Monday, December 19, 2011

Batch #7 - India Pale Ale (Extract, Full-Boil, Non-kit)

Batch #7 ingredients
Batch #7 is an extract, full-boil IPA.  To develop the recipe I used BeerSmith 2.0.

  • 6.5 pounds Light Dry Malt Extract (DME)
  • 1 pound Amber Dry Malt Extract (DME)
  • 1 pound Crystal/Caramel Malt 40L grain for steeping (color + fermentable)
  • .5 pound of Victory Malt
  • 1 oz. Chinook Hops for bittering (boil for 60 minutes)
  • 1 oz. Falconer's Flight Hops for bittering (boil for 15 minutes)
  • 1 oz.  Falconer's Flight Hops for aroma (boil for 5 minutes)
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet (an Irish Moss product)
  • Yeast - American Ale from Wyeast #1056
  • 5 oz. Corn Sugar (Dextrose) for priming (bottle conditioning)
  • 6 gallons of drinking water
  1. Two days before brewing session make a yeast starter.
  2. Bring 6 gallons of water up to a temperature of approximately 158 degrees.
  3. Pour all of the Crystal/Caramel Malt and Victory Malt into a grain sock and submerge in water for 20 minutes to steep. Maintain a temperature between 150-165 degrees for steeping.  Be careful not to let temperature rise to 170 or above to prevent off flavors from being introduced.
  4. Remove grain sock and allow excess water to drip back into pot.  (Do not squeeze)
  5. Bring wort to a gentle rolling boil, remove from heat and add ALL of the Light Dry Malt Extract and 1 pound Amber Dry Malt Extract (DME) and stir vigorously to dissolve.  Return to heat and resume boil.
  6. Add 1 oz. Chinook Hops for bittering.
  7. Boil for 60 minutes.
  8. Add 1 Whirlfloc tablet (an Irish Moss product) during final 15 minutes of boil.
  9. Add  1 oz. Falconer's Flight Hops during last 15 minutes of boil.
  10. Add  1 oz. Falconer's Flight Hops during last 5 minutes of boil.
  11. Chill wort to 70 degrees or less.
  12. Take OG reading with hydrometer.
  13. Optional - add water to get OG to target range.
  14. Transfer to primary fermentation (strain).
  15. Pitch yeast.
  16. Ferment in primary for 4-7 days.
  17. Take second specific gravity reading and record.
  18. Move to secondary fermentation for an additional 10 days or more.
  19. Take final specific gravity reading.
  20. Prepare priming sugar and add to bottling bucket.
  21. Transfer wort to bottling bucket and bottle.
  22. Bottle condition for approximately 30 days.
Stats and brew notes:
  • Target Original Gravity - 1.070
    • Actual Original Gravity - Forgot to measure.... :-(
  • Estimated Final Gravity - 1.015
    • Actual Final Gravity - 1.020
  • Estimated ABV - 7.2%
    • Actual ABV - 
  • Brew Day - December 29, 2011
  • Transfer to secondary fermentation - January 4, 2012 (6 days)
  • Bottling Day - January 21, 2012 (17 days)
  • Fermentation temperature (range) - 57 - 64
  • Notes:
    • After a couple of hours I checked on Primary fermentation and the airlock wasn't working.  For some reason the water level was too low.  I added more water and it was soon bubbling away.  Does not appear to be affected.
    • With this batch, unlike #6, I am going to strain it before it goes to Primary fermentation.
      • Did NOT strain as I did not buy a funnel and strainer in time.  Everything I have read so far said it will not affect taste.
    • I am going to use an ice bath plus my chiller with this batch to try and cool the wort as quickly as possible.
      • Actual cooling time - about 15 minutes.  This method worked GREAT.
    • I'm a little worried about fermentation temperatures.  I'm fermenting in the basement and the temperature has dropped lower than I wanted.  The yeast I am using prefers temps between 60-72 degrees.
    • Airlock in secondary fermentation dried up but I think I caught it in time.

The Verdict:
Popped the first bottle open on February 4th (2 weeks of bottle conditioning) and there was very little carbonation.  I agitated the bottles by turning them upside down and slightly shaking them.  After another week they were perfect in terms of carbonation.  So this beer ended up much like my last batch.  Definitely a better tasting brew minus the homebrew "twang" but a little on the sweet side.  My guess is this is due to an incomplete fermentation.  I plan to purchase a wort aeration system for my next batch.  Another issue is bitterness and aroma.  For an IPA I would have expected this one to be more hoppy both in aroma and bitterness.  Perhaps more time in the bottle will change the character of this one.

All-in-all I would say this one is a success.  Not perfect but steadily getting better.
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Thursday, November 10, 2011

How (and why) to Make a Yeast Starter

Making a yeast starter for your homebrew is a fast and easy way to gain more control over your final product and ensure the results you are after.

Let's start with the "Why" of making a yeast starter for your homebrew.  First, it should be acknowledged that making a yeast starter is by no means required.  Most beginners, including myself, have pitched the dry yeast packets that come with a basic kit and achieved acceptable results.  Some opt for the liquid yeast varieties from either White Labs or Wyeast and the results are sometimes even better.  So why ever bother with the extra steps of creating a starter?  Below are a few reasons that I think make the exercise worthwhile:
  1. Build up the cell count.  The more active yeast cells you have the more they can get to work and do their job of converting sugar to alcohol.
  2. Full fermentation.  With more active yeast cells you have a better chance of achieving your desired finishing gravity.  Let's say you start off with an original gravity (OG) of 1.051 and want to end up at 1.012.  If you under pitch the yeast and the rising alcohol content overwhelms the active yeast you could stall it out before reaching your final gravity and not reach the desired alcohol content.
  3. Reduce risk of contamination.  The faster your yeast is able to do it's job the less time your beer has to be exposed to contaminants.  The less lag time you have the less chance of contamination.
  4. Better tasting beer!  Yeast does more than just convert sugar to alcohol.  It contributes to the overall taste of your beer and when it is pitched in the proper ratios it can help reduce off flavors.
Let's move on to the the "How" of making a yeast starter beginning with the equipment and supplies you will need to get started:
  1. 1 gallon glass growler or a 2 liter glass pyrex flask
  2. Rubber stopper and airlock
  3. Approximately 1/2 cup light dry malt extract (DME)
  4. 1 quart of water
  5. Aluminum foil
  6. Medium-sized sauce pan
  7. Yeast appropriate for your homebrew recipe
Making a yeast starter is actually very simple.  In fact, if you've made even one batch or beer you have already done most of the basic steps.  While there are variations galore on how to do this task, I find the steps below are easy to follow and yield consistently good results.  Begin your yeast starter at least 2 days before you intend to brew.
  1. Start by removing your liquid yeast pack or vial from the refrigerator.  If it is a "smack-pack" go ahead and activate as per instructions.  Your yeast should have several hours to warm to room temperature before moving to step 2.
  2. Bring 1 quart of water to a boil.
  3. Add 1/2 cup of light dry malt extract (DME) and stir until dissolved.
  4. Boil for approximately 15 minutes.
  5. Cool the DME and water mixture (wort) by placing the saucepan in sink and surround with ice water and stir gently until liquid is room temperature or below 80 degrees.
  6. Transfer cooled wort to carboy or flask.
  7. Add (pitch) yeast to wort.
  8. Cover with aluminum foil and shake vigorously to aerate.  You can also choose to oxygenate the mixture.  Instructions can be found HERE.  Note: reduce time to 10-15 seconds.
  9. Add rubber stopper with airlock and allow to begin fermentation at room temperature.
  10. You should see fermentation activity within 24 hours if not much sooner.
  11. You now have your yeast starter!
  12. When it comes time to pitch your yeast in you homebrew recipe you can simply pour the entire mixture into the fermentation vessel or use this optional method:
  • Optional - 24 hours prior to brew day you can transfer your wort to the refrigerator.  This will cause the yeast to separate or sink to the bottom of the container.  Remove from refrigeration and pour off most of the top liquid.  Let the remaining yeast warm to room temperature and pitch the resulting yeast slurry into your wort at the appropriate time.  Removing the extraneous liquid may reduce off flavors.  
Well, that's it.  I hope you find this a useful process in your homebrewing adventures.  Happy brewing!

See these links for more information on creating a yeast starter:

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Batch #6 - American Pale Ale (Extract, Full-Boil, Non-kit)

For batch #6 I'm taking a baby step toward all-grain. For this batch I'm going to do a full-boil extract brew using DME only.  I'm going to also move away from the kits I've been using and make up my own simple Pale Ale recipe.

First task at hand is upgrading my brew kettle.  I wish I had sprung for an 8 or 10 gallon pot initially over the 6 gallon model but lesson learned.  Next is to get a chiller.  Cooling 2-3 gallons in an ice bath is pretty easy but I don't think there is an efficient way to rapidly cool 5 gallons of wort without a chiller.

  • 5 pounds Light Dry Malt Extract (DME) - Munton's Light
  • 1 pound Amber Dry Malt Extract (DME) - Munton's Amber
  • 1 pound Crystal/Caramel Malt 40L grain for steeping (color + fermentable)
  • 1.5 oz. Cascade Hops for bittering
  • 1.5 oz. Cascade Hops for aroma
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet (an Irish Moss product)
  • Yeast - American Ale from Wyeast #1056
  • 5 oz. Corn Sugar (Dextrose) for priming (bottle conditioning)
  • 6 gallons of drinking water
  1. Two days before brewing session make a yeast starter.
  2. Bring 5.5 gallons of water up to a temperature of approximately 158 degrees.
  3. Pour all of the Crystal/Caramel Malt into a grain sock and submerge in water for 20 minutes to steep. Maintain a temperature between 150-165 degrees for steeping.  Be careful not to let temperature rise to 170 or above to prevent off flavors from being introduced.
  4. Remove grain sock and allow excess water to drip back into pot.  (Do not squeeze)
  5. Bring wort to a gentle rolling boil, remove from heat and add 3 pounds of the Light Dry Malt Extract and 1 pound Amber Dry Malt Extract (DME) and stir vigorously to dissolve.  Return to heat and resume boil.
  6. Add 1.5 oz. Cascade Hops for bittering.
  7. Boil for 40 minutes.
  8. Add remaining 2 pounds Light Dry Malt Extract (DME).
  9. Add 1 Whirlfloc tablet (an Irish Moss product).
  10. Boil for 15 minutes.
  11. Add 1.5 oz. Cascade Hops for aroma.
  12. Boil for 5 minutes and terminate boil.
  13. Chill wort to 70 degrees or less and transfer to primary fermentation (strain).
  14. Take OG reading with hydrometer - target is 1.056.
  15. Optional - add water to get OG to target range.
  16. Pitch yeast.
  17. Ferment in primary for 4-7 days.
  18. Take second specific gravity reading.
  19. Move to secondary fermentation for an additional 10 days or more.
  20. Take final specific gravity reading.
  21. Prepare priming sugar and add to bottling bucket.
  22. Transfer wort to bottling bucket and bottle.
  23. Bottle condition for 30 days.
Notes, Results and Lessons Learned:
  • Brew Day - December 5, 2011
    • Stop watch quit working for initial 40 minute boil so had to estimate.  Not too concerned.
    • Yeast starter seemed to work well.  Lots of activity within a couple of hours.  I was a little concerned that the activity in the yeast starter had ceased before I pitched it but it didn't seem to matter.  Pitched the whole starter - did not drain off wort beforehand.
  • Transfer to secondary fermentation - December 12, 2011 (7 days in Primary)
    • Forgot to add the airlock floater for about an hour.  Hopefully no contaminants reached the beer.
  • Bottling Day - December 24, 2011 (12 days in Secondary, 2 days longer than planned)
  • Fermentation temperature (range) - 61-66 degrees.  Would have preferred a constant 68 degrees but since fermentation was done in the basement I could not control it.
  • Estimated Original Gravity - 1.056
    • Actual Original Gravity 1.068!  Did not add water at end of boil to adjust.  Consider doing a 6 gallon full boil next time.
  • Estimated Final Gravity - 1.012
    • Actual Final Gravity - 1.020
    • Took a specific gravity reading when transferring to secondary fermentation and got a reading of 1.020.  The sample contained a fair amount of trub so I don't know how accurate it was.  This would translate to an ABV of 6.3% or .5% higher than expected.
  • Estimated ABV - 5.8%
    • Actual ABV - 6.3
  • Priming sugar may have carmelized.  I dumped all 5 ounces in the boiling water and it clung to the bottom a bit.  It broke up and seemed fine but wonder if it will affect the taste.
    • Next time I need to remove from heat and slowly stir in to water and then return to heat.
  • Remember to aerate the wort well when pitching the yeast.  Full boils will lessen the oxygen in the wort which is needed to fuel the yeast.
    • Pitched yeast, covered carboy with sanitized aluminum foil and shook vigorously.  This seemed to have worked fine.
  • I'm going to try and perfect this recipe before moving on to a different recipe/style.  Main objectives for Batch #8:
    • Start with a pre-boil water level of 5.7 gallons as prescribed by BeerSmith.
    • STRAIN this batch!
    • Consider using a blow-off tube.
    • Use the hydrometer and keep your results for reference.
    • Aerate well.
    • Pay close attention to fermentation temperatures - keep them constant.  Shoot for 67-68 degrees.
    • This style probably does not require a yeast starter as the specifications on the Wyeast site indicate it can handle a full batch based on my style stats.  Follow these instructions carefully.
    • Don't be so anxious to transfer to secondary.  Let the yeast do it's job.  Use a hydrometer to assess when/if it is time to go to secondary.
The Verdict:
  • Opened a bottle at 13 days and was disappointed that it was not more carbonated.  It also had a sweet taste which probably indicates the yeast did not fully do it's job.  It may still come around with more time.  Additionally, the area where it was bottles conditioned dipped into the 50's which may have made the yeast go dormant.  I brought 4 bottles upstairs where the temperature is more stable and agitated them on a daily basis for several days to try and get the yeast going again.  Time will tell...

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Batch #5 - India Pale Ale (Extract)

Batch number 5 is an India Pale Pale.  It is based on the Brewer's Best IPA kit but with a twist.  Because I like my beer hoppy, I'm going to dry hop this batch.  If this one turns out OK I plan to try going all-grain next batch after I accumulate all the necessary equipment.

Ingredient List:
  • 6.6 lbs. Muntons Light Liquid Malt Extract (LME) - Two 3.3 lb./1.5kg cans
  • 1 lb. Brewer's Best Dry Malt Extract (Spray - Dried Malt) DME
  • 1 lb. Brewer's Best Crushed Caramel Malt Specialty Grain
  • 8 oz. Brewer's Best Crushed Victory Malt Specialty Grain
  • 2 oz. Brewer's Best Cascade Bittering Hops, 6.4% Alpha Acid
  • 1.5 oz. Brewer's Best Columbus Bittering Hops, 13.9% Alpha Acid
  • 1 oz. Brewer's Best Cascade Aroma Hops
  • 1 oz. Hopunion Amarillo Dry Hopping Hops (not included in Brewer's Best kit)
  • Wyeast 1272 American II Yeast (replaced the Nottingham Ale dry yeast that came in kit)
  • 5 oz. Brewer's Best Priming Sugar for bottle conditioning
  • Heat approximately 2.5 gallons of drinking water to a steeping temperature of between 150 - 165 degrees.
  • Pour the Crushed Caramel and Victory Malt Specialty Grains into a steep bag and loosely tie a knot to contain the grains and place in your heated water.
  • Steep for approximately 20 minutes but ensure the temperature does not exceed 170 degrees.
  • Remove the grain bag and allow the water to drain back into the brew kettle.  Do not squeeze excess water back into kettle.
  • Bring your newly created wort to a gentle, rolling boil.  Remove from heat and add all of the fermentables (both the LME and DMW) and stir vigorously to ensure they to not caramelize on the bottom of the brew kettle.
  • After the fermentables are added return to heat and gently stir until wort returns to a boil.
  • Slowly sprinkle both bittering hops into boiling wort and boil for 55 minutes.
  • Add aroma hops and boil for 5 more minutes and terminate boil.
  • Place brew kettle in ice bath to chill as quickly as possible to a temperature of  70 degrees.
  • Strain cooled wort into primary fermentation bucket.
  • Start adding water to bring the Original Gravity to between 1.061 - 1.065.
  • Pitch the yeast and stir well to aerate.
  • Add airtight lid with airlock to begin primary fermentation.
  • Ferment for 3-4 days in primary container.  Actual primary fermentation was 8 days.
  • Take a specific gravity reading and record. OG reading - 1.061
  • Transfer to secondary fermentation and add dry hops.  Omitted dry hops.  SG reading 1.020
  • Allow beer to finish fermenting in secondary fermentation carboy for approximately 2 weeks.
  • After about 2 weeks in secondary fermentation proceed to bottling.
Notes and/or lessons learned:
  • For batch #6 consider upgrading brew kettle to larger model that will allow me to do a "full boil" instead of adding water to the concentrated wort.  For this batch I did an initial 3 gallon boil which is about as much as my present brew kettle can handle.
  • My previous 4 batches have all been drinkable but they have all had that homebrew "twang" to them. In reading some threads on I got the following recommendations:
    • Do full boils whenever possible.
    • If you can't do all-grain then use all DME in your extract brewing instead of LME.
    • Stay away from aluminum brew kettles.
    • Maintain appropriate fermentation temperatures.
    • One suggestion was to use only distilled water.
    • Consider making a yeast starter.
  • The directions called for pitching the yeast AFTER adding the additional water to achieve the desired OG hydrometer reading.  I reversed the order.  Not sure if it matters.
  • Desired Finishing Gravity was not achieved.  Fermentation conditions were acceptable.  My guess is that there simply wasn't enough active yeast cells to do the full job.  Hopefully a yeast starter will do the job next time.
  • Popped open a bottle after 7 days of bottle conditioning and there was little carbonation present.  I thought the batch was a dud but at 14 days the beer was great.  This appears to be a style and/or batch that will do well with increased bottle conditioning.
The Verdict:

  • Damn good - possibly the best batch yet.  No homebrew "twang" present.  Tasty.
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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Batch #4 - Rye Pale Ale (Extract)

Homebrew batch #4 is a Rye Pale Ale.  We decided to step it up a bit and take on a recipe that is a little more involved plus it is my favorite beer style - I'm hooked on Terrapin's Rye Pale Ale.

We're still stuck on the Brewer's Best kits since we have had success with them so far.  The Rye Pale Ale beer kit is from their "intermediate" line in terms of difficulty.  The only real difference with this kit as opposed to an "easy" kit is that you steep your grains differently (a partial mash process).  For this kit you employ a "steep-to-convert" process which is a simplified version of mashing.

Most of the grains in extract brewing are pre-converted meaning the starches inside the malted barley have already been converted into sugars through special heating processes.  Base malts (like Pale) are not pre-converted.  They contain starches inside the husk that need to be converted.  The process adds an additional 45 minutes to the overall brewing time.  The hardest part is maintaining a constant temperature of approximately 150 degrees.  It seemed impossible to keep our temperature constant so we would let the heat creep up to 155 and then turn the burner off.  After it decreased to 148 we would reignite and monitor until it was at 155 again and repeat the actions above.

After the "steep-to-convert" procedure it is pretty much business as usual (with one exception as noted below) and the directions are similar to the previous 3 kits we have completed.  With this recipe we used 5 gallons of bottled spring water.  For the past recipes I have used distilled water but read that the minerals in other types of water lend to the overall taste so we are switching things up.

Things got a little dicey when we went to pitch the yeast.  We used a liquid variety from White Labs over the dry yeast packet that comes inside the kit.  It was real close the expiration date so I was slightly concerned it about it still being fresh and active.  When I opened it it fizzed and spewed like a soft drink that had been shaken.  At this point, I didn't have much of an alternative except to pour it in and hope for the best.  Well, a quick Google search and my fears were alleviated.  This is apparently quite common and most brewers reported no problems.  Within 8 hours of pitching the yeast my airlock was bubbling furiously.

Secondary fermentation was started 7 days after primary.  The airlock was still bubbling about every 4 minutes so my goal of moving it to secondary before fermentation completed was achieved.

Another difference with this kit is the addition of "dry hopping".  Dry hopping is the process of adding hops to the beer after the boil and usually to secondary fermentation for the purpose of increasing aroma in the finished beer.  The directions called for a two week secondary fermentation process but something odd happened.  About one week into it the hops had mostly fallen to the bottom of the carboy and fermentation seemed to have ceased.  On about the ninth day it appeared fermentation had started again!  I didn't know if  perhaps the beer was contaminated or what was happening.  I was reminded by my brewing partner (and lovely girlfriend) that the AC in her house was off for a period of time and the temperature crept up to 81 degrees.  Could that have re-activated the yeast?  Even after many weeks the airlock was still bubbling.  A quick Google search indicated the only sure way to tell if fermentation had stopped was to test with a hydrometer.  I'm getting concerned about this batch but time will tell.

When it came time to bottle I wasn't sure what to expect.  We had left the wort in secondary fermentation for about 6 weeks and still noticed activity.  We decided that it was time to move forward and bottle.  A hydrometer reading indicated that the beer was, indeed, at its finishing gravity.  I question how long it had been there but the lesson learned is that visual activity in the wort (or lack there of) isn't the best indicator of what's truly going on with your beer.  Trust your tools, in this case a hydrometer, and use them.  My concern now is how the lengthy secondary fermentation will affect taste.

The moment of truth...

Despite some uncertainty, it looks like we're going to have a decent batch of Rye Pale Ale to drink.  Already thinking about what's next.  Dare were try an all grain recipe...?
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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Batch #3 - Summer Ale (Extract)

For batch #3 we decided to go with a seasonal recipe and brew up a summer ale.  As before, we went the extract route and used a kit from Brewer's Best.  Their Summer Ale recipe was easy to follow and turned out quite nice.  Batch 1 and 2 taught me a lot and made this one seem easy by comparison.

To be sure, there were still lessons learned and tips I will remember going forward.  One snafu that could have potentially ruined the batch was avoided.  Step 13 calls for the addition of priming sugar which ensures your beer carbonates after bottling.  We prepared the sugar as directed but in our excitement to get it bottled nearly forgot to add it.

Just before bottling was to begin I noticed our sauce pan sitting on the stove and luckily had time to add it just before bottling commenced.  The instructions call for the sugar to be added to your bottling bucket before transferring the wort so I was unsure if adding post-transfer would matter.  As it turned out the beer was fine - just the right amount of fizz and, luckily, stirring in the sugar after it was added to the bottling bucket didn't introduce any contaminates.

Another change we will employ for batch 4 is switching our sanitizer.  We had been using C-brite simply because that is what was included with my original kit.  After a trip to my local homebrew supply shop I decided to switch to Star-San based on a recommendation by the owner.  He said C-brite was a good product but he had better results with Star-San and as a no-rinse sanitizer produced no off-flavors.  I found this debate online and it seems like there are a lot of Star-San fans out there in the homebrew universe.

I think one of the best things about brewing your own beer is sharing it with unsuspecting victims friends and family.  I did a previous post on how to create your own labels and for batch 3 we decided to label some bottles as we were travelling for the 4th of July holiday and wanted to show off our creation.  The label you see here was done by My Own Labels and it turned out even better than I expected.  They were high quality, applied easily and didn't come off when submerged in the cooler.

Batch 4 is on deck to brew this weekend.  Looking to spreading our wings a bit and move up to a more challenging recipe so stay tuned for the outcome.  Happy homebrewing friends and thanks for reading.  Comments are always appreciated.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Batch #2 - American Pale Ale (Extract)

What a difference a little experience makes.  Round two was much less intimidating and the process flowed more smoothly.  There were, however, lessons to be learned and questions to be answered.

For batch #2 we decided to go with an American Pale Ale (one of my favorite styles) from Brewer's Best.  To see the recipe and instructions you can go HERE.  This recipe is labeled "Easy" by Brewer's Best in terms of difficulty and compared to the Wit Bier recipe I initially started my beer making hobby with I would agree.  There are simply less ingredients and steps involved in getting to the finished product.

Like my first batch, I took extreme caution to ensure everything was thoroughly sanitized and contamination would not be a factor.  For the most part, the brew session went as planned but I did learn a few things that I will take with me into batch #3 and I would like to share below:
  • Bayou Classic SQ14 Single Burner Outdoor Patio Stove

    A watched pot never boils...  Or so it would seem. In step #4 of the recipe it calls for the wort to be brought to a boil.  For whatever reason, our electric stove simply wouldn't get hot enough to bring the mixture to a rolling boil so it steeped for longer than the recipe called for.  Eventually we resigned ourselves to the fact that it simply wasn't going to get hot enough to achieve the desired temperature.  Fortunately, we had a propane burner similar to this one from Amazon.  We made the transfer and in just a few minutes had the rolling boil we were after.

Airlock seals don't float!  This is one of those seemingly simple lessons but until you have been there a little head scratching takes place.  After I had transferred the wort to my primary fermentation bucket I pitched the yeast, firmly pressed the lid on and went to install the airlock in the rubber seal around the top of the lid.  Unfortunately, I pressed a little hard and the black rubber seal pushed through and quickly sank to the bottom.  I retrieved my mixing spoon to try and fish it out but before doing so I mixed up another gallon of C-Brite to sterilize it before making the plunge.  After  several attempts and coming up empty I had to move on to a second option.  I considered siphoning the liquid into another container until the level was low enough to easily pluck the seal out but was concerned that introducing more air into the wort may contaminate it.  It seemed I was left but with one option.  I took the C-Brite mixture and thoroughly coated my right arm and went fishing.  I located the seal and was in and out in just a few seconds but I couldn't help but wonder if I had contaminated the brew.  As time would tell, the beer ended up just fine but not without a little worry.  Lesson learned - lubricate the end of the airlock with C-Brite solution and use care to gently push  into the seal.

Timing your Hydrometer readings matter.  If you want to ensure your home brew ends up with the intended ABV measurement you need to take your hydrometer readings at the appropriate times.  It is important to take a reading before fermentation begins to establish your original gravity (OG).  In following the brewing directions, I missed a step that would have given me greater control over the final gravity (FG) of my beer.  Step 8 of the brew process reads as follows... "Add enough clean water (approx. 64º - 72ºF) to the fermenter to bring your wort to approximately 5 gallons.  Thoroughly stir the water into the wort."  Simple enough.  I added the water as instructed but I should have read the ENTIRE set of directions because the next bit of information in the directions was important:  "Be careful not to add a volume of water that will cause the wort to fall outside of the OG range."  Unfortunately, I added more water than I should have and missed the intended OG which resulted in a FG less than is ideal for this style of beer.  I could not tell a difference in the taste of the finished product but I would have been happier if I had hit the desired ABV.  Lesson Learned - Add water to the wort slowly and take frequent hydrometer reading until you are at your intended OG reading.  You can always add more if your readings aren't where you want them to be.

Why's my beer cloudy?  After we popped our first beer in batch #2 we quickly noticed that it was cloudy.  This wasn't entirely unexpected.  In fact, some styles are supposed to be cloudy in their finished form such as our wit bier we brewed in batch #1.  The wit bier actually cleared up quite a bit over time while aging in the bottle.  This may prove to be true for our American Pale Ale as well but I think I will experiment with including Irish Moss in my next brewing session with a similar style.  Irish Moss is a clarifying agent commonly used in the home brew process to reduce the cloudiness of the beer and should not affect the taste.  It is purely used for aesthetic reasons.  I will follow-up on this topic with a future post on my results.

Thanks for reading and here's to successful home brewing!

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Batch #1 - Witbier (Extract)

For my inaugural homebrew post I thought what better way than to share my own experiences I encountered brewing my first batch of beer.  I can remember how excited I was to get started but also a little apprehensive and full of questions.

As with anything new, there is no replacement for experience.  The proprietor at my local home brew supply store said one of the best ways to learn the art of home brewing is to take copious amounts of notes as you progress through your brewing tasks.  This allows you to easily recall the questions that arose and what was learned so you repeat your successes and minimize your failures.  This is also a fun way to look back over time and see just how much you have learned throughout your brewing experiences.

Like most home brew virgins, I started with one of the ubiquitous kits that can be found at your local home brew supply store.  For purposes of this post, I am going list the equipment purchased, ingredients and recreate the steps below and add my "Lessons Learned" intermingled in RED.

Home Brew Kit: True Brew by Crosby and Baker, LTD
  1. True Brew Handbook
  2. Fermenting Bucket
  3. Bottling Bucket with hole for Spigot
  4. Spigot for bottom of Bottling Bucket
  5. Brush for cleaning inside of bottles
  6. Adhesive Thermometer for outside of Fermenting Bucket
  7. Glass Hydrometer
  8. 3-piece Airlock for top of Fermenting Bucket
  9. Bottle Capping Tool
  10. Siphon Equipment and Hose
  11. 8 Packets of C-Brite Sanitizing Cleanser
L.L. While I couldn't be more happy with my starter kit, it does lack a few things that are either required to get your first batch made of will at least make the process go a little smoother.
  1. Brew Kettle (Required) - You gotta cook the stuff!  Picking a pot to brew your beer in is actually an important decision.  First of all, DON'T use aluminium.  Off-tasting flavors can leech into the brew and that just isn't acceptable.  Go with a stainless steel kettle and opt for the largest one your budget/kitchen will accommodate (preferably 20 quarts or larger).
  2. Bottles (Required) - You gotta keep it somewhere!  Unless you are kegging it, which is usually beyond the comfort zone for a first time brewer, you have to bottle it after fermentation.  The bottling process also allows the beer to carbonate.
  3. Thermometer (Required) - I'm not sure why my kit didn't contain a kitchen-grade food thermometer because you will need to be relatively precise when you are brewing your beer.  I can only assume that it is expected that most households would already have this kitchen staple.  I'm proud to claim I have a can opener and one reasonable sharp knife in my kitchen drawer.
  4. Carboy (Optional) - A Carboy is a fancy name for a big glass bottle.  It serves the same purpose as the Fermenting Bucket (and can be used in place of if desired) but allows for a secondary fermentation if you choose to employ this option step in your beer making process.  If you decide to add the glass Carboy to your arsenal you will need to make sure you have a stopper with a hole drilled in the top to insert your Airlock.  Any home brew supply store will have these ready available.
  5. Funnel (Optional) - If you decide to do a secondary fermentation step a decent funnel will allow you to easily transfer the beer from the the Fermentation Bucket to the Carboy.  Alternatively (and preferred), you can simply siphon the beer from the Fermentation Bucket to Carboy.  This method will decrease the amount of air that is introduced and cut down on the chances of bacteria entering the brew and possibly spoiling it.
  6. Long Handle Brush (Optional) - Only needed if you use the glass Carboy.  Because the opening at the top is only about two inches or less you will need something to get down inside of the bottle after you are through using it to give it a good scrubbing and thorough cleaning.
Ingredients: Brewer's Best "Witbier" Kit
  1. Fermentables - 3.3 lbs Wheat Liquid Malt Extract (LME), 2 lbs Wheat Dry Malt Extract (DME)
  2. Specialty Grains - 1 lb Pale Malt, .5 lb Wheat, .5 lb Oats
  3. Hops - 1 oz Bittering, 1 oz. Flavoring
  4. Spice Pack - contains dried orange peel and corriander
  5. Yeast - Sachet of dried yeast powder
L.LFor starters, I would not suggest using this kit for your maiden voyage into home brewing.  Not that it didn't turn out well, in fact, it was surprisingly tasty but this is more of an intermediate kit requiring more steps than an "easy" or beginner's kit.  One of the great things about the Brewer's Best kits is that the degree of difficulty is listed on the outside of the box so you know what you are getting into.  The second thing I learned here is that occasionally the dry yeast packets can fail to activate.  Fortunately, I was warned of this at my home brew supply store and sprung for the additional $6 and purchased the liquid variety from White Labs.

Brewing Instructions:  An exact copy of the Brewer's Best Recommended Procedures can be found HERE.  Below I have recreated the steps in what I feel is a more linear process and added my own notes as Lessons Learned.
  1. Sterilize ALL items that will come in contact with your beer using C-brite.  Use one packet per 5 gallons of water.  This equates to 1/2 packet to 1/2 full fermenting container.
  2. Pour 1 gallon of drinking water into your 20 quart (5 gallon) boiling kettle.  You should maintain a 2-1 grain to water ratio.  So for 2 pounds of grain you will use 1 gallon of water.
  3. Bring water to 150 degrees.
  4. Steep-to-convert (this is the extra step I mentioned above that is beyond beginning basics) by pouring your 2 pounds of specialty grains (1 lb. Pale Malt, .5 lb. Wheat, .5 lb. Oats) into the grain bag and tying a knot at the top.  Raise the temperature to 155 degrees and place the grain bag into the pot.  This will cause the water temperature to drop so carefully raise the heat to maintain a constant temperature between 148 - 152 degrees.  Do not exceed 155 degrees.  L.L. - This task was very hard to regulate using an electric stove top.  Use a gas stove if you can or perhaps your gas grill if it has a gas eye.
  5. Steep the grains for 45 minutes.  Remove the bag and allow the excess water to drain back into the pot.  DO NOT SQUEEZE.
  6. Add enough water to bring to total volume to 2.5 gallons.  You now have your "wort" liquid.
  7. Bring the wort up to 180 degrees.
  8. SLOWLY dissolve in the liquid malt extract.  Each 5 gallon batch of beer should have 5-6 pounds of malt extract.  L.L. - Dissolving in slowly will prevent black flaking from occurring which means you have scorched the wort.  Try removing from heat as your stir in to prevent burning.  Yes, mine was slightly scorched but didn't seem to affect the taste.
  9. Bring to a boil and add bittering hops (1 oz. Willamette Bittering Hops)
  10. Boil for 1 full hour.  (After 30 minutes add Dry Malt Extract - DME & Spice Pack.  During the last 15 minutes of the hour add 1/2 of the flavoring/aroma hops - .5 oz Sterling Flavoring Hops.  You can also add the Irish Moss at this time as well for clarity but is optional and not really needed for a wheat beer.  Add remaining 1/2 flavoring/aroma hops - .5 oz Sterling Flavoring Hops in the last 7-10 minutes of the hour.)
  11. Turn off heat and cool wort by putting the boiling kettle in an ice bath.  L.L. - Try adding rock salt to the ice for faster cooling.
  12. Transfer wort to fermenting bucket and add cold water (enough to bring it to the 5 gallon mark on your container) to bring it to 78 degrees or below and stir thoroughly.  L.L. - Don't add all of the water before taking a hydrometer reading.  Add water to about 4 gallons and then slowly add the water while taking hydrometer readings until the desired original is reached.  Too much or too little water will affect the final gravity of your beer meaning the alcohol by volume (ABV) will be off.
  13. Take a hydrometer reading and record the original gravity (OG) and record it for future reference.
  14. Add (pitch) yeast to the wort but make sure it is 78 degrees or below – ideally 70 degrees and stir well.
  15. Ferment for 5 – 7 days.  Fermentation is complete when CO2 bubbling has ceased for 48 hours.  L.L. - I fermented for two weeks because CO2 was still being released in the airlock.
  16. If an OPTIONAL secondary fermentation is desired, transfer to secondary fermentation container (glass carboy) for a minimum of 7 -14 days. L.L. -  Make sure the transfer is completed BEFORE the initial fermentation is complete.
Bottling Process:
  1. Sterilize ALL items that will come in contact with your beer using C-brite.  Use one packet per 5 gallons of water.  This equates to 1/2 packet to 1/2 full fermenting container.
  2. In a small saucepan dissolve priming sugar (3/4 cup suggested) into 1 - 2cups of water.  Boil for 3-5 minutes.  L.L. - I simply used the entire packet that came in the Brewer's Best kit and dissolved into 2 cups of water.  Finished product was carbonated perfectly.
  3. Pour dissolved mixture into bottling bucket.
  4. Siphon beer from primary container (or secondary if employed) into bottling bucket.  Fill bottles to approximately 1” from top.
  5. Cap with sterilized caps using quality capping tool.  Transfer bottles to a dark temperature stable area (approximately 64 – 72 degrees).
  6. Allow beer to naturally carbonate for at least 2 weeks.  Carbonation may take up to 4 weeks.  L.L. - if you refrigerate then the natural carbonization process will cease so make sure your beer is finished carbonating before chilling.
Well, thats it.  My first home brew experience documented.  I sincerely hope you picked up a tip or two that will help ensure your home brew adventures are successful.  I'd like nothing more than to hear your feedback, questions or tips you would like to share.  Thanks for reading and HAPPY HOME BREWING!

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How to use a hydrometer in home brewing

A hydrometer showing the hydrometry principle....Image via WikipediaSo just what is a hydrometer anyway and how is it used in the home brewing process?  Simply put, it is a device that measures the weight of a liquid in relation to water.  Home brewers use hydrometers to determine the "gravity" or amount of alcohol in their beer.

During the home brewing process a hydrometer is used to monitor the change in original gravity (OG) and final gravity (FG).  This measurement, applied to a simple formula, will give you the amount of alcohol by volume (ABV) in your finished beer.

At the beginning of the fermentation process (before the sugar starts to convert to alcohol) you will place your thoroughly sanitized hydrometer into your fermentation bucket and take a reading.  To do this you simply place the hydrometer into the liquid and allow it to float.  You may want to gently spin it to dislodge the bubble around it to see the numbers.  After it stops bobbing you log where the liquid measure on the scale.  Water has a specific gravity of 1.000.  Since your unfermented beer contains levels of fermentable solids it will have a gravity higher than 1.000.  For example, an American Pale Ale I recently made had an OG of 1.051 and a FG of 1.012.

So here comes the part that might seem just a little tricky but if you simply follow the formula it's a snap.  Alcohol by Volume % (ABV) is calculated by taking the Original Gravity and subtracting the Final Gravity and multiplying by 131.25.  For the American Pale Ale example above it would look like this:
  • (1.051 - 1.012) x 131.25 = 5.19% ABV
There are a couple other factors that come into play such as the temperature at which you measure the liquid. For example, the most accurate readings are obtained when the liquid is a 60 degrees Fahrenheit.  For must of us home brewers the temperature may hover around 70 degrees so adding .001 to the calculations will compensate for the difference.

I hope this post was informative and helped take some of the mystery out of this piece of the home brewing puzzle.

To make the process even easier, you can use this ABV calculator.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

11 Sources for Creating Your Own Homebrew Bottle Labels (and caps too!)

We home brewers take a lot of pride in concocting our basement libations and one of the best parts of home brewing is sharing the fruits of our labor with friends and family.  While we know the care and extreme sanitary conditions under which our beer was brewed it can be a little intimidating for the uninitiated to blindly pop open an anonymous brown bottle and hope for the best.

Why not go that extra mile and slap a classy (or completely ridiculous) label on your home brew bottles?  Your friends just may feel like they are drinking the next great craft brew or, at the very least, may get a kick out of your creativity.

Below are some affordable and easy-to-use labeling systems worth consideration.  I welcome your comments and additions to the list.
  1. My Own Labels
    • My Own Labels does much more than just beer labels.  Their site is aimed at anyone that wants to create custom labels for just about anything from homemade preserves to wedding favors but the section exclusively dedicated to beer labels is easy to use and the selection is adequate for most needs plus you can also upload your own images.  I've used their products and am happy with the results.  Fast shipping and great customer service.
  2. Online Labels
    • Online labels is more similar to Avery in terms of business purpose - sell more sheets of labels!  But where I think they separate themselves is in the choice of labels specifically for bottles.  Unlike My Own Labels where you simply choose a style, tweak the colors and add your own text, Online Labels is more about providing you the labels and you taking it from there.  They do, however, provide templates for PDF, EPS and others plus their own exclusive offering - Maestro Label Designer with limited overlay templates.  If you know your way around design software then you will probably prefer Online Labels for the advanced creativity options.
  3. Beer Labelizer
    • Beer Labelizer has by far the coolest interface among all the labeling options I've listed.  It's designs are somewhat limited in number but they are progressive and the best part of all is they are free!  You design the label and print at home.
  4. Bottle Your Brand
    • Bottle Your Brand offers products for a variety of topics from bottled water to bumper stickers. Their selection for beer labels is fairly extensive and each label is fully customizable.
  5. Labels on the Fly
    • Labels on the Fly offers some very nice looking professionally designed labels for beer bottles.  Unfortunately the site lacks the option to simply click on a label and start customizing it and you have to call or e-mail for a price quote.  Nonetheless, the labels are attractive and are worthy of consideration.
  6. Beer on the Wall
    • Beer on the Wall is a beer lovers novelty shop.  They offer all things beer from beer-of-the-month clubs to t-shirts to gift baskets.  Their spin on the customized labels is different than all of the others in this list in that you design the labels but it ships on their bottled private pilsner.  So if you are looking just for labels for your own home brew then this isn't the site for you but would make a nice gift.  A few mouse clicks and you can send a six pack to a friend that is personalized and unique. 
  7. Beer Label Builder
    • Beer Label Builder does one thing and that is provide templates for you to customize and order labels.  They have a selection of 30 labels to choose from so the selection is not as broad as other sites.  The company is located in Australia so be prepared for an additional $10 in shipping costs for all orders outside of the country.
  8. Labeley
    • Labeley is the latest entry into the beer label creation market.  This is a slick tool that is easy to use and gives you tons of flexibility and creativity.  There doesn't seem to be support for standard label formats yet so you are left to print your labels on your own paper.  All that aside, Labeley is a fun tool for creating home brew labels.
  9. Zumula
    • Zumula has both pre-created templates and create from scratch templates to fit your design needs. Best of all, most of their templates allow a user to drop in a photo to personalize the design experience.
  10. BottleMark (Custom bottle caps!)
    • BottleMark is the first company to bring home brewers affordable ($.12/ea.), customized bottle caps.
  11. BeerClings
    • Why didn't I think of this idea?  For the home brewer, one of the most tedious tasks we take on is removing the labels from spent bottles.  With BeerClings that is a thing of the past.  Professional, re-usable, no mess!
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