hobby is just doing dishes...dishes that never want to come clean and when dirty will ruin all your other hard work.

At least I finally made some updates to my blog and can enjoy some older homebrews while I do so.

Hoppy Black Saison Recipe and Tasting #1 (and only)

I brewed up my first Hoppy Black Saison at the end of March.  The recipe was intended to combine two styles I greatly enjoy: Saison and Black IPA.  It was also intended to be a simple extract recipe using up some of the grains I had sitting around.  I should note that part of the reason this took me so long to write is that every time I sit down to do a tasting of these I've suddenly drank 3 or 4 and am in no state to write about them.

Appearance- Extremely dark brown, usually looking opaque and black but in thinner glasses/sections a bit of light shines through.  It pours with an off white medium thick head of about half an inch.  Really the right look for a black IPA.

Smell- The first thing that hits is a clean citrus with notes of earth, coffee, chocolate and smoke underneath.  Again this one is right where I would like it to be. Good start.

Taste- Again the first thing to come through is a fruity citrus flavor that seems to be equal parts hops and yeast derivatives (and maybe a touch of the orange peel I used) and the slight funky earthiness I associate with saisons. This is followed with roast, black cherries and pit fruits with a sweet and chocolaty middle that seems to come from the porter-esque ingredients and the Special B.  The finish is just bitter enough (seemingly coming from both the roasted barley and the hops) to balance this sweetness but doesn't meet anywhere near IPA levels (though it does seem on par with some of my favorite black IPA's).  There is occasionally a black pepper like sensation but only just enough to make me search for it.

Mouthfeel- Crisp carbonation with medium body puts this one a bit on the heavier side of IPA's and certainly Saisons but still thinner than most porters.  I may like the attenuation to finish a bit higher but honestly it goes down well as is.

Drinkability/Overall- This is the best beer I've ever made and one of the most drinkable I've ever had.  The complexity of hop/yeast/roast is really intriguing but none of it is overpowering, the elements all play very well together.  This beer began as an attempt to use up some grains and try to make something really out of the box, both were achieved magnificently.  Like the dark saison reviews I've seen on The Mad Fermentationist  there is really so much going on that it is hard to tell where exactly each element arrives from (is the citrus from the orange peel, hops or yeast? The cherry/dried fruit flavor from Special B, yeast or a combination of thing?) which makes it really exciting to me. This one is already gone (I went to grab one on 4th of July and got pretty sad when I noticed there weren't any left) and will be a beer that I will DEFINITELY be brewing again.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Imperial Licorice Stout Tasting #1

I brewed up an Imperial Licorice Stout  back in January and have been unable to keep myself from having a handful of both the straight version and the other which I put on Jagermeister soaked oak.

Today I'm doing a review of the straight version you can see pictured above.

Appearance- Very dark and opaque except in the thinnest parts of this very small glass where it is exceedingly clear.  There is a little oily head to begin with which fades quickly leaving only bubbles.  I'm not sure what is killing the head, licorice root is supposed to help it, but perhaps the "Brewer's Licorice" I added contains compounds that hurt it.

Smell- Right off the bat comes a rush of roasted malt goodness with coffee character followed by a sweet chocolate and fruit character with just a light touch of licorice in the mix and a refreshing light hop (woody, piney) taste and bitterness.  Overall the flavor could be stronger but has a nice balance.

Taste- The taste is not very "stout-y" and comes off as sweet dark caramel, dark fruits and a light spicy licorice flavor which seems to come from both the licorice itself and the alcohol, which is vaguely noticeable.

Mouthfeel- Comes off as syrupy with low carbonation, not what I was going for as it doesn't feel creamy.  I think this beer would have benefited from the use of more priming sugar but as is drinks a bit like a barleywine.

Overall/Drinkability- This beer is something I haven't quite figured out after several bottles of each variety. On the one hand the licorice is noticeable but restrained but on the other hand the roasted malts seem far back in the mix with the sweetness, licorice and alcohol all making more of a presence.  This one comes off a bit like a dark barleywine with the sweet and alcohol balancing act but is surprisingly lacking in the roasted character needed for stouts. One of the key reasons for that is the use of American roasted barley which is roasted to a much lower extent than the English variety typically found in stouts. All around this might be a dangerous drinker as the flavors lend well to each other and it goes down quite easily despite the approximately 8.5% abv. I hope it holds up for quite some time and I hope to write a review of the oaked version soon.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Irish Red All Grain Tasting #1

I brewed my first all-grain beer about a month ago, an Irish Red  that I missed my expected efficiency, and hence my OG, pretty badly.  

Appearance: A light brown/medium red color, pretty good for the style really.  A small head on top fades quickly but leaves a small layer that persists. Fairly clear, might have the best clarity of any of my brews though some small defects (proteins or grain particulate) are present, carbonation bubbles climb slowly to the surface.

Smell: At first there is a sherry character I assumed to be oxidation but this quickly recedes to light toast and caramel, minerals, and a subtle hint of licorice and fruit (strawberry).  Surprisingly strong and complex.

Taste/Mouthfeel: This is where the beer really shows that it missed the target.  Very thin and a bit watery, with light carbonation that is just a touch too low for it to be creamy.  The flavors aren't bad but are low with minerally yeast character and a light woody hop sensation being the most predominant in a mix that also includes tiny hints of walnuts, toast, fruit and a mild sourness.

Overall/Drinkability: This beer goes down very easily and I could see light beer drinkers enjoying its mild flavor, low alcohol content and low caloric intake.  I'm very happy with the color and complexity of the nose on this one but the flavor and mouthfeel are very lacking. The low carbonation level, though it keeps it an easy drinker, doesn't help the light flavors. The fuggle hop flavor that was somewhat strong when I first tasted this a month ago has already faded to barely perceptible.  I don't know if I would change the recipe much next time (though I would use British Roasted Barley) but I would definitely need to get a better efficiency.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Cranberry Pomegranate Cider

I made my first cider this weekend using Northland Cranberry-Pomegranate juice and Mott's Apple Juice.  I made a really simple recipe using 3 quarts apple juice with 1 cup of the cranberry-pomegranate juice (which also include apple and grape juices) and 1 cup of cranberry-pomegranate syrup I made by boiling 1 quart of the juice down.  I originally added some left over Irish Ale yeast but after 2 days with no activity and the gravity still at 1.060 I decided to add some wit yeast and it finally took.  I'm looking forward to seeing how this one finishes and hope to have updates in just a few weeks.

Monday, March 19, 2012


.5 oz of star san in 2.5 gallons of water.
I soak my bottles in sanitizer for a minute or two, drain and bottle.
Been bottling with the bucket on top of the washer recently, cutting down on the mess

I missed a few updates but decided to talk about my bottling process and specifically about my bottling of 7.5 gallons a little over a week ago.  My process is fairly simple and probably not too different from many beginner brewers but I thought it would be nice to at least write it down.

The first step in my bottling day is also my least favorite: cleaning bottles.  While I usually have a case or two of fairly clean bottles that I've previously removed the labels from there's almost always a good amount that I need to clean inside or out.  I do so by placing them in the bathtub for a long soak in hot soapy water before rinsing out and using my bottle brush to remove the gunk that remains. It can be a long boring process and I often do it the day before bottling day just to get it out of the way.

The next stage is to bottle: I first make a sanitizer solution and add this to my bottling bucket.  After a few minutes in the bucket I transfer the solution to a small cooler through both the siphoning tube and bottling tube so get each clean.  I then boil a cup of water with the amount of sugar I need to prime the batch and add this to the bottling bucket.  After a rinse of the tubes I lift the carboy of beer I plan to bottle above the bottling bucket (often onto a washing machine with a small table below) and, using the siphoning cane, move the beer into the bucket in a swirling motion to mix it with the sugar water.

Once the beer is moved to the bucket I then move the bucket up higher and begin to sanitize bottles by soaking them in the cooler then lifting and draining each.  Once a decent amount are lifted and drained I  use the bottling tube with bottling wand end and slowly fill the bottles.  I usually fill about 8 or so which I loosely place caps on as I go (I give them a quick run of the sanitizer).  I then cap each bottle and return them to a case before filling more bottles.

After filling and capping all the beer (75 in this sessions case) I mark the caps with a sharpie and put them away (I keep them in the basement covered with a blanket keep out light and minimize any severe temperatures).  I then boil 2 cups of water, cool, and add to the remains of the carboy, stir then pour into a jar to save yeast for reuse.

Lastly the unfun of cleanup begins. I typically take everything used in the bottling day (bucket, carboys, cooler, tubing, etc) and dump as much water/trub/etc. as I can outside before returning to the bathtub to soak with soapy water.

The process certainly isn't the most efficient but I don't mind the time it takes. As for the duration I've had it take me as little as an hour with friends helping and pre-rinsed bottles. I've also had it take me a total of 8 hours over two days between cleaning a hundred bottles by myself and bottling close to that many.

Some day I may move to kegs but for now I'm happy with the simplistic, economical and environmentally friendly reuse of empty bottles.

About a case of my Irish Red post-capping.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Magazine Review - Zymurgy

I first began receiving Zymurgy approximately one year ago when my girlfriend signed me up as a member of the American Homebrewers Association.  While the organization offers many perks and does a lot to further both homebrew and craft brew the only one I directly took advantage of was the subscription to their magazine Zymurgy.

Zymurgy is a magazine dedicated solely to homebrewing (rather than those to craft brewing which touch on the topic of brewing your own it is in fact the opposite).  That being said it seems to be poorly made. The magazine has many flaws that make me not feel like it is worth the subscription to the organization.


First off the quality as a magazine.  The layout of the magazine puts small and ugly advertisements all over the place, sometimes in the middle of articles, making the magazine hard to read and the ads less appealing (some craft brew and homebrew ads look awesome and actually improve other magazines).

Additionally the material and physical quality of the magazine is just not up to snuff. It feels cheap and falls apart quickly.  For example the newest addition has only been read by me once but the entire middle section has separated into individual pages, pretty pathetic really.

In terms of content Zymurgy is a real mixed bag.  While some articles are very creative and exciting (anything by Randy Mosher usually is in my opinion) there are many that fail by any standard. The newest edition stood out particularly in the case of ups and downs.  While it was interesting reading an attempt to clone Orval it wasn't a particularly helpful article and the recipe posted was actually incorrect according to the article.  The USSR influenced ales article was intriguing and full of interesting articles but the homebrewing in South America article offers very little for most readers.  What stood out to me more than anything in the issue was the AWFUL article entitled "What Makes It a Stout." While the article talked a bit about different types of stouts and the history of stout and porter it blatantly disregarded the clear separations both explicitly and implicitly implied by the two separate names.  It's definition comes down to that it has roasted malt and is called a stout.  This is a gross misinterpretation of what a stout is and what separates it from a porter (e.g. the unmalted barley, the heavy amount of roasted barley over black patent or chocolate malts, and the characteristic heavier body and creaminess, to name a few).

While it might not be a bad read occasionally, Zymurgy is the least exciting, interesting, or even helpful magazine for a brewer or beer fan.  While I may renew my membership in the future, at this time I'm fine with letting this subscription run out.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Apricot Abbey Ale and Belgian Blond Double Tasting

Since I missed my self imposed deadline of Monday I decided to make up for it with a double tasting.

The Apricot Abbey Ale and Belgian Blond were a split batch which I fermented together in primary with one half having apricot preserves added for secondary.  Not surprisingly the two beers are VERY similar but I will write a separate review of each.
The two beers side by side, on the left is the slightly more cloudy and with a bit more head retention apricot version and the on the right is the unfruited version.

Belgian Blond:

A- A solid copper color with a bit of peach and rose the head on this pours fairly small and fades to a thin film though there is a lot of carbonation bubbles coming up throughout.  Pretty clear and looks nice.

S- Lots of yeast character giving both spice and fruit reminiscent of nutmeg, clove, oak, apricot, cherry and pear and a little bit of sweetness from the fermentables (I think the candi sugar came through nicely). A vague touch of woody/earthy character might be yeast derived or from the hops.

T/M- Up front is a dry sweet and spicy sensation that follows with a fruity medium bodied middle and ends with a light puckering and lasting spiciness (clove and cinnamon).

O/D- This is a nice beer that I am really happy with.  The Belgian yeast (Wyeast Abbey Ale II) gives lots of different characteristics from a fairly simple bill.  The fruitiness is such that if I told someone this was the apricot version they might just believe me.  The candi sugar also seems to have gone well. Overall not the best beer in the world but certainly a nice Belgian influenced homebrew.

Abbey Apricot Ale:

A- This version is very similar in color to the unfruited version (peachy copper) with a little bit bigger head that retains better, slightly less carbonation bubbles (though still quite a few) and a little worse clarity.

S- This half smells almost identical to the other half with spice being the strongest character and the fruit actually seeming to come through a little less surprisingly.

T/M- Drinks very similar to the other half of the batch but there's something about both the taste and mouthfeel that seems fuller and more rounded.  The apricot doesn't show as overly evident but it makes the middle and finish a little fruitier and there is a residual sweet and tangy flavor on the tongue that I don't get from the other.

O/D- I'm very happy with this one as it comes out nearly the same as the other, but probably a tad better and more rounded.  While the apricot is far from pronounced in tasting each separately it is definitely a nice addition.

I doubt I would make this exact beer again but will almost certainly make more Belgians and splitting half onto fruit seems to work very well. Next time I hope to give a much more pronounced fruit flavor to the one half.  There's nothing bad I could say about either of these and most people have seemed to enjoy them and especially liked the subtle addition the apricot gives.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Funky Kast

The funky kast is the name I've given for sour/wild/Brett beers and other potent potables I plan to brew. The name comes from the word kast, Dutch for closet as I plan to brew some of these in my bedroom closet and sour beers have a notorious Belgian tradition where Dutch is the majority language. It will also be a play on a cast of characters. I'm currently in the planning phases of a lambic, a Brett saison, a sour cider and another beer which uses a sour mash method.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Black Dragons Tasting #1

Black Dragons is one of the 5 variations of the Here Be Dragons! Old ale/ Scotch ale hybrid attempt.  This variant was bottled with vanilla extract, coffee and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Appearance- This one explodes out of the bottle furiously and in the glass continues to have carbonation bubbles flying through it.  The body is a solid amber and is extremely cloudy with a large head that fades fairly quickly.  Looks pretty awful honestly.

Smell- Yeast, caramel, honey and a bit of an off medicinal phenol and vegetal character highlight the nose.  There's some good stuff going on here, but not all of it plays nice.

Taste- This one has improved in some ways since I first tried it a few months ago but has lost some of its spice.  The resulting beer is a caramel and honey taste with a bit of bitterness on the tail end and just a bit of peppery spice and alcohol.  The coffee, very strong when I first tried it, has faded to a background note barely noticeable in the complexity.  The off tasting phenol occasionally creeps into the mix but is not nearly as abrasive or present as when the beer was young.  That off flavor was also present in my attempt at a brown ale but has also largely faded from that beer as well.

Mouthfeel- After letting this sit for a couple minutes to let the mad carbonation relax some this one actually drinks fairly well.  The carbonation still seems a bit high with the mouthfeel a nice heavy syrupy character I was hoping for.

Overall/Drinkability- This beer is fairly strong in a lot of ways keeping down the drinkability to one or two.  The appearance and difficulty in pouring without spilling is also a big down note. On the taste side it has cleaned up pretty well but I miss the vanilla/coffee/pepper character that was there originally. While I hope to review the other HBD! beers this one probably came out the best and the others are all nearly identical (due to a strong malt bill to begin with, the over carbonation, that phenolic off taste and under spicing).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Chicago Beer Tour

A few months back I went on a month long business training trip to St. Charles Illinois.  While there is pretty much nothing in St. Charles itself (though the liquor store in-town that I took a 5 mile hike to had a very nice selection) it is only about an hour's train ride outside of Chicago.

I had never been to Chicago, or the Midwest for that matter, and didn't know what to expect.  While I won't get into all of my time spent in Illinois I must talk about the Chicago Beer Experience, a walking beer tour of the city.  While I was hesitant to shell out the money for it (my girlfriend Alyssa flew in for a weekend and suggested it due to it's great reviews) I gave in and sought out the chance to see Chicago with beer goggles.

The very nice Domaine du Page by Two Brothers at a very nice little bottle shop, one of the 4 stops on the tour
The tour is awesome and I highly recommend it.  Your tour guide/server for the trip is Bruce, a former lawyer turned food tour guide turned entrepreneur who was brilliant enough to start "the experience" himself.  While Bruce has his flaws (he isn't always the most knowledgeable source on beer) he is a really nice guy and great guide with a real love for beer and Chicago and he blends history, jokes, info on the brewing process, a wide range of beers, bacon, brewery facts and charm into an entertaining few hours.  I also enjoyed that the tour is in a less traveled part of Chicago giving a neighborhood experience that most might not experience otherwise.  If I had to recommend to someone how to spend a weekend in Chicago I would say to have a day doing touristy stuff (Willis Tower, magnificent mile, millennium park, etc...) and spend a nice chunk of the other with Bruce on his tour.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Irish Red - First all-grain

I decided to make an all grain Irish red to follow my Russian imperial stout. The idea was to get a moderately sweet and malty beer with a fairly low abv. I quite like Smithwicks and it's the type of beer that I can drink any time and have a few of or be content with just one.

Because this was designed to be a fairly small beer I felt it would be a good chance to do my first all grain recipe and came up with the recipe as follows: 

60% 5 0 Warminster Floor-Malted Maris Otter 35 5
24% 2 0 Briess Ashburne Mild Malt 34 5
6% 0 8 Carared 35 20
6% 0 8 Simpsons Medium Crystal 34 55
2% 0 3 Roasted Barley 25 300
2% 0 2 Sugar, Table (Sucrose) 46 1
Batch size: 5.0 gallons


boil 60 mins 1.0 Willamette pellet 4.9
boil 20 mins 0.5 Fuggles pellet 4.2
Boil: 4.0 avg gallons for 60 minutes

Irish Ale Yeast
 Like my partial mashes I chose to do the brew in a bag method (BIAB).  Being my first all-grain it's not a big surprise that this one drastically missed efficiency expectations and my OG which should've been 1.044 (with 75% extraction) hit just 1.032 (an extraction below 55%).  This is probably due to a number of reasons including too little mash water, not sparging and inaccurate thermometer readings.

Despite having some malt extract on hand it was an easy decision for me to just stick with the original plan and see how this one turns out.  As is the results may actually be in the range of an ordinary bitter albeit there might be a bit too much roast and the Irish ale yeast would be non-traditional. On the plus side this one should be low calorie, super drinkable and the hops might shine through more in the low OG than they would have had I hit my target, giving me more fuggle character that I look forward to. At worst this was a learning experience and a check mark for one of my goals for the year (all-grain batch).

In the future I plan to buy a better thermometer, mash longer and actually sparge.  I had planned to sparge this batch but began to make a big mess and gave up on that idea.
About 8 lbs of grain and just 1.5 oz. hops.
Less than 12 hours later it's bubbling away
in front of the Imperial Assassin,
doesn't look like it will be as red as I hoped

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Brew and Blog Schedule

I've found myself struggling to post as regularly as I would like to this blog for a number of reasons that range from too many ideas to too few. In the end I have decided that sticking to a semi-strict schedule and streamlining what types of posts I write should be the best way forward. The schedule which I have decided to use is:

  • Every Monday: 1 post on my own homebrew. This may be:
    •  A recipe
    • A tasting
    • A review of equipment/process
    • Other goings on in my brew life (e.g. Competitions, meetings, experiments, etc...)
  • One other day per week: 1 post on brewing in general. This may be:
    • A discussion of styles
    • An analysis of processes
    • Commercial brewery reviews
    • Brewery tour notes
    • Beer magazine/book reviews
    • Rants/complaints
    • Any general ideas or observations that don't seem to fall into things I am actually brewing/have brewed but might relate to homebrewing, the brewing industry or this blog in general.
  • Other Changes I hope to make include:
    • More updates as I move the beer from grain to glass
    • More links to find reviews from recipes and vice versa
    • Including full recipes here in addition to Beercalculus
With this set schedule I will have a better way to give the types of posts I want to for both myself and others to learn from and should improve the focus towards the end goal: Good Beer!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Imperial Licorice Stout

To me the best Imperial Stouts have a noticeable, if not assertive, licorice quality.  This is very evident in Heavy Seas' Peg Leg which is one of my favorites of the style.  As a black licorice junky who not only gladly drinks straight Jagermeister but also eats the black jelly beans that no one else likes, I wanted to bring this flavor to the front of a brew.

For Imperial Assassin, my take on an imperial licorice stout, I planned to use licorice root in the boil to give a decent licorice flavor.  Near the end of the boil I noticed that the flavor of the root had not come through nearly as strongly as I was looking for and added in a stick of Brewer's Licorice in hopes of increasing the flavor.  I plan to leave the beer in primary for one month before secondarying on Jagermeister soaked oak.  If the flavor is still not where I want it at that point I plan to use fresh anise seed at bottling to bring a bit of the classic licorice candy flavor through.  It might be hard to hold off this long on this beer but I hope I'm rewarded for it.

2.15.2012 - It's been one month to the day since I brewed and I finally checked the final gravity on this bad boy and it's down lower than I had expected at 1.017! That means that despite missing my OG it's still about 8.5% ABV.  More importantly it tastes amazing: raisins, chocolate, coffee, campfire, a mild tingly sweetness (I suspect the licorice root) and a bit of warming alcohol but not hot at all.  On the downside it does seem a bit thin and dry (probably due to the high attenuation shown by the FG) but hopefully with some carbonation it will come out creamy and delicious. I also received all my brewing supplies so I boiled the hungarian medium-plus toast oak cubes and added them to a jar with Jaegermeister in preparation for the secondary.  Those things smell HEAVENLY, they smell the way the best red wines taste (not surprising as most red wines are oaked). Despite this being my new favorite smell in the world I am hesitant to oak the entire batch and risk ruining the beer with two ingredients (oak and Jaeger) that I have not used before and, despite my plan, might not mend well with the other pieces.  I'm letting the oak sit in the Jaeger for a day or two while I decide but at the least half of the batch will be on the ounce of oak (if only 2.5 gallons are on the ounce there might be a stronger oak flavor for better or worse).

2.18.2012 - Bottled one half of the batch (one case worth) with .8 oz. Sugar. Other half was racked to secondary with oak and Jaegermeister.

1/17/2015 - Final Tasting.  A little too sweet and lacking in roast, but otherwise absolutely delicious.

5/11/2017 - Found a bottle of the 12b version that I didn't know existed. A little strange and unbalanced due to the licorice root unfermentable sugars showing a bit. Fortunately not oxidized and certainly not bad. Hard to tell if the beer has gotten worse after 5+ years or my tastes have just developed but it seemed 'meh' at best.

Birthday Witbier

For my great girlfriend (and sometimes brewing assistant) Alyssa I attempted to make a clone of her favorite beer: Allagash White.  To me Allagash has made the quintessential wit, orangey and peppery though not overly so with just the right amount of bitter orange, coriander, wheat and yeast characteristics.  In my attempt to copy this beer I followed a recipe in Extreme Brewing that comes from Allagash with the only changes being using only Tettnanger hops.  While I don't doubt Allagash's abilities I highly doubt the recipe as the resulting brew has almost no flavor of spice or orange.  When realizing this at bottling I decided to make a spice tea with bitter orange, sweet orange and coriander. The end result is an easily drinkable beer but still not nearly as strong in the flavor profile as Allagash. Next time I plan to use a full ounce of crushed coriander (rather than a quarter) and probably at least half an ounce of both sweet and bitter orange peel (or fresh).  The brew has gone over well enough with everyone who has tried it and inspired me to plan Drye Wit a wit style beer made with both wheat and rye.