Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Brew Day: Ground Rule Double (Belgian-style dubbel)

Out of all the iconic Belgian beer styles, the dubbel might be my favorite. Witbier may be more common, while tripels and quads get more fanfare, but the plum and burnt sugar flavors found in a dubbel set it apart from other Belgian styles where the beer is soured or the yeast flavor more prominent. Technically, this is not a Belgian dubbel because it was not brewed in Belgium. Instead of calling it an American dubbel, I further Anglicized the name to come up with another baseball-themed beer name.

I hastily bought the ingredients for this beer at the same time I picked up ingredients for the Pinch Hit Belgian Pale Ale. I grabbed six pounds of Belgian 2-row barley, Special B malt, dark candi sugar, and Styrian Goldings hops. These were ingredients I had never used for the most part, but knew were common in Belgian beers.

Over the past few weeks, I intermittently tinkered with the ingredients on BeerSmith as I developed the recipe. I was shocked how little Special B and candi sugar was needed to get the reddish color the beer is supposed to have. I trusted the software and started to mash. One way to familiarize yourself with a type of grain is to taste it. Literally, pop a few grains in your mouth until you really get the flavor. When I tasted the Special B, I got the raisin flavor, and was taken aback by the intensity of the flavor. I felt comfortable that a little would indeed go a long way. I used an equally small amount of the candi sugar. I did a quick search for Chimay Red clone recipes, and saw in those recipes that the candi sugar made up a similar percentage of the fermentable sugars as my recipe. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines for the style, a low hop aroma is optional, so I did a small late hop addition. If the Styrian Goldings are similar to their relative, the Fuggle which I have used many times, the late addition should add a subtle earthy flavor.

While this was going on I still had the Subway Series Stout and Pinch Hit in their fermenters. Critically I needed to harvest the yeast from the Pinch Hit for this batch. I didn't want to have to bottle and brew at the same time, and both beers would probably do well with a little more time to age. The solution was to rack, or transfer the wort from those batches into another fermenter, for a secondary fermentation.

I used to do a secondary for all of my beers. The traditional line of thinking was 1-2-3; one week in the primary, two weeks in the secondary, and three weeks in the bottle. The concern was, if the wort spent too much time on top of the yeast cake in the primary, the beer would have off flavors. Now convention says to keep the beer in the primary for longer so the yeast has more time to break down chemical byproducts from fermentation. Most brewers only rack when brewing bigger beers and do so after several weeks. The stout was ripe to be racked after three weeks and could use the additional time. The pale ale won't be hurt by another week to 10 days to age before bottling. If nothing else, I always feel like my beers are clearer and brighter after a secondary fermentation. I probably do it more than most.

Another benefit to racking is that it provides an opportunity to sample! The Pinch Hit was very malty and the aroma was very sweet. The flavor from the yeast was there, and once it is carbonated the carbonation should dry out the finish. The Subway Series stout was excellent! It was everything I hoped it would be. There was bitterness and hop flavor that an American stout is supposed to have. The sweetness and creaminess from the corn was there, as was the body and silky mouthfeel from the oats. I have a lot of beer that needs to be bottled. I will embark on a bottling frenzy because, at this point, I am out of vessels in which to ferment.

The brew day, itself, went smoothly. I found a website (BIABCalculator.com) which helped me determine how much water to use and I ended up with almost exactly two gallons. I channeled the water I ran through the wort chiller into my bottling bucket and mixed it with sanitizer. I can use that sanitized water on bottling day instead of it just going down the drain. I also grabbed the hose and filled up my water filter. Brewing is water-intensive, so I try to use it as efficiently as I can. The samples I had were on point. The beer is probably eight weeks away from being ready to drink. This might be one I bottle in 22-ounce bombers and save for special occasions.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fighting Seasonal Creep - The Definitive Guide for Seasonal Beer

Seasonal creep is the phenomenon of seasonal beers coming out earlier and earlier. This past year we saw Sam Adams' and Harpoon's new spring offerings on store shelves Jan 2! Ironic that it was one of the coldest winters in memory. Breweries come out with their seasonal beers earlier and earlier to get a jump on the competition. Samuel Adams thinks if you have their Oktoberfest first, even if it is in August, you are more likely to stay with it the rest of the season. To fight the madness, I came out the definitive guide for the proper time for beer drinkers to buy and/or drink seasonal brews:

  • Spring: When pitchers & catchers report for Spring Training, this past year it was Feb 15. By then I think everybody is sick of overly spiced, boozy, heavy winter beer. If that's when baseball says it's spring that's good enough for me.

  • Summer: Mother's Day might seem a touch early, but stores need to have time to gear up for Memorial Day weekend, one of the definitive beer drinking weekends of the year.

  • Fall: The Wednesday after Labor Day. The last thing I want to drink at an end of summer cookout is a pumpkin beer. This is also the traditional day kids go back to school, unless you live in a red state where kids go back to school in August just so the football team can start practicing earlier.

  • Winter: Black Friday because Thanksgiving is still fall, heavy winter beer and a turkey coma don't go well together, and it's just wrong not to enjoy pumpkin pie without a pumpkin beer. Let's not follow the lead of big box retailers or lunatics who listen to Christmas music in November, and let the insanity of Christmas ruin Thanksgiving.


If you, the beer drinker agree with me you need to vote with your dollars to stop the insanity. I used to look forward to drinking Marzen in the fall, now its a kick in the groin reminding me that summer is almost over while it's still going on.

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What that means to the homebrewer is that now is the time to start planning for the fall so your fall beer is ready at the appropriate time. Last year we didn't brew our pumpkin beer until the middle of October. It was ready by Thanksgiving, but we had a lot leftover come winter. Unlike most commercial pumpkin beers who canned pumpkin or even no pumpkin and just pumpkin spices, we use fresh pumpkin. As soon as locally-grown fresh pumpkin is available we will pick one up and brew as soon as possible. Beyond that I think I might do an American Brown Ale. It was the first type of beer we ever brewed, we brewed it in the fall, and despite Sierra Nevada's lamentable decision to pull the plug on Tumbler last year, I think it's a great fall beer. If I do that I may as well make a run of American ales.

My plan is starting to come together to have my fall beers ready for September and not a moment sooner. Marzen is the German word for March, which is when Octoberfests are typically brewed before they are laggered during the summer. One of these years I will brew an Octoberfest in March and be able to lager it propperly. Until then I look forward to enjoying some delicious ales this fall.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Beer Inspiration in our Backyard: AHA Rally at Samuel Adams

This past Thursday, we attended an American Homebrewers Association (AHA) rally at the Samuel Adams brewery in Jamaica Plain. Every serious homebrewer should join the AHA. The subscription to Zymurgy alone is worth the membership fee. Additionally, AHA members have first dibs on tickets for the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), other member discounts and rallies such as this one.

Regrettably, I couldn't leave work early, so we got to the brewery quite late. We didn't have time to really mingle too much or enter the raffle. The AHA members practically had free run of the brewery except for the Barrel Room, which was closed. Admission came with tokens for a flight of the Lattitude 48 deconstructed, two other beer samples and a plate of barbecue.

The Lattitude 48 flight was perfect for homebrewers. When Samuel Adams decided to come out with an IPA, it was before there were so many categories and sub-categories of IPAs like there are now. The original concept for Latitude 48 was to come out with an IPA with hops from all over the world grown along the 48th parallel. The beer has five different hops: East Kent Goldings, Hallertau Mittelfrueh, Mosiac, Zeus and Simcoe. They then "deconstructed" the beer by releasing single hop versions with each hop. This is a perfect way to see for yourself the flavor and aroma of each hop, and then see how they blend together.

The base beer has a firm malt backbone and I thought the East Kent Goldings didn't quite cut through the malt sweetness. The noble German Hallertau hops are not the hops you find in either an English or American IPA; I was quite surprised how well they worked on their own in an IPA. The three other hops are common in IPAs and all worked well. The Simcoe was predictably dank. I've only brewed with Simcoe once. It is a potent hop, but a hop that is better when it's blended with other hops.

I have probably visited the brewery a half dozen times or so over the years. When I first went there, they poured Boston Lager, the wildly under-appreciated Boston Ale, and their seasonal, which was Octoberfest at the time. The only beer they sold at the brewery were bottles of the Barrel Room Collection, the only beers they still brew in Boston (Boston Beer operates breweries in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where most of their beer is made). Over the years, Samuel Adams has done a great job improving the brewery experience. Last winter, they had two of the Longshot beers on tap. Last week, they had several beers you can only find at the brewery. Additionally, they sell growlers of these beers at their expanded gift shop.

At the brewery, I had a sample of their Rye Stout. Usually rye is used in German roggenbier or in a rye-PA. If you have ever had Ipswich Ale's Rye Porter, you know how well rye can work in a darker beer; this beer was no exception. We took home a growler of the Double Pils and Belgian Wit. The Double Pils was proof that a German or Continental style beer can be scaled up and can deliver the type of bold flavor that is more commonly associated with imperial stouts or IPAs. As a fan of the Samuel Adams White Ale, I was interested to see how the Belgian Wit would be different. The Belgian Wit reminded me a lot of Allagash White. While the White Ale almost certainly used the Samuel Adams house ale yeast strain, the Belgian Wit probably used a Belgian strain.

For most of us from this part of the world, our first introduction to craft beer was Samuel Adams. The changes at the brewery and the changes in their marketing reflect the changes in the marketplace. In the '80s and '90s, the challenge was to get the Bud drinker who didn't know or understand what craft beer or micro brewed beer was to try a Boston Lager. Now the challenge is to convince the craft beer drinker that they haven't "sold out" and that Sam Adams is still innovating. There are plenty of craft beer drinkers who turn their nose up at Sam Adams.

If you honestly don't think the beer is that good, then fine. Who am I to argue? If you don't think what Sam Adams does is craft beer or look down on them because of your own pretensions, then it's your loss. As I've expanded my palate and started home brewing, I don't drink nearly as much Sam Adams as I used to, but I still enjoy several of their beers. Typically, I'll pick up at least one 12-pack of their seasonal and their seasonal sampler when that comes out. Boston Lager is my go-to at airports or chain restaurants where the beer selection may be otherwise lacking.

As a home brewer, I got a few things from the trip. It was great to see how the different hops in the Latitude 48 smell and taste without having to brew with all of them. Beer & Wine Hobby has come out with their single-hop series, which is also a great way to learn about different hop varieties. The Belgian Wit was a clear illustration of the impact yeast can have on otherwise similar beers. My winter beers have always been wanting; this year, I might take a cue from the Rye Stout and use some rye. It's certainly something I'll consider over the next few months.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Brew Day: Pinch Hit Belgian Pale Ale

With the Summer of '18 fermenting in my cousin's cool basement, I've decided that brewing Belgian-style beers is the way to go for brewing at home. I picked up a package of Wyeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes yeast at Beer and Wine Hobby when I decided on a whim I wanted to brew Belgian beers this summer. According to reviews on Northern Brewer this yeast can ferment well into the 80s which will be perfect for my apartment which is usually in the 70s.

One of the ways I save money is by planning my batches. If I plan out several beers in a row that use the same yeast, I can harvest yeast from the first beer and reuse it for my subsequent beers without having to buy more yeast. Once yeast is pitched it will multiply during fermentation. It is said that commercial brewers are primarily yeast farmers. As a homebrewer if you're going to harvest yeast it is important that the yeast was not stressed in a hoppy or boozy environment.

For my first run of Belgian beers I threw together an easy extract Belgian Pale ale recipe. For all the advantages of all-grain or BIAB brewing, there is something to be said for a shorter brew day. There's nothing wrong with even an experienced brewer doing an extract batch to save time or kick start the pipeline in a pinch. See what I did there!

This recipe only has a pound of Caramunich III malt that I'll steep in hot water before adding my extract and starting the boil. That's all I need to do to get the color and flavor from the specialty malt. I'm accordance with my tips for better extract brewing, I'll add one can before the boil and the second at the end. I was going to use all Pilsner extract but the two cans I had weren't quite enough to get the starting gravity were I wanted it. I had an extra half pound of Light Dry Malt Extract lying around so I threw that in to make sure I get the alcohol level I'm going for.

For hops I'll be using Sterling hops. I used them in the original Summer of '18 and my last American Pale Ale. Sterling is an American hop, but it has a European noble hop lineage. Whenever I've used them my beers came out great, but they tasted like a Belgian beer which wasn't exactly what I was going for. I am very interested to see what the flavor is in a beer that is supposed to be Belgian!

Pinch Hitter Belgian Pale Ale
Belgian Pale Ale
Extract (5.00 gal) ABV: 4.65 %
OG: 1.048 FG: 1.012 SG
IBUs: 25.2 IBUs Color: 9.6 SRM

1 lb - Caramunich III Malt
Steep prior to boil (12.3%) - 56.0 SRM

3 lb 4.8 oz - Pilsner Liquid Extract
Boil (40.7%) - 3.5 SRM

0.75 oz - Sterling
Boil 60 min (20.1 IBUs)
0.25 oz - Sterling
Boil 10 min (1.3 IBUs)
3 lb 4.8 oz - Pilsner Liquid Extract
8.0 oz - Light Dry Extract
Late extract addition (6.2%) - 8.0 SRM
Late extract addition: 10 min (40.7%) - 3.5 SRM

1 pkg - Belgian Ardennes
Wyeast Labs #3522

This is a pinch hitter I'm just hoping gets a solid single to start a rally or move some runners. I'm not expecting a home run here. I hope to have five gallons of solid, drinkable beer for late summer get togethers. If I still have some kicking around in early fall this beer won't be out of place either. On bottling day I'll save some of that yeast at the bottom of my fermenter to use in some more ambitious beers.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="461"]20140713-192210-69730830.jpg You can see how dark the wort is after steeping the Caramunich III and before adding the Pilsen extract.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="461"]20140713-192209-69729447.jpg The new grain-mill ready for it's maiden run.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="461"]20140713-192212-69732183.jpg The wort chiller got the wort to pitching temperture in about 10 minutes.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="461"]20140713-192208-69728753.jpg This is an easy recipe without a ton of ingredients, perfect for a beginning brewer.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="461"]20140713-192211-69731507.jpg The wort is noticably ligher after adding the extract. Once the wort is topped off with water to get to our five gallons it should be the perfect color.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="461"]20140713-192210-69730150.jpg The extract flows out of the can more easily when it's warm. I keep the cans right next to the kettle.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="461"]20140713-192212-69732864.jpg Wyeast packages their yeast in a "smack pack" that works like a disposable ice pack you used in Little League or keep in a first-aid kit. Once activated the pouch blows up like this.[/caption]

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Beer inspiration in our backyard: Riverwalk Brewing & Newburyport Brewing Co.

As craft beer continues to grow, we in Massachusetts are lucky to have great beer made right here. Like a musician or an artist is influenced by other artists, so too should the homebrewer be influenced by other beers.

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and Massachusetts Brewers Guild came up with the Craft Brewers Passport. You can pick one up at a local brewery or print it at home. As you visit the Commonwealth's amazing local breweries, your passport gets stamped. When you complete a region you get a T-shirt; and, if you hit every brewery in the state, you get a "prize pack." As nice as it is to get swag, it really is about the journey of visiting the breweries and supporting the local scene. This week, we went up to Newburyport to visit Riverwalk Brewing and Newburyport Brewing Co.

We started at Riverwalk since they closed earlier. While there, we tasted all the beers they had on tap. I had had most of them before at a tasting at Henry's Wine Cellar and the American Craft Beer Fest. My favorite beer by Riverwalk is the Screendoor Summer Ale. Head Brewer Steve Sanderson was pouring. The Screendoor has a beautiful citrus flavor that I couldn't completely put my finger on. When I asked Steve, he confirmed the beer has no actual citrus added and the flavor came from the Cascade dry hops. The Cascade hop is the quintessential modern American hop. It's used in Harpoon IPA, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and too many other beers to mention. It's a hop I look forward to using again soon. It's not as assertive as some other hops out there, but tasting the profound effect adding it during fermentation can have on a beer is food for thought ... especially a lighter beer like a wheat beer. I wouldn't hesitate to dry hop anything with Cascade unless I was going to enter a beer into a competition and was worried about conforming to a particular style.

Less than a mile away is Newburyport Brewing Company. The brewery itself has a very cool vibe. There's plenty of space and they have live music Thursday through Saturday. It's a place you can relax for hours. They don't have a kitchen, but it is BYOF (Bring Your Own Food). The Belgian White is a very solid brew; it ticks all the boxes for a Witbier in terms of flavor. Their flagship Pale Ale is an excellent hop-forward interpretation of the style. The YEAT was a slightly sour ESB that, in my opinion, was their best beer. I had the Green Head IPA when it first came out and I found it oddly out of balance and harsh. We used the last can from our sixer to make redneck chicken. This time around it was still hoppy, but more balanced. I don't know if they tweaked the recipe, if we got the proverbial bad batch or if it was just us. I thoroughly enjoyed it this time around. It was a beer I would drink instead of shoving up a dead chicken's rear.

We went on a tour of the brew house. Given the heat and our empty beers it was mercifully brief, while still informative. I learned they use the English base malt Maris Otter in most of their beers. Looking around I saw sacks of Briess Caramel 30L, malt which I imagine is what they use in their pale ales and IPAs. It would give the beers added body and head retention and a more mild sweetness than darker caramel malts that other pales and IPAs might have. When accentuating the hops in a beer, you don't want too much malt sweetness getting in the way. I also saw sacks of Acidulated Malt. It is a malt containing lactic acid used to give beer a touch of sourness or balance the PH level in the mash. It is typically used in wheat beers and works great if you're trying to make a stout taste like Guinness. I imagine they use it primarily in the Belgian White and possibly the YEAT.

I don't specifically know if this is how it happened, but I can picture one of the brewers working on an ESB recipe, seeing the Acidulated malt lying around, and throwing some in the ESB mash just to see what it would do. That is the kind of tinkering and experimentation a home brewer should do. As home brewers, we don't have to worry about turning a profit or even making a beer that everybody likes. Throwing stuff against the wall is part of the fun! That little bit of sourness makes the YEAT different from a Redhook ESB or other imported examples of the style.

Home brewing and enjoying craft beer go hand-in-hand. When you drink local, not only are you supporting the local craft beer scene, but you also get to enjoy great beers with the people who brew them. If you find inspiration along the way ... even better!

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="614"]20140712-231133-83493770.jpg I'm one stamp away from closing out the North Shore region.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="614"]20140712-231134-83494113.jpg Located in an industrial area, the brewery has a bold enterance Jon Taffer would approve of.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="461"]20140712-231134-83494509.jpg Riverwalk has a nice tasting room with a view of the brewhouse.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="614"]20140712-231135-83495256.jpg Live music three days a week at Newburyport Brewing Co. The band on Satruday was good and the music wasn't so loud that it prevented carrying on conversation.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="614"]20140713-190519-68719966.jpg Started with a flight at Newburyport Brewing Co., left to right: Belgian White, Newburyport Pale Ale, Melt Away (session) IPA, Green Head IPA, YEAT.[/caption]

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Grain mill and wort chiller, investments for a lifetime

While watching Episode #77 of the BeerSmith Podcast on BIAB brewing, guest Jake Keeler rattled off three items that are a lifetime investment for a homebrewer: propane burner, wort chiller, and a grain mill. In other words these are things I had to have.

When one of the big online homebrew shops had a 20% off everything sale it was a perfect time to make a couple big purchases. After filling my cart with everything I needed to have an all-grain setup and daring to dream I scaled back my ambitions. A propane burner isn't practical at the moment. I would either burn my apartment to the ground or fill it with carbon monoxide if I tried to use it inside. In the end I purchased the wort chiller and grain mill.

Efficiency at the brew house is the measure of how well the brewer converts and extracts fermentable sugars from the grain bill. One way to increase your efficiency is to make sure your grain is milled as close to brew day as possible. Most stores and websites will mill your grain, but remember fresh is almost always better! Just like fresh-ground coffee tastes better than than coffee you grind in the machine at the supermarket, let alone the freeze-dried stuff out of a bag or can.

Having my own mill I now have full control over how fine my crush is. When I brew a traditional all-grain batch where I'm filtering sparge water through the grain bed, I can adjust the rollers for a coarse crush that cracks the husk of the grain while keeping it intact. This will prevent the mash from getting too doughy and the sparge from getting stuck. BIAB brewing typically isn't as efficient as a traditional all-grain mash and sparge. When doing a BIAB batch at home I can adjust the mill for a finer crush to compensate and not have to worry about a stuck sparge.

Having your own mill also enables you to buy your base malts in bulk to save money in the long run. You can buy a 55lb sack of malt and mill it as you go. Sometimes homebrewers in an area will arrange a group buy where the group bands together to order enough malt to buy it directly from a wholesaler. I tend to use different base malts all the time. At this point I'm not sure if I will fill my apartment with sacks of barley, but if I want to now I can.

The wort chiller is something I've stubbornly held out on purchasing for a long time. When brewing at home cooling up to 3 gallons of boiling wort with an ice bath has worked reasonably well. It still takes 20-30 minutes. With the wort chiller the wort should cool in about half the time. While the wort is cooling it's exposed to the elements. Whenever your wort is exposed and you run the risk of your beer being infected. Also the faster you chill the wort, the clearer the finished beer will be.

Now I'm like a kid who can't wait to use his new toys. I'll use the wort chiller for my upcoming Belgian Pale Ale.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="461"]20140708-235008-85808800.jpg The 15 pound hopper will be enough for my small BIAB batches, partial mash, and all-grain batches.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="461"]20140709-194234-70954840.jpg With an immersion chiller like mine the chiller is immersed in the boiling wort, cold water is run through the tubing, and the wort is chilled.[/caption]

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Brew Day: Subway Series Stout (American Stout)

At the risk of losing craft beer street cred, I will admit I am a Leinenkugel's fan. I'll suck down Summer Shandy on a hot summer day, but some of my favorite beers by Leinie's are some of their beers that aren't as well known in these parts. Lienenkugel's Original, for my money, is as good as any American-style lager. Their Canoe Paddler Kölsch won gold at the Great American Beer Festival and the Red Lager is excellent, but my favorite by Leinie's is the Creamy Dark.

I toured the brewery while visiting my girlfriend's family in Wisconsin; I could see that they are a traditional American brewery. Without getting into the "craft vs. crafty" debate, almost all of their beers are made using traditional American methods. That means lots of Cluster hops, high protein 6-row barley that is indigenous to the United States and needs to be lightened, not cheapened by adding corn or rice. Leinie's uses local Wisconsin corn and, in their wheat beers, Wisconsin honey. I know ... I saw the sacks of grain and buckets of honey that some guy dumps in the boil kettle by hand. The corn, in particular, is likely what gives the Creamy Dark it's creaminess. The Creamy Dark is a schwarzbier, a black lager. At the moment, I don't have the ability to ferment at lager temperatures.

Another dark beer I had been planning to make was an American stout. I judged the stout category at the Boston Homebrew Competition, and the American stouts were my favorite. Established style guidelines aside, wouldn't using some traditional American ingredients lead to a truly American stout?

My original stout recipe called for just a touch of flaked oats to add some body. If I add enough corn to give the beer discernible creaminess, it would lighten the body. My solution is to include equal parts flaked oats and flaked maize. I don't know if it will work, but part of the fun of homebrewing is experimentation. With all that unmalted grain I had to use 6-row as my base malt. It's high enough in proteins to convert the starch in the adjuncts to fermentable sugars. I'll be using my BIAB setup to brew this two-gallon batch.

Subway Series Stout
American Stout
All Grain (2.10 gal) ABV: 6.94 %
OG: 1.072 SG FG: 1.020 SG
IBUs: 66.9 IBUs Color: 39.6 SRM (stand

4.0 oz - Carafa I
Mash addition (4.0%) - 337.0 SRM
8.0 oz - Roasted Barley
Mash addition (8.0%) - 300.0 SRM
1 lb - Oats, Flaked
Mash addition (16.0%) - 1.0 SRM
8.0 oz - Carared
Mash addition (8.0%) - 20.0 SRM
3 lb - Pale Malt (6 Row) US
Mash addition (48.0%) - 2.0 SRM
1 lb - Corn, Flaked
Mash addition (16.0%) - 1.3 SRM

0.40 oz - Chinook hops
Boil 60 min (58.5 IBUs)
0.20 oz - Glacier hops
Boil 10 min (2.5 IBUs)
0.20 oz - Chinook hops
Boil 10 min (5.8 IBUs)
0.13 tsp - Irish Moss
Boil 10 min

Vermont Ale
The Yeast Bay #4000

I ordered the Chinook, 6-row, corn, and oats. The Glacier, and other malts I had lying around. The Vermont Ale yeast may or may not be the yeast The Alchemist uses in Heady Topper. Either way I used it in Northern Brewer's American Wheat kit and the samples from bottling day were excellent. It attenuates enough for a hoppy beer, and the samples from the American Wheat had a delicious peach flavor. I will repitch yeast slurry from that into this beer. If the attenuation improves after a generation like The Yeast Bay suggest and the beer has an even higher alcohol content, even better!

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="461"]20140628-111303-40383570.jpg Measuring out my 6-row base malt.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="614"]20140628-111303-40383908.jpg The grain is waiting for its upcoming bath in 160 degree water.[/caption]

Letting the grain drain back into the kettle.


[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="368"]20140628-122455-44695944.jpg Measuring the first hop addition.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="368"]20140628-162617-59177352.jpg Chilling the wort after the boil. After about 20-30 minutes it will be cool enough to add the yeast.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="277"]20140628-162616-59176326.jpg Transferring the wort to the primary fermenter. For two gallon batches I use Party Pig mim-kegs.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="346"]20140628-162616-59176900.jpg I use this application to determine how much yeast to add or pitch. I put in about 1/4 cup of yeast I harvested from my last batch.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="277"]20140628-162616-59176767.jpg The bung and airlock are in place. Time for the yeast to do it's job![/caption]

All in all it was a successful brew day. I didn't finish with as much wort as I had hoped to I topped off with some water. Once I added the top-up water my starting gravity was right where BeerSmith had projected. I need to adjust my settings in BeerSmith so next time I don't have to top off with more water. The beer came out lighter than I expected. If I do this again I might adjust the roasted malts a little bit. The wort tasted sweet and roasty. The Chinook hops gave the beer the citrus I was going for with the hop profile.

I will give the beer 2-3 weeks in the primary since it is a relatively large beer. That will give the yeast enough time to convert all those fermentable sugars to alcohol, and also clean up other chemical byproducts from fermentation. In about 4-6 weeks the beer should be ready to drink. When we crack open the first bottle I'll be sure to post some tasting notes.

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Brew Day: Ruthian Summer of '18 Ale (Summer Ale)

Two of my cousins have been brewers for longer than I have. When I decided I wanted to try homebrewing it was likely inevitable that we would brew together at some point. During our first collaberation my cousin Greg proclaimed that, "they didn't brew light or session beers!" at their brewery. That spring day in 2013 we brewed an imperial stout. As summer approached that proclimation got my wheels spinning.

Most summer beers are your typical cloudy, light bodied American Wheat style beers with some type of citrus like Samual Adams Summer Ale. I love Sam Summer, but I didn't want to make a beer that there are ten thousand commercial examples of and all kind of taste the same. When I had Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin' for the first time it was a revelation. It was the first time I had had a big, hoppy wheat beer.

That along with Greg's inspiration was the basis for the original Summer of '18. Almost all of our beer names are baseball themed, so the name Ruthain for our imperial beers was quite appropriate. Last year's recipe included lots of malted wheat, unmalted (torrified) wheat, 2 pounds of corn sugar, and 6-row barley to help convert the starches in the unmalted wheat. For hops I used Cluster for the bittering to give it a bit of an American lawn mower beer pedigree, and Sterling for the finish and aroma. I also put in an obnoxious amount of fresh lemon zest. The yeast was some old Wyeast 1056. The "Chico strain" is the most widely used yeast by homebrewers and commercial brewers because it works in almost any American style ale. Every time you use yeast in a beer it multiplies. The more you reuse it the yeast can mutate, especially it it's been used in boozy or hoppy beers which will stress the yeast. The yeast I used had seen better days.

The end product came in at around 8% alcohol by volume. It was a dry, harsh, and vaguely Belgian (likely from the Sterling hops). The beer sat for awhile, and like big beers do sometimes it improved over time. A big beer with lots of flavors and ingredients can be like a soup or a lasagna that gets better the longer it sits in the fridge. I still have a few bombers from last year and the one we opened on brew day was excellent.

For this year I wanted the beer to be a little more sessionable and not require two months of aging to be tolerable. I eliminated the corn sugar. It's a cheap way to up the alcohol by volume, but can dry the beer out. I swapped out the Sterling hops for Crystal. The Crystal has a similar flavor, but isn't as high in Alpha acids which give the beer bitterness. Its aroma is more aromatic and less assertive. That should make the beer less Belgiany. I added a touch of rye in honor of Andy and Greg who love brewing with rye. I also found it gave the Leinenkugel's Canoe Paddler a bit of complexity.

When brewing fresh ingredients are always the best. You can find dried lemon peel at a homebrew shop, but if you zest fresh lemons the difference is noticeable. A zester or cheese grater will do the job for the lemon zest. Three to four lemons should be enough.

I'm using the same Vermont Ale yeast I used in the Subway Series Stout. The floccuation of the yeast is medium-low which means more of the yeast will float around in the beer as opposed to clumping and sinking to the bottom during fermentation. This yeast has high attenuation so it converts a high percentage of the fermentable sugars into alcohol, accentuating the hops in the process. For a hoppy American Wheat this should work perfectly.

Ruthian Series: Summer of '18 Ale
American Wheat or Rye Beer
All Grain (5.00 gal) ABV: 6.72 %
OG: 1.061 SG: 1.059 FG: 1.010 SG
IBUs: 47.4 IBUs Color: 4.0 SRM

Ingredients
5 lb - Pale Malt (6 Row) US
Mash addition (43.5%) - 2.0 SRM
4 lb - White Wheat Malt
Mash addition (34.8%) - 2.4 SRM
2 lb - Wheat, Torrified
Mash addition (17.4%) - 1.7 SRM
8.0 oz - Rye, Flaked
Mash addition (4.3%) - 2.0 SRM

1.00 oz - Cluster Hops
Boil 60 min (29.4 IBUs)
1.00 oz - Cluster Hops
Boil 30 min (15.0 IBUs)
1.00 oz - Crystal Hops
Boil 10 min (2.9 IBUs)
1.50 oz - Lemon Zest
Boil 10 min
1.00 oz - Crystal Hops
Boil 0 min (0.0 IBUs)

Vermont Ale
The Yeast Bay # WLP4000

Our brew days typically consist of us brewing two batches; one batch will be my recipe, and one batch will be theirs. This time we did three batches. Andy and Greg did a Parti-gyle mash where they used the first runnings from the grain for a triple IPA, and the second runnings for a session IPA. They have a keg that they converted to a boil kettle (keggle) which can accomodate a full volume boil for a five or even ten gallon batch. They also have a cooler they fit with a stainless steel ball valve attached to a braided steel line for their mash tun. The cooler works great when you add your heated strike water to your grains and holds the mash temperture in place during the mash rest.

In the end the measured starting gravity was 1.055 at around 90F. Adjusting for the temperature that gets us to 1.059, almost where BeerSmith estimated. We also ended up with about 4.5 gallons of wort. I need to adjust the settings to accurately account for the evaporation during the boil.

I can brew full volume boil, all-grain batches with my cousins every couple months. This gives the brewer the most control over how the beer comes out and guarantees 100% hop utilization. Eventually I'll have a similar setup, but I'm sure we'll still be brewing together even then. We can share our beers, enjoy commercial beers together, and just hang out. We definitely hang out more now after we started brewing together. At it's best drinking beer is a social experience best enjoyed with friends and loved ones, homebrewing is no different.

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

What the Salem and Beverly Water Quality Report means to your beer

Every year the Salem and Beverly Water Supply Board sends out a water quality report. I imagine it's a legal requirement and that 99% of residents throw it in the trash like it's junk mail. I always figured that if there was something truly bad in the water supply it would make the news or somebody smarter than me would understand what the jargon in the water report actually means. As a brewer this is actually relevant information.

The four main ingredients in beer are water, malt, hops, and yeast. The first ingredient, water, usually garners the least attention. In his excellent book Homebrew Beyond the Basics, Mike Karnowski states that brewers typically fall into two camps: those who know nothing about their water, and those who obsessively adjust their water. Until I started this post, I fell squarely in the first category. Homebrewing is as involving as you want it to be, and toying with water chemistry always felt sciency and intimidating. Karnowski only devotes a few pages to water chemistry, but he explained it simply enough that I think it can improve my beer without making me regret all the Chemistry homework I didn't do in the tenth grade.

Here is the water profile with the information from the Salem and Beverly Water Supply Board 2013 Water Quality Report:

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I left the PH blank because that was not indicated in the report and I don't have a PH tester and certainly don't have any pool test strips. It is certainly important, but we will leave that aside at the moment.

A significant factor that looks like it is the easiest to adjust is the ratio of sulfate to chloride. Beverly water has an almost 1:3 ratio of sulfate to chloride which is ideal for malt forward beers. That makes me feel better that my last several batches have all been malt forward styles. As you can imagine for a balanced style you would want a more even ratio, and for a hop forward beer like an IPA the ratio should be the exact opposite of what is present in Beverly water. I'll be sure to let my hop loving cousins know that Beverly water is holding back their IPAs and RyePAs.

Calcium is important for yeast health, and Beverly water is on the low side. Karnowski states that it should be at least 50 PPM, and we're at 22.8 PPM. For a hoppy beer adding calcium sulfate (gypsum) will increase the calcium and sulfates. Conversely, calcium chloride will increase the calcium and chloride for a malt forward beer. Beverly water is also low in Magnesium, so adding Magnesium Sulfate (gypsum) to get that over 10 PPM is advisable for yeast health. In terms of what exactly to add and how much, there are online calculators and I'll be sure to share details on water adjustments during future brew day posts.

If you live in a neighboring community that gets it's water from the MWRA like Boston, here is a profile of Boston water according to BeerSmith. Evidently there is a water section on their mobile app that I didn't realize existed until this week.

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Sourced from Western Mass, it is a lot lower in mineral content than Beverly water from Wenham Lake and the Ipswich River. It is perfect for a balanced beer like Boston Lager. Sam Adams uses Boston tap water to brew it, and replicates this water profile when they brew Boston Lager out of state.

If you don't like your municipal water and prefer bottled water, here is a profile for Poland Spring Water:

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Even softer than Boston water. Naturally distilled water will have almost zero mineral content. It is truly a blank canvas that the brewer can add minerals to.

Water can vary like any other ingredient. The data I sourced from the water quality report is from just one reading done over a year period. Since our water in Beverly comes from the same source year-round I feel safe in assuming the variance is minimal. If you are so into water chemistry that you have to know the exact readings of the actual water you intend to brew with, or if you plan on brewing with well water and don't have a water quality report, a water testing kit like this will get you the data you need.

I have a couple IPAs in development. Gypsum will certainly be in my ingredient list when I go shopping this weekend.

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Beating the summer heat at the brew house

Most ale yeasts need to ferment no higher than 70°F-75°F at the absolute high end. When our yeasty friends are hard at work turning the wort into beer, the temperature inside the fermenter raises several degrees. We live in a third floor apartment where if it's in the 90s outside it doesn't get cooler than the mid 70°s with two window air conditioners on full blast. That might be comfortable enough for us, especially when enjoying a nice cold homebrew, but not so much for brewing at the peak of summer.

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A swamp cooler is the easiest and least expensive way to lower your fermentation tempertures. Even a 10 degree drop can make all the difference. In this photo I also used sanatized, frozen water bottles to cool my wort before pitching the yeast.
Last summer I beat the heat with a low-tech swamp cooler. It's as simple as putting your fermenter in a tub, filling it with water, and putting frozen bottles in the water. As long as the bottles are rotated regularly you should be able to brew any ale all summer long. Depending on how many water bottles you use, you should have no problem getting the cooler 10°F-15°F lower than the ambient temperture of the brewhouse.

A more precise route to control your brewing temperature year-round is to build a fermentation chamber. Depending on the insullation material and build quality, a fermentation chamber can usually hold tempertures 15°F-20°F below the ambient tempertures where it is located. Here's my hideous eyesore of a chamber that my girlfriend called "The coffin". As you can imagine this is no longer in our home and I'm not allowed to build things anymore.

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As horribly unsightly as mine was, a fermentation chamber like this can help control you fermentation temperture in the summer and even get to lager tempertures in the winter.


The best and easiest way to control your fermentation temperature is to hook up a refrigerator or chest freezer with a temp controller. A digital controller runs about $80, and you can usually find a fridge on Craigslist for short money.

Ironically after the United States' exit from the World Cup, several Belgian yeast strains can ferment as high as 85°F. Just like the Belgians withstood the Brazilian heat in extra time, Belgian yeasts are the easiest way to beat the summer heat without worrying about controlling your fermentation tempertures.

I haven't brewed any Belgian styles in over a year and a half and have been meaning to do so again. At my last trip to Beer & Wine Hobby I bought ingredients for a Belgian Pale Ale and a Belgian-style Dubbel on a whim. I hadn't even started recipes before I got there and I proceeded to fill my basket to the brim. I'll be sure to post more as brew day approaches.

What's your plan to beat the heat in your brew house this summer? Share in the comments!

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