Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cheese and Beer - Not Always a Good Thing

Jess and I went to a local brewpub in Frederick called Barley and Hops for the first time the other day. We were really excited about unleashing another local source of micro-brews on to our newly expanded taste buds.

We were very disappointed. We tried almost every beer they offered and we didn't really like any of them. I found most of them to be syrupy and unpleasant or, in the case of their light lager, tasteless. All the beer was served very warm as well.

This contrasts greatly with our trip to Flying Dog's brewery where, although some were not our cup of tea exactly, all tasted like beer and were totally drinkable.

The topper of the whole experience was the Belgian Wit. Before I even got it to my face, I could smell a strong cheese (Parmesan to be exact) odor emanating from the beer. I took a sip anyway and it tasted like cheese as well. Not just a tinge or twang, but like someone had dumped a bunch of Parmesan in the beer. It was so strong that I entertained the thought that it might be intentional, but I felt more likely that there was some kind of problem (mold maybe?) either with the lines or the batch.

We asked the bartender "Is this beer supposed to have a cheese flavor?" to which she responded, "I don't know. Whatever it tastes like is what it is supposed to taste like." Very unhelpful. We asked if should would taste it or even smell it to see if anything seemed off, but she, the bartender at a brewpub, refused and wrinkled her face up as if to say, "I would NEVER drink the beer here!"

I can't say that I blame her, actually.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Stay Cool

I discovered a thread on asking members which techniques/equipment/knowledge had yielded the biggest improvement in their beer. Almost without exception, the answers included fermentation temperature control.

Each yeast strain has an operating range. Trying to ferment outside that range can lead to stuck/incomplete fermentation and/or the development of sharp tasting fusel alcohols. Even the top and bottom of the operating range can yield different flavors from the yeast.

Yesterday, I took a hydrometer sample from on of my batches and was not-so-amazed to find the temperature of the sample to be 75 degrees - outside normal operating range for my yeast which is 60 - 72 degrees. It has been hot here and the basement is slowly warming up as we have no climate control at all down there. It gets some ambient cooling from the AC units upstairs, but not much.

So here is my low no-budget cooling set up: A tray of water with a frozen 2 liter in it, old T-shirts over the primaries, and a fan. The water wicks up the T-shirts (just starting in the picture) and the fan helps speed evaporation hopefully cooling the air around the buckets. The frozen 2 liter lasts about 24 hours, and then gets swapped for a fresh one. There is also a dash of Star San in the tray of water to make sure it stays clean.

I checked the temperature this morning. I did not put a frozen 2 liter in yesterday as they were still freezing , but the temperature of the beer had already dropped 3 degrees. I added the now frozen 2 liter this morning, so we'll see how it is tomorrow.

At some point I would like to get a nice big chest freezer so I can keep fermentation temps right where I want them, but until then I'm hoping this set up will at least let me keep the temps within the acceptable range.

EDIT: 24 hours later, the beer is down to 68 degrees. Awesome!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Batch #6 - A.L.A.

Brew Date: 6/23/08
5 lbs. Light DME
1 lb. Rice Syrup Solids
.5 oz. Sterling Hops @ 6% (Bittering)
.5 oz. Sterling Hops @ 6% (Aroma)
Irish Moss
Wyeast 1056 American Ale (Washed/OJ Starter)

OG: 1.053
6/1: 1.013
6/3: 1.013 (Racked to Secondary)
FG: 7/18: 1.013 (Kegged)

ABV: 5.2%

Notes: 75% late extract addition at 15 min. My first all dry extract batch.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Good Lord What Is Happening Around Here?!

What a day.

#1: If you're paying attention, you know that tomorrow is supposed to be drinking day for batch #2. It's not going to be though because we ALREADY DRANK IT ALL OMGWTF! We have no self control around here. Once again, heading for the pool this afternoon, we blew the keg. The worst part is that today, for the first time, it was delicious instead of just so-so. So once again, we are without homebrew. Oh the huge manatee!

#2: Realizing that we need to brew every weekend if we are ever going to build up a backlog, I ran to the LHBS to buy ingredients. Once I got back, I prepared to make Tyler's OJ Starter only to realize we had no OJ. We did have lemonade though, and that's got citric acid and sugar so that should work right? WRONG. Do not use lemonade ever. So now the batch is done and I'm ready to pitch and there is no activity in the starter bottle and OH NO I THINK ALL MY YEAST ARE DEAD AT THE BOTTOM OH CRAP! I'm boned, except...

#3: I've got a wheat beer pretty much done fermenting in the basement (batch #4). I cleaned and sanitized a keg and racked batch #4 to it with the intent of letting it secondary at room temp in the keg. After that, I poured my new yeast-less wort on to the batch #4 yeast cake. I hear this is fine to do, especially if both batches are the same kind of beer so all should be fine. It was a bunch of extra work that I was not planning on doing tonight. I started brewing around 6pm and just finished at 10:30. I'm exhausted.

I'll be brewing again on Monday. Wheeeee!

Thanks to Aric for the advice on how to treat a keg as a secondary.

Edit: At 11:15 pm (a few minutes after posting this) I went out to the kitchen to get a drink and yes my starter is active. Maybe lemonade does work after all. I'll use it in Monday's batch.

Edit #2: This morning, there is still very little activity in the starter. I would advise against lemonade. On the upside, the batch is fermenting like a mad man.

Batch #5 Weizen

Brew Date: 6/21/08
6.6 lbs. Coopers Wheat LME
.5 oz. Mt. Hood Hops (Bittering)
.5 oz. Mt. Hood Hops (Finishing)
Wyeast 1056 (Batch #4 yeast cake)

OG: 1.047
6/1: 1.015
7/18: 1.014 (secondary)
7/25: 1.014 (FG)

ABV: 4.3%

Notes: 75% late extract addition at 15 minutes to flame out. Starter did not go in time, so racked batch #4 to secondary in keg and poured batch #5 on to the yeast cake. Fingers crossed. No stirring during the ice bath as I learned that it was a bad idea. Took about 20 minutes for the wart to cool.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Another Style Chart

I found a another chart similar to Pete Slossburg's Beer Spectrum.

This one is different in that it instead of color on the X axis, it plots flavor from fruity to malty.

This chart is part of John Palmer's How To Brew, which is available free online. I have found it to be a great resource.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Batch #3 in Secondary!

My dad showed up on Sunday with a 5 gallon carboy! Thanks Dad! Monday (6/16), I racked batch #3 to it. It is really neat to be able to see the beer slowly clearing. You can actually see in the picture that the beer is clearer at the top as the junk settles out. I took an SG reading as well and it was 1.020.

I need to buy a handle for the new carboy. Handling it without one is scary...
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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Brewery Tour

We took the tour at Flying Dog Saturday. It was really fun. Of course, we forgot our camera, so all I have are these poopy cell phone shots.

Mash Tun and Brew Kettels

Fermenters (about 50 of them!)

We learned that Flying Dog bought Wild Goose and Blueridge beer. Blueridge was discontinued, but they still brew Wild Goose here. We got to sample a ton of beer, including an unnamed test batch which was cool. I also tried their Double Pale Ale which has an IBU of about 90 - whoa.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Batch #4 - Weizenbier

Brew Date: 6/13/08
6.6 lbs Muntons Plain Wheat LME
1oz. Mt. Hood Hops @ 5.2% (Bittering)
.5oz. Mt. Hood Hops @ 5.2% (Finishing)
Wyeast 1056 Yeast

OG: 1.050
6/20: 1.014
FG: 1.014
ABV: 4.7%

We're trying a Wheat beer, since Jess seems to really like them. I used Tyler's OJ starter and it worked like a charm. 4:1 water to OJ and then added the washed 1056 yeast. Within a couple of hours it was inflating the (sanitized) balloon I stuck on the bottle. 60 minute boil, 10 minutes in the ice bath, pitched the starter and 12 hours later it is bubbling happily in the basement, no problems at all.
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Friday, June 13, 2008

Batch #2 Kegged and a Yeast Wash

We kegged batch #2 Thursday night, a couple of days early but this time we know not to touch it for a while. We had a sample on its way into the keg - tasted good!

We also did our first yeast wash. I used a good yeast strain in this batch (Wyeast American Ale - 1056) so we recovered enough for 4 more batches. It is still mixed up with water in the picture, but the yeast should settle to the bottom.

I'm going to use one of them on the next batch this weekend, but I will definately use a starter - perhaps Tyler's OJ starter - to make sure I didn't screw anything up washing or storing the yeast. If the starter does fail, I can pitch the dry packet that came with the kit.

You can see the keg force-carbing in the picture as well - yum!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

And Two Makes Three

The new kegs arrived today!
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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Some Flying Dogs

I grabbed a sampler 12-pack of Flying Dog brew to help hold me over while my kegs are dry. I bought it because I had heard of it before but never tried it. Got it home and it was pretty damn good, although both Jess and I detected a slight off-flavor that makes me think the 12-pack had been around a long time, or perhaps stored in a hot-ass warehouse for a while.

The 12-pack included bottles of Pale Ale, Hefe-Weizen, Amber Lager, Golden Ale, and their IPA. All were good (minus the slight off taste common to all) and Jess liked the Hefe (shocker).

I looked them up on the inner-toobs and realized why I had heard the name - they brew right in Frederick, MD! We're going on a tasting/tour of the brewery with some friends this weekend. Then we'll know for sure if those bottles were off!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Corner Pub

Last Friday, Jess and I ended up at a bar in town called The Corner Pub. They have about 15-20 beers on tap and many many more bottled. Follow the link for a list of their beers on tap.

Jess tried and LOVED Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat on tap. I tried one as well and it was very good, although very orange-y. Like, crazy oranges!

I'm starting to think Jess really likes fruity wheat beers, as she loves Pete's Strawberry Blond as well.

I also had a Hacker-Pschorr Hefe-Weizen (good) and a Spaten lager (very goddamn good). I haven't had these beers in years - since I lived in Frederick and frequented The Alpenhoff which, sadly, is no longer there.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Batch #1 Has Been Consumed

Batch #1 was great! I blew the keg Saturday around noon filling my big-ass thermo-cup (right) to take out to the pool.

Now I'm bummed because I'm a week away from kegging my next batch, and probably 10-14 days away from drinking it. WHAT HAVE I DONE???!?!

To ensure that this never happens again, I've ordered two more kegs from Midwest Supplies. The idea is to have two kegs of 'house brew' and another keg for experiments.

We're also ramping up production and brewing again next weekend, and likely the weekend after that as well.

Interestingly, Jess cracked a Coors Light today (her first in two weeks or so) and said, "Uhg, this tastes like shit." I guess our tastes are expanding!

Timing is everything...

Very interesting to hear about the quick and violent fermentation you saw with this latest batch. I happen to think this is really important; I've always viewed the time between pitching and actual fermentation to be the time when baddies are most likely to get in an establish an off tasting foothold in your beer. That's of course the motivation behind the wort chiller - or any other process - that chills your wort to pitching temperature so it doesn't leisurely make it's way from 100° to 90° to 80° etc. giving opportunities for others to set up shop.

So it seems a very good sign that the beer got going so quickly.

When I was starting out in the mid 1980's (holy crap!), I frequented a homebrewing shop in Hudson, NH run by an ancient and very crabby couple. They ran it out of their garage and we (I had several friends who also brewed) generally dealt with the wife because the husband, who was some kind of chemist, was still working though he must have been a 100 years.. Eventually was sort of won her favor and when we did meet the husband he opened up a bit to us. One "secret" he swore by was the use of citric acid - typically in the form of orange juice - to be used as a "starter" for the yeast.

In short he proposed - and I did this for years - that the first thing you do when you start brewing was to setup a large sterile glass with about a cup and a half mixture of water and orange juice (maybe 4:1 water to OJ) and immediately pitch the yeast in their and cover it with saran wrap.

By the time I was done brewing and ready to pitch, this starter would already be fermenting actively. Pitching this active yeast into properly chilled wort got the fermentation process off to a quick start and contributed to me making reliably good beer without the "off" flavors of my earlier efforts.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Batch #3 - Violent Fermentation!

Wow. I checked on batch #3 about 20 hours after putting it in the basement and it was going CRAZY! The blow off was bubbling nearly continuously, pausing only every 45 seconds or so. I could also see the lid of the bucket bulging - I was afraid I might have a mess to clean up if the blow off tube failed to handle the pressure.

Another 24 hours and it has calmed down a lot, bubbling every 45 seconds or so.

I'm going to attribute this high level of activity to pitching the yeast at exactly 70 degrees. They must have multiplied like crazy and really got to work under optimum conditions. How does this effect the beer? I have no idea... probably it doesn't. We'll see...

Friday, June 6, 2008

Batch #3

Brew Date: 6/6/2008
Recipe: Brewer's Best American Light Kit
OG: 1.046*
6/16: 1.021
6/20: 1.016
6/26: 1.013
7/01: 1.013 (FG)

ABV: 4.3%

Notes: Yes, they were Sterling hops (6.0% AA) as the recipe indicates, and the yeast is Muntons dry yeast.

*The OG may be off as I read later that you really need to mix the partial boil and the top off well before you will get a good reading. Doh.

This was the first time I have gone through the entire boil and not felt like a tee-pee and a wigwam. I definately feel like I have this part of the sanitation dance down as things went very smoothly.

I added Irish Moss to this recipe (15 minutes before flame-off) to see if it will clear the beer up some.

I also cooled the wort in an ice bath down to 80 degrees F. It took about 10 minutes. I can probably get it done faster, but I need more ice next time. My cold water comes out of the faucet at 60 degrees F, so once I topped off the primary the wort was right at 70. I pitched the yeast, capped it, shook it around a little, and put it down in the basement with a blow-off tube. Easy-peasy.

Lessons Learned:
  • Buy a bag of ice 'cause now there is none for my cocktails.
  • Stir well before taking OG.
  • Continue to not panic.
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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hoppy and Sweet!!

The beer chart below got me to thinking about the big hop / big malt beers that I gravitated towards when I was homebrewing. Of late these beers have become more popular, especially in the "big single bottle of beer" part of our beer stores.

These are beers that offer a bit of both bitterness and sweetness in the same mouthful. The best ones first hit you with malt sweetness and the accompanying flavor of alcohol and then fade into a long dreamy hop flavored bitter finish leaving your mouth as dry as it was before that first quaff. The beers are strong, but not barleywine, knock you on your butt, overblown strong.

It's rarely executed that well though. Many shots across this bow have been made. Several that I think have come close to the mark are:
None of these are as good, of course, as my homebrewed version, but it is good to see that folks at least trying...

Batch #1 - AWESOME.

We've been drinking it all week and I love it. Jess likes it, but wishes it was less bitter. I believe this is because the beer she is used to is around 8 IBU and this is, according to the recipe, 15 IBU. These are low numbers compared to most homebrews or even most "real" beers, but when you double your bitterness, you're going to notice. I have a feeling her tastes will change, as will mine, as we go down this road.

We're going to brew this kit again this weekend. I'm going to keep everything the same except for two things: I'm going to cool the wort down in an ice bath before it goes in to the primary, and I'm going to add some Irish Moss to try to clear the final product. I'll be interested to note the differences from the first batch and ponder what it all means.

All in all, my first batch of homebrew was a great success and I couldn't be happier with the way it turned out. If any of my friends want some, they better hurry - the keg is getting light...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Pete's Spectrum of Beers

Pete Slosberg, (of Pete's Wicked Ale fame) included this chart in his book. As someone who has been drinking basically only two style of beer for 20 year (Coors/Miller/Corona and Guinness) I found it extremely helpful. Jess and I are going to use it to help us figure out what kind of beer to brew, as well as what kind of beer we actually like. That's right - we've been drinking beer for years, and we have no idea what kind of beer we really like. Weird. Click for a huge version.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

How Strong is Your Beer?

I found this list online (I wish I could remember where exactly) and dropped it into a spreadsheet. Here it is sorted by alcohol content:

Monday, June 2, 2008

Batch #2 in Primary

Brew Date: May 25, 2008
Recipe: This Bud's For You Kit
(Follow the link for the ingredients list.)

This brew day was a bit of a disaster. I must have called Aric 5 times. I got started brewing late, and we also had a party scheduled that day.

First of all, I ordered this kit without noting that it was a lager. I don't have the facilities to lager yet, so my first call to Aric was about this. Aric told me that he had brewed this kit before and simply replaced the lager yeast with ale yeast - no problem. A trip to my local HBS and I came home with a 'smack-pack' of ale yeast.

Disaster #2 started on brew day when I smacked the pack of yeast. I smacked it too hard I guess and shot yeast-food and yeast-goo all over the kitchen and my friend Shawn who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Funny to be sure, but now I am freaking out because the HBS is closed and I just screwed up my yeast pack. Another call to Aric yielded what I realize now must be the most repeated phrase spoken by experienced brewers to noobies: "Don't panic. Just use it and everything will probably be fine." I had stuck the yeast pack in a zip lock, which I should have sanitized but didn't, so I was worried about that is well, but Aric calmed me down a bit.

Disaster #3 struck when I was crushing the grains (a first for me) on the counter with a rolling pin. The rolling pin slipped and shot towards me sending grain flying all over the kitchen floor. Luckily, these grains were going into a boil-bag, so anything ummm... extra that got mixed up with them didn't physically end up in the wort. Luckily, we had cleaned the floor that morning (party, remember?) so it wasn't bad at all.

The boil went fine, and just before it ended I started cleaning (Oxy-Clean) and sanitizing (One-Step) the primary, blow-off tube, pickle jar, etc. I was much more thorough with my cleaning and sanitation this time, and my timing was better over all. I'm getting a little better at the dance...

In to the primary the hot wort went, topped off with cold water, and my new thermometer stuck through the air-lock hole. I don't have any wort-chilling capability, and there was too much stuff going on for it to go in the sink with ice for a half-hour. I could have used some ice in the top-off water, but I thought of that too late. I ended up pitching the yeast (from the ruptured foil pack inside the un-sanitized zip-lock...arggg!) around 90 degrees. Too hot I know. I just wanted that yeast out of that zip-lock and to be done brewing as the house was now filling with party guests.

It took about 24 hours, but fermentation eventually got going. The pickle jar had sanitizer solution in it this time. After a day or so, fermentation slowed down and I swapped out the blow-off for an air-lock, also filled with sanitizer solution.

As of today, Batch #2 has been in primary for 8 days. I have not taken (and will not take) a peek at it, but all seems normal. Thats the bummer about brewing in buckets - you can't see anything... I will rack this batch to the keg on June 15th, or when we float the Batch #1 keg - which ever comes later.

Lessons Learned:
  • "Smack" is not meant to be taken literally.
  • Pay attention to what you are ordering.
  • Don't brew when you have to compete for the kitchen.
  • Contain your grains.
  • Don't Panic!

Batch #1 Pictures

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Batch #1 - The Full Story

Brew Date: May 10, 2008
Recipe: Brewer's Best American Light Kit
3.3 lbs. Plain Light Malt Extract
1 lb. Plain light Dry malt Extract
1 lb. Rice Syrup Solids
1 oz. Sterling Bittering Hops
1/4 oz. Sterling Finishing Hops
1 packet "Beer Yeast"

Notes: I cant remember what kind of hops we actually received with the kit. There was a note from Brewer's Best about the hops shortage and that they may switch out certain hops for a similar type. I also have no idea what kind of yeast it was other than it was Ale.

I cleaned everything (probably not good enough I now realize) and sanitized with One-Step. The boil was without incident and we dumped the wort into my primary (plastic bucket) and topped off with cold water. After 15 minutes or so, we pitched the yeast directly onto the wart. No temperature reading here, just guessing at the temp.

Inside of 12 hours, there was good fermentation going and my blow-off tube (air-locked in a pickle jar full of water) did fine. After a day or so, I switched the blow-off tube for a regular air-lock (again filled with just water). I should have used sanitizer solution in both air-locks. Aric suggested cheap vodka as well.

No secondary.

I did open the primary around day 12 to take a sample. Discovered the hydrometer I had was cracked! Beer had a good flavor and smell.

We kegged on May 28th (18 days). This was earlier than planned due to my over-excitement and a busy weekend approaching. We then force carbed at 40 psi for 24 hours, then 20 psi for 24 hours, then to 7 psi for serving.

First taste: May 30th
Results: Awful! Tasted like sanitizer or cleaning solution. Current theory is that there may have still been sanitizer in the serving line or keg and we were tasting that because...

Second taste: May 31st
Results: Still bad, but much better. Weird taste fading away.

Third taste: June 1st
Results: Good. I drank 5 over the course of the day, a friend and Jess each had a couple.

Currently: Beer is mellowing nicely and tastes a little better each day. I think we kegged too early. Will wait at least a solid 3 weeks, if not longer, next time before kegging. There is a slight 'twang' that I think indicates I need to get better with sanitation or something. It could also just be 'green' beer - I'm not experienced enough to tell yet. The beer is cloudy, but I think this is expected as I used no methods to try to clear it. The beer is a tad bitter for me and too bitter for Jess. I'm not sure if this is the recipe, or a result of my brewing.

Lessons Learned:
  • I need to get better at the "Sanitation Dance" - having the right things sanitized just as I need them, etc.
  • Cleaning kegs uses a LOT of water.
  • Take better notes.
  • Don't rush.
  • Don't panic!

First Post

I've decided to start this blog as a place to keep my notes as I dive in to homebrewing beer. I figured I would leave it public in case anyone else was interested.

I'm a n00b at homebrewing, but I have some good friends and relatives to lean on including my dad, my uncles Rod and Ty, and my buddy Aric, all of whom are experienced homebrewers. The primary job of these people so far has been to help quell my unnecessary PANIC as I fumble though these first batches.

I've also been reading as much as I can. My favorite forum is which has a very active community including some extremely helpful experts.

My dad also loaned me his copy of "Beer for Pete's Sake" by Pete Slosberg - creator of Pete's Wicked Ale. A great book that is not only the story of Pete's Brewing Company, but the story of beer itself.