Sunday, January 25, 2015

Reviving the King: A plan to bring Budweiser back

For lack of a better term many craft beer fans, myself included, have fallen into a trap. Our palates have been so wrecked by hoppy IPAs and super roased imperial stouts, that we deride the traditional and maligned American lager. The pretension that comes with looking down on mass-marketed American lagers is a craft beer right of passage.

Homebrewing has made me appreciate how exceedingly difficult it is to brew an American lager. If it is fermented at few degrees to high of a temperature, without pitching enough yeast, and sufficiently oxidizing the wort, the esters produced by the yeast will make the beer taste like a sour-apple Jolly Rancher.  That is if the beer fully attenuates at all, producing enough alcohol and sufficiently drying out the finish. The use of unmalted corn or rice can add additional steps to the mashing process. If the beer isn't cooled rapidly after the boil, it will never come close to the brilliant clarity it is supposed to have. If anything goes wrong at any point in the process there aren't copious amounts of hops and/or roasted malts to hide any imperfections.

Studying for the BJCP exam has allowed me to get back to appreciating different styles of beer for what they are. Is the American lager or light lager my favorite style by any means? No, I certainly drink a lot more hoppy IPAs and stouts of all types. This past week I was at a chain restaurant and I enjoyed two Budweisers on draught for the first time in ages. I mean, I was a Bud guy. From the age of 22 to probably 27 or 28 there was probably a 30-pack of Budweiser in my fridge at all times. At my first bachelor pad, my buddies and I would crush 30 bomb, after 30 bomb of Bud Heavy. Having it again recently was the first time I appreciated a Budweiser as an educated beer drinker, taking note of the clarity, the crisp finish, and the very subtle yeast flavor.



The venerable brand has been in the news recently about how it has been leaking sales and market share for years. Bud Light passed Budweiser as the top beer in America in 2001. Parent company InBev is deathly afraid that they are losing the entire millennial generation as potential Budweiser drinkers. At one end of the spectrum Joe Sixpack has been drifting to Bud Light for years. At the other end of the is the craft beer community that wants more flavor in their beer. AB InBev has changed how the beer is marketed to try and reverse the slide. If I was a long-lost Busch heir who was able to reacquire the brand this is what I would do:

  1. Bring back the original 1876 recipe. Minimally, I would at least make Budweiser taste more like it did back in 1876 when it conceivably had more malt flavor, more body, a higher level of alcohol, and more bitterness. The Budweiser of today is not the same as it was back then as the beer has slowly gotten weaker over the years. It is probably not even the same as it was when I started drinking Bud in the early 2000s. If there are any small changes that make sense to the original recipe using 2015 ingredients and processes that's fine as long as it makes the beer taste better. Even Jim Koch wasn't 100% faithful to the old family recipe for Boston Lager. Taste can't be sacrificed in any way as part of the re-brand.

  2. Emphasize quality: Introducing a more flavorful Budweiser should be accompanied by a corresponding emphasis on the quality of beer in the marketing. Millennials want to know where their food and drink comes from. Talk about how the 1876 recipe has been brought back or how the new Budweiser is "inspired by the 1876 recipe". Also talk about the steps that are taken to emphasize quality including the brewing process, packaging, and ingredient procurement. Having the various brewmasters vaguely talk about their pride in their work doesn't make beer drinkers feel better about the product. Give us tangible examples of and reasons for the beer's quality. Talk about how being part of the world's largest beer conglomerate helps build and maintain quality. Any professional brewer would say that being bigger and having more resources makes it easier to make better beer.

  3. Educate consumers on traditional American styles of beer: One of the myths about American beer is that the use of un-malted adjuncts like corn and rice was to save money; in reality it was and is a necessity with the use of traditional American 6-row barley. Educate consumers on why Budweiser and similar beers are made the way they are. Augustus Busch didn't set out to make swill. He made the best and most accessible beer he could with the ingredients he had available. The American lager evolved for the same reasons as other styles of beer evolved when and where they did.

  4. Continue to emphasize the history of the brand: Budweiser has always done this, but not always effectively. Calling yourself "The Great American Lager" while continuing to weaken the product is corporate double-speak at it's worst. Restoring the flavor of the past, emphasizing traditional American brewing methods, and using the same yeast for 140 years is what makes a classic beer. Tell us about that! They should also continue promotions like the limited edition wood crates which are currently selling for over $200 on eBay. Connecting with the past brings a certain romance that the early craft beer pioneers and other iconic brands like Guinness have done as well.

  5. Don't be afraid to innovate: To be fair Budweiser has tried to do this. Budweiser Black Crown was the result of a contest among the various Budweiser brewmasters to come up with something new. While reviving the classic recipe, why not try making Budweiser variations with some of the exciting new hops varieties that have been developed? Budweiser with Cascade, Budweiser with Mosiac, the possibilities are endless. Even if it just a very small dry hop addition it would have an effect on the flavor and be an interesting balance of the old and the new.

Budweiser was always intended to strike the perfect balance. To be flavorful, but still approachable enough to appeal to the widest possible market. In the past 15-20 years Bud Light has taken over being the beer of the masses. The light beer drinker regards Budweiser as too heavy. Conversely the Budweiser brand carries considerable baggage among discerning beer drinkers. To a lot of people it has epitomized everything that is wrong with American beer.

These steps may not make Budweiser the number one beer in America again, but Dos Equis has shown that with the right marketing a brand can grow its sales and market share quickly. By elevating the brand, the brand can lose the negative connotations around it. That needs to be the first step of any Bud revival. Somebody looking to try a beer for the first time, who wants something good, won't try Budweiser if it is widely perceived to be crap. Elevating and restoring the flavor, while conveying a message of quality and tradition will shift those perceptions.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Would-be Brewmaster's Wicked Local (beer) Favorites

As you may be aware, Wicked Local who is kind enough to host this blog is currently having its annual Readers Choice Awards for 2015. It is your chance to vote for your favorite local shops, restaurants, and even win great prizes! Click here to vote.



As the "Would-be Brewmaster" nobody cares what my favorite shoe repair shop is or where I get my hair cut. When deciding where to go out to eat, beer selection is always a factor. Maybe, just maybe my opinion is valued there. Here are a few of my beer-influenced picks:

  • Liquor Store: Henry's Wine Cellar. Don't let the name fool you, Henry's has an excellent selection of both local and domestic craft beer, as well as imported beers. Beer guy John Strom hosts tastings every Thursday evening along with a selection of cheeses and pizzas from Henry's Market. They recently expanded the make-your-own six pack program to their entire inventory. Now instead of staring at the cooler deciding what six pack to buy, you can mix and match. Henry's also has frequent buyer cards where after ten purchases you earn a $20 store credit. Honorable Mentions to Bogie's Craft Beer who probably has the most extensive selection in Beverly and also has tastings on Thursday, and to Depot Liquors who when they receive rare beer deliveries will hold beer for up to 24 hours if you call in. Henry's is closer to my work so it is convenient to pick up beer on the way home. Bogies is closer to home, so when I buy beer on the weekends I usually go there. 

  • Restaurant for Lunch: The Indo Pub: One of the newest spots in Beverly, the Indo has an excellent selection of 24 beers on tap. The taps are rotated periodically. Every time I come back there are usually one or two beers that weren't there last time. They also have the Notch Single Series on tap, currently Cerne Pivo. Before The Indo, it always seemed like Notch's draught-only stuff was only poured in bars in Boston or Cambridge. I love that I can find it two blocks from my house. I picked The Indo as my lunch place because the food while quite good, is relatively inexpensive and perfect for lunch.

  • Restaurant for Dinner: The Wild Horse Cafe: The dinner menu is perfect for special occasions, but the lunch and late night menu features burgers and sandwiches for around $10. I hadn't been to The Wild Horse in a long time until I saw recently that they had Another One on draught. The rest of the beer selection was varied and the cocktails looked delicious as well.

  • Italian Restaurant: Prides Osteria: Homemade pasta, homemade limoncello, and a beer list that features more than just pale Euro lagers that are marginally better than Budweiser.

  • Pizza Place: Flying Saucer Pizza Company: Some of the best pizza I have ever had. I tend to be a pizza purist, but their unconventional specialty pizzas are out of this world. Flying Saucer has a wide selection of canned beer, and their beers on tap are all local and always changing. Last time I was there they had several of Riverwalk's beers. They also offer flights of their draught beer.

  • Mexican Restaurant: Howling Wolf Taqueria: Ah, a Mexican place with more than Corona and slushy, syrupy margaritas. Last time I was there Mo was on tap. Since Mo is more readily available than Lunch, it tends to sit of store shelves for weeks and months on end. Having Mo fresh on draught was a revelation. Clearly Maine Beer Company is the way to my heart. For a place that doesn't have 100 draught lines like The Yard House, there are always interesting beers to choose from. The food is excellent as well. The only reason I don't go there more is in the words of Yogi Berra, "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded."

  • Seafood Restaurant: Cape Ann Brewing Company: How can a restaurant that serves excellent fried seafood, that is located on the water, has outdoor seating, and brewery fresh beer not be on this list? It has been too long since I've been there. A colleague stopped by recently and suggested now is the perfect time to go as it is the off-season and less crowded.

  • Bar: Gulu Gulu Cafe: The best, and in my mind the only true beer bar in the area. Owned by the same owners as Flying Saucer Pizza, the beer selection is large and ever changing. They have sandwiches and paninis, but usually when I am out in Salem I will grab dinner, and head to Gulu for after-dinner drinks. The only quibble I have is that the draught system is often quite foamy and the bartenders are spooning the foam out from beers before topping them off and repeating. Honorable Mention for the Lucky Dog in Beverly. The place is a dive bar to be sure. If you're like me and enjoy a dive from time to time, the beer selection is much better than I ever expected it would be. Their updated tap system has a couple dozen or so beers on tap and unlike Buffalo Wild Wings the taps aren't mostly filled with macro-brews.


That is my two cents. I don't exactly work for the company so I should still be eligible to win prizes. Any places that I missed? Feel free to mention your favorites in the comments.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Brew Day: WAR IPA (White IPA)

One of the most notable trends in craft beer is tasking previously malty styles and hopping the ever-loving-crap out of them. Deschutes with its Chainbreaker, and locally Harpoon with Long Thaw have released White IPAs that take the malt and yeast profile of a witbier with the hop profile of an American IPA. When I brewed the Walk-Off White, a traditional witbier, I was pushing the envelope a little bit with a tiny hop addition at the end of the boil. Here am turning the traditional witbier on its head.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="295"] WAR IPA as in Wins Above Replacement, the baseball statistic. Mike Trout lead MLB in WAR in 2015. This beer and its brewer does not condone actual acts of war.[/caption]

The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) is in the process of updating its guidelines. Since the last version was released in 2008 there have been many new styles and sub-styles. Under the current guidelines the only IPA styles were English, American, and Imperial. Anybody who has been to a bottle shop the last few years know that those three styles aren't nearly broad enough. The BJCP published draft guidelines in 2014 adding numerous new styles, including every genre and sub-genre of IPA that I have seen. There aren't a ton of widely distributed White IPAs on the market or recipes out there. The draft guidelines for White IPA were my starting point.

white ipa

I also referenced the excellent Homebrew Beyond the Basics. Author Mike Karnowski has a recipe IPA Three Ways. The base recipe was an American IPA. A pound of base 2-row barley malt could be swapped out for a roasted malt to make a Black IPA, or half the base 2-row can be swapped for wheat to make a White IPA. I used his hop schedule as a guide, but changed some of the hop varieties he used based on what I had on hand and what I wanted to use.

From there I made a few changes from the Walk-Off White. Per Allagash founder Rob Tod's advice I added some flaked oats for body and mouthfeel. The wheat in the Walk-Off White was all flaked, unmalted wheat. This time around I used mostly malted white wheat. I look forward to comparing what the differences in malt profile does to the flavor and appearance of the beer.

When I got a refund for my expired Belgian Wit 3944 yeast the owner of the shop was apologetic and said if I kept the yeast starter on my stir plate the dormant yeast would pick up eventually. Sure enough after two days on the stir plate there was the faintest signs of fermentation. Twelve hours later there was a thick krausen. By the next morning it had blown the foam stopper off the flask. I tasted the starter beer. It tasted green, but there were no other noticeable off flavors so it should be okay to use in a beer. I decided to use it in the WAR IPA so I can compare it with the Walk-Off White and decide which strain to use going forward.

As a five gallon batch I brewed on my stove top I needed to use corn sugar and plenty of extract to have enough fermentable sugars to finish with an ABV of over 6.5%. I always use Briess or Maillard Malts extract (Northern Brewer) for American styles, and Munton's for British styles. The American Homebrewers Association published an article where they brewed the same recipe with several different brands of wheat malt extract, and an all-grain batch as a control. Coopers Liquid Malt Extract actually finished first, but because I am stupid and as Roger Clemens would say "misremembered" the article I purchased Alexander's. Crucially for a White IPA that ideally should be as light as possible, the fact that both finished as the lightest as all the extract brands should help make sure the beer doesn't finish overly dark.

IMG_0724.JPG

The extract comes in a four pound aluminum can. Maybe being in a can as opposed to plastic reduces oxidation which can cause extract to darken. I added it at flameout and probably added it too quickly. When I transferred to the fermenter there was undissolved syrup at the bottom of the kettle. I also didn't finish with enough wort and had to add even more top off water. It wasn't fully mixed and I couldn't obtain an accurate hydrometer or refractometer reading.

The WAR IPA and Walk-Off White are both intended to be light-bodied beers. That requires a longer mash. Both beers used Belgian Pilsner malt which can be prone to production of DMS, which gives the beer a canned-corn or cabbage aroma. A longer boil and quick cool down help negate DMS production. The longer mash and boil added an hour to my brew day. I'm looking forward to brewing fuller bodied Irish beers that won't require as much time.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Carbonation can make or break your beer

Nobody likes a flat beer. In my (misspent) younger days I would frequently post-game (continue drinking) after closing the bar (being dragged out of an establishment by an employee of said establishment). I'd crack open a beer after 1:00 a.m. and more often than not pass out before I could finish. I'd wake up in the morning to a flat beer in the fridge that I decided to save for some reason. Finishing a leftover beer like that was never pleasant, but felt like a necessity.

A flat beer is just that flat, a dull, lifeless beverage. Carbonation along with the body of the beer are the two contributors to the mouthfeel of a beer. The textural attributes of a beverage in your mouth along with aroma and flavor are what makes the drinking experience.

IMG_0712.JPG

A beer with a high level of carbonation will impart a perception of dryness in the finish. This is important in pale and malty styles like saison or witbier to ensure the finish isn't cloyingly sweet. High levels of carbonation can also enhance the aromatics as the bubbles rush to the surface, and the high level of carbonation leads to a thick frothy head like in a German weizen.

A beer with a low carbonation level can have more of a creamy texture and a smoother finish. That can also enhance the more subtle malt and hop flavors. British and Irish styles, especially real ale served on cask have very low levels or carbonation and are served at cellar temperatures. These styles frequently have enough hop flavor or malt character to balance out the finish.

Broadly speaking different styles have different levels of carbonation. As a homebrewer who bottles, the way to adjust carbonation levels is to adjust the level of priming sugar, usually corn sugar (dextrose) added at bottling. For brewers who keg the key is adjusting the pressure from the CO2 tank.

I gave one of my Hot Stove Porters to a friend who had also had The Sustenence. The Sustenence was over-carbonated to the point where it had to be poured very slowly. Even then the beer was still quote foamy. When he had the Hot Stove Porter one of the first things he said was that the carbonation level was perfect. I went for a lower level of carbonation to enhance the roasted malt flavors. There was enough hop flavor and roasted malts to make sure the finish wasn't overly sweet.

Websites like Northern Brewer and Tasty Brew have calculators that make it very easy to know how much priming sugar to add to reach the desired level of carbonation. The standard level of priming sugar to add to a five gallon batch of beer is 4-5 oz. For most common styles like an American Pale Ale, assuming the wort is at room temperature, this works perfectly well. Homebrew shops sell pre-measured packets to boil in water and add to the wort on bottling day. Recipe kits often come with one of these packets thrown in regardless of  the style of beer.

The Welkin Ringer ESB kit from Beer and Wine Hobby that I brewed a few weeks ago came with one of these packets. English Bitters, even bottled as opposed to cask versions have low levels of carbonation. Reviews from Beer Advocate indicated the real version from Mystic Brewing had low to medium-low carbonation. When I plugged in the wort temperature, desired carbonation level and volume into the Northern Brewer calculator here was what it recommended:

IMG_0711.PNG

I added the priming sugar the calculator recommended which was about half the volume of sugar in the packet. It also tells you how much volume of other types of sugars to use on bottling day. This came in handy when I felt the Ground Rule Double was too light and I decided to use Dark Candi Sugar to prime my bottles to add a little more color to the finished beer.

Weighing priming sugar on a scale is usually preferable to measuring with measuring cups because it is more exact. Since the calculator suggested adding 0.33 cups to the Welkin Ringer ESB, exactly 1/3 of a cup, I measured my priming sugar out of laziness. That is actually less than I used for the Hot Stove Porter so the carbonation should be lower. The finished beer should have enough hops and specialty malts to still have decent head retention.

Proper carbonation is a small change that can make quite a difference. It certainly can help your beer taste more like a commercial beer than a homebrew.

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Drink what you like and ignore perception

This week there have been several articles that have made waves in the craft beer world. Boston Magazine had an article about how craft beer has left Samuel Adams behind. Local homebrewer Vinny Mannering wrote a rebuttal to the article taking issue with those who called Sam products "mediocre" which went viral on social media. In another article, the founders of West Coast craft beer pioneers Widmer Brothers and Deschutes lamented the fact that as they have grown in size, the perception some have of their beers have changed.

beersnob

If a beer is well made, it is well made. I don't care if it is a homebrew, a local nano-brewery brewing out of a garage, a "too big to be cool craft" brewer, or even a macro from AB InBev. People who won't drink or say a Boston Lager or Guinness Draught suck because of their own preconceptions just shouldn't be taken seriously. If you have valid and informed reasons why you don't like a beer I have no issue with it. There is a reason why stores, bars, and restaurants have more than one beer in stock. Too many beer drinkers can't or won't; sadly asking people to be honest and open-minded is often too much to ask for.

Many beer drinkers, especially self-identified connoisseurs don't understand is how a beer is supposed to taste. If you think Boston Lager sucks because it isn't hoppy enough, then you clearly do not understand that a Vienna Lager isn't supposed to be hoppy. The issue really isn't the beer, the issue is that you just don't like the style. It's not the beer, it's you!

On Christmas Eve I went to my uncle's house. I brought a six-pack of Narragansett Autocrat Coffee Milk Stout. After gorging on food, a full-bodied stout was not all that appealing. To the shock of everyone I went for an Amstel Light. I hadn't had one in years, and it was actually better than I remembered. I don't usually drink light lagers, but at that moment I enjoyed it. It was light, refreshing, and tasted exactly how it was supposed to taste.

BJCP Grand Master Gordon Strong has posted several sample scoresheets on the BJCP website. On a scale of 0-50, where 38-44 is "excellent" and 44-50 is outstanding he gave the following scores:

All of these beers are fine examples of their particular style. If you say any of these beer suck, you're wrong. If you don't like them, see the distinction, then have a reason why other than the name on the label.

Two years ago when asked about "guilty pleasures" in music Dave Grohl said, “I don’t belive in guilty pleasures, I believe you should be able to like what you like. If you a like a f***** Ke$ha song, listen to f****** Ke$ha.”

I was out with a group of people at The Yard House last fall. Being at a beer bar the topic of beer came up. My friend Kate sheepishly mentioned that she really enjoyed Shipyard Pumpkinhead. As Shipyard has grown it has fallen into a similar trap as Samuel Adams, Widmer, and Deschutes. Their English and English influenced ales are certainly out of place in a world where if a beer isn't a hop-bomb, it's crap! Just because there may be other pumpkin beers I think are superior, or a beer snob who measures the quality of a beer only in IBUs might look down on the Shipyard line, doesn't mean a beer drinker should feel the need to justify anything to anyone.

I am also starting to question the chase for the latest and greatest beers which has some drinkers leaving brands like Sam Adams. I love trying new things. I love being inspired to brew new things. Now it is to the point where I can't remember most of the beers that I have tried. To what end am I chasing new beers if most of them aren't memorable?

Before I started brewing I thought I was an educated beer drinker. I didn't know what I didn't know. That was when I truly learned how beer was supposed to taste. That doesn't mean you have to brew to appreciate beer. What it does mean is be open to what you don't know. Too many beer snobs aren't.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Brew Day: Walk-Off White (Witbier)

Today witbier is a popular craft (and crafty) beer style. In contrast to IPAs that are almost ubiquitous, witbier is very lightly hopped. Perhaps that's why macro-brewers choose witbier as the flagship of their crafty brands like Blue Moon and Shock Top. The low level of hopping saves money on ingredient costs.

The style was on the brink of extinction until Pierre Celis started his own brewery in the Belgian village of Hoegaarden and revived the style. The style has grown and evolved in the US since then. There are traditional examples like Allagash White; cleaner, more American examples like Harpoon UFO White; and Lienenkugel's Sunset Wheat, which is actually a lager and has none of the yeast flavors traditionally found in the style. The common thread is the low hopping, use spices to compensate for the lack of hops (typically coriander and orange), and the use of pale malts with a high percentage of unmalted wheat. The proteins in the wheat, and low to medium floccuation of traditional ale yeasts give the beer its cloudy, almost white appearance.

Two years ago I brewed the first batch of Walk-Off White as a gift for my old roommate. We both loved Samuel Adams White Ale when it was their spring seasonal. Last year Cold Snap was introduced as the new spring seasonal. The taste was very similar to how I remember the White Ale tasting. My guess is that the main difference is the spices. Samuel Adams' website indicates different yeasts are used as well. I would have to have them back-to-back to put my finger on it. Anyway, I wanted to brew a beer reminiscent of the White Ale, but still unique.

The beer from two years ago was okay. I made the rookie mistake of overdoing the spice additions. In particular I added way too much chamomile. I also used mostly liquid extract which made the beer quite a bit darker than a "white ale". As Allagash founder Rob Tod suggested when he gave his tips for brewing a witbier, if the base malt is not below 2 lovibond (2 L) the beer will look like pond water. Most liquid wheat extract leave the factory at 3 L and only darken from there as they oxidize. If used in a witbier it will taste fine; the beer will just be darker than the pale straw to light gold range found in commercial examples and style guidelines.

With my new 8 gallon kettle I can mash most of my grist now that I have 60% more volume to work with. I topped off the wort with a little dry wheat extract. The beer should finish with about 5.03% ABV. So far the color looks like it should be right in the range of the BJCP guidelines. I also added honey to boost the fermentable sugars without having to add even more extract. Lienenkugel's uses honey in all their wheat beers; if it provides a touch of residual sweetness all the better.

Instead of choosing the sweet or bitter dry orange peel at the homebrew shop, I used all fresh citrus to impart that freshness in the beer. I threw in fresh orange peel from a navel orange along with freshly cracked coriander. I had forgotten until I reviewed my notes from two years ago that the original recipe also had lemon zest and grains of paradise. Sam Adams uses both prominently in their Summer Ale, but both are in the White Ale as well. I zested two lemons, adding that along with freshly cracked grains of paradise. A low hop aroma and flavor is optional in the style, so I included a very small hop addition with the spices. I used Glacier hops that I purchased for another beer I never ended up brewing. Glacier is a hybrid of about eight different hops and has a generic flavor and aroma that isn't reminiscent of a particular growing region making it work well in variety of styles.

I had every intention of using Wyeast 3944 – Belgian Witbier and/or White Labs WLP400 – Belgian Wit which is purportedly the Celis strain. I accidently bought an expired vial of WLP400. When my yeast starter on the stir plate didn't take off I had to call an audible and bought two packets of Wyeast 3942 – Belgian Wheat. My only concern is that the beer might finish cleaner and not have the same spicy phenols that the Belgian Witbier strain produces.

With any luck I can bottle this in 2-3 weeks and it will be ready at the seasonably appropriate time for spring beer. The full recipe with my notes is here.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="354"]IMG_1385.JPG L to R: honey, seeds of paradise, coriander, orange peel, lemon zest, Glacier hops.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="354"]IMG_1382.JPG The orange peel is floating in the wort. The citrus flavor should balance the malt sweetness.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="442"]IMG_1384.JPG The color is right where I was hoping it would be.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="442"]IMG_1386.JPG It was nice not to have to lift several gallons of wort.[/caption]

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Friday, January 2, 2015

New Toys: I finally have a big boy kettle!

When I first started brewing with malt extract syrup and a small amount of steeping grains I purchased a 3 gallon stock-pot. This worked perfectly well for extract batches while matching the rest of my top-of-the-line Target Brand  Chefmate cookware. It is still the kettle I use for my one gallon batches and has other uses like collecting milled grains and heating up sparge water when needed.

After a few months I wanted to make better beer and learned the importance of boiling as much of the wort as possible. I also wanted to start partial-mash brewing. Anything over 2-3 pounds of grain was too much for the 3 gallon pot, so I upgraded to this 5 gallon pot as my main kettle. This has worked well for two years, but I have outgrown it.

A grist of more than 6 pounds or so pushes this kettle to the limit and I can't mash the full volume of water like most brew-in-a-bag brewers do. The workaround has been to heat up "sparge" water, and either pouring it over the grain bag or steeping the grain bag in the water as a psuedo-sparge to collect enough wort. This can be unwieldy and messy while lengthening brew day.

A full-size kettle has been on my wish-list for awhile. I would shop around to get an idea of what features I wanted and what I would expect to pay. Almost all of the homebrew websites had sales for Black Friday. I wasn't expecting to buy a kettle soon, but when I saw this kettle marked down to $135 bundled with tubing, a screen, a barb, and a stainless steel spoon I bit the bullet and made the plunge.

IMG_0687.JPG
Still haven't been able to tighten the thermometer enough so it is straigh
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The screen will make sure  hop or cold break material will not make it into the fermenter.]

Now I can mash with the full volume of water for one, two, or even three gallon batches. All I will have to do is mash, pull out the bag of grains, and start the boil. A few months ago I purchased four three gallon kegs for only $125. Once I have my kegging system up and running I can brew three gallon batches, all-grain with no need to add malt extract, on my stove top, ferment them in a 5 gallon glass carboy, and rack them right into the keg.


The thermometer will make it easier to track the temperature of the mash. Previously I used a probe thermometer like this with the lid slightly ajar. The screen will keep hop and break material out of the fermenter resulting in clearer and hopefully better tasting beer. The valve along with tubing means no more having to lift several gallons of wort off the stove top.

This is a kettle I can grow with. I already have a propane burner that I received for free with an ingredient purchase. All I need now to do my own all-grain batches like I brew with Andy is buy or build a mash-tun (and have a place outside to brew).

I am going to Beer and Wine Hobby tomorrow to purchase ingredients and supplies for my next two batches. I'll certainly need a bigger bag. I am excited to use the new kettle this weekend and brew my first beers of 2015!

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