Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"Malty Brown Fizzy H2O"

My first home brewed beers are absolutely nothing to write home about. Come to think of it, there's nothing much about them worth writing anything at all. But now that I'm on the subject, I might as well continue. Right?

My first batch of beer was Munton’s Old Ale extract beer. I think I only used one can and that’s about it. In the end it reminded me of what water tastes like. I called that one Fermented Water.

My second batch was another extract beer. But I found out a couple other things would help make it more palatable. So I added some additional dried malt extract (DME) and some bittering hops. My wife (girlfriend at the time) helped me bottle this one on Cinco de Mayo of 2003 after going out to eat some Mexican food. When it was ready we popped them open only to find out what the perfect name for this beer would end up being…Malty Brown Fizzy Water! No laughing now...I'm serious...that's what it reminded me of...ok?

We just had to take a cheesy photo like the ones in the NCJHB...and get a load of that tiny brew pot...I totally forgot about that! As evidence by the photo it looks like we used two cans of EDME Red Ale, and I recall this was my second batch.

After those complete flops, I somehow was still determined. I decided to look into formulating recipes with additional malt character and hop aromas. The next step was obvious…to add some fresh steeped malts and more hops. So with this in mind I decided to go with a recipe in The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing (NCJHB)…The Tumultuous Porter (p199).

All was going well until I ended up with only 3 gallons instead of 5. So this became my strongest beer to date and a direct opposite of my previous attempts. With a thick and tar-like mouth-feel, and dominating alcoholic heat, it was just barely drinkable. Though it didn’t impress anybody, I still felt a sense of pride. It definitely wasn’t tasteless fizzy water. The Tumultuous Porter was better served as a 4 to 6 oz. sipping beer. It paired well with dark chocolate and deserts, and was utilized in bread recipes. I suppose it could have been nice over vanilla ice cream. Tried a bottle about 2 years later and it didn't really mellow much, still overbearing.

So that's about it for my initial attempts at home brewing. It's just amazing I kept up with it. But now I'm glad I did. Take a look at the transition to better brews & going all grain

Thursday, March 22, 2007

American Homebrewers Association

One year ago, for my 29th birthday, my wife gave me a 2 year membership with the American Hombrewers Association (AHA). I was quite surprised and happy to become a part of something larger/historic.

I wanted to share some of the benefits I've enjoyed.

1. Zymurgy - Their bi-monthly magazine dedicated to home brewing. There are some wonderful articles and recipes in there. Overall, its enjoyable.
2. forum - Though I haven't asked/answered any questions yet, it seems as though every question gets answered thoroughly. I've been able to search the archives for answers to just about every question on my mind. Sometimes these are answered by well-known and respectable home brew authors and advocates.
3. Brewpub Discounts - Just the discounts alone have more than paid for the price of the membership. The closest brewpub for me is Goose Island and they offer a 20% discount on all food and drink for the whole party. I've visited Goose Island (Clybourne) throughout the changing seasons and love trying their seasonal and cask conditioned ales...simply marvelous.

Though I'm not very interested in competition, I think they host a good number of style specific competitions every year. Since they have a long lead time, listed in the events calender, I may brew some batches with it in mind (or my beers might correlate).

I've entered one competition last year in Racine, WI called the Schooner Homebrew Championships, but it was non-AHA. I pretty much know what I like and don't like about my beers. If I'm going for something authentic, I have lots of micro/large-scale commercial examples to base them off of. The best part about competitions is that you get your beer critiqued by more than one person, and the evaluation forms are mailed to you after the event.

All-in-all, I recommend becoming a member of the AHA. The benefits I mentioned above are really worth it. If your interested in sharpening your skills, participating in TechTalk will surely do it...with some practice that is. Zymurgy is a fun read! The discounts are really great, no matter where you are in the country...but for some reason...not in WA? The competitions and annual events are getting bigger every year, and members get discounts to it all.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Healing Beers

What is beer? These days its not typically associated with healing properties. Beer is normally associated with its great/unique taste, ability to quench thirst and the effects of intoxication. Currently, I've been turned on to the idea that my homebrewed beers can possess the power to heal using specific herbs, spices and various fermentables.

For my birthday, I received a book called Sacred Herbal and Healing Beers. It is a fascinating read which provides mind opening, exploritory depth to this whole topic. My eldest brother has been delving deeper into Chinese medicine and diet to find healing for various physical and mental conditions. His Fiance is presently going through intensive study into Chinese/Eastern healing & medicine. I feel lucky to have their positive influence in my life.

Through talking with them and reading this book, I am already shifting my goals in homebrewing. I've enjoyed drinking most styles of ales and lagers, and brewed a good number of them with positive results. After two years of intensive brewing, I know what styles I prefer to make and drink. But now there is a whole new realm to explore...healing beers!

We've been talking about producing small batches of beer for experimentation. I've had good results making 1 gallon ales and meads, and feel this is the perfect way to start experimenting with healing beers. Normally beer is analyzed and critiqued for its pallatable qualities and balance. Though I'd like a healing beer to be drinkable, I'm not too concerned about great taste at this time. A more appropriate approach would be to use "beneficial" herbs, healing agents and fermentables. My "Western" mind initially thought about adding any combination of herbs for their potential for good taste or aroma. We tend to think that if there's "any" amount of "any" herb, it will be a "positive" thing. Not necessarily so. An Eastern approach first looks deeply within a person's physical and mental condition, and then suggests specific healing herbs and tonics.

The first step, then, is to find out what "my" body needs. What are my body's internal conditions? What areas need attention, and what hebs will help? This initial exploration will inform my recipe formulations and procedures.

Some initial questions I have are:

What blend of fermentables is more beneficial at this time? (Barley, rice, corn, honey, fruit, etc.)
What organs in my body need healing?
Is my body hot, cold, wet, dry?
What herbs will help?
What spices can help?
How long do herbs need to boil/steep?
How much herbs are needed for the right kind of effect?

Will the process of fermentation increase the effects of boiled herbs?
What is the best way to utilize herbs in beer? (Boiling, primary, secondary, in bottle)
Is alcohol neccessary to break down resins in herbs, flowers, barks, etc?

After answering questions these, I'll get into making recipes and brewing some small batches. Please check back for a post regarding my findings and plans for brewing healing beers. In the meantime, there are many more "regular" batches of beer and mead to brew.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Last year I got in a bunch of small test batch ales. Some ideas that were too risky to brew a whole 5 gallons. They were all DME base beers with steeped specialty grains. After a number of these 1to2 gallon batches, I noticed the same "fruity" taste and aroma present in almost all of them. I pretty much assumed it was the brand of malt extract, and didn't want anything to do with the stuff anymore. So I started brainstorming ways to brew these experimental batches using a compact all-grain system.

I guess my brain's wheels were spinning ever since I read about how to use a coffee machine for all-grain brewing. I'm sure you all have seen that article at allaboutbeer...right? So I went out to find some used coffee machines, but the capacity was rediculously low.

I went around looking for smaller Rubbermaid coolers, but nobody was carrying them in November. I also had ideas for converting a coffee pump-carafe. After looking up the price for one of these, I nearly choked. I figured I pop my head into a local dusty/dingy resale shop. Luckily I found one. It's a 2.2 liter pump carafe with a small dent on the side. It was all dusty, but the inside glass lining was clean and in great shape. I took it for 6 bucks.

The next step was to attatch some kind of filter to keep the grains from getting sucked up the downtube during the sparge. I thought a pipe cleaner stuffed into the tube would work, but might not have a large enough surface area/diameter to allow good drainage. After a few more designs, I ended up using a copper pipe coupler with the .75 inch end attatched to the downtube and the 1.25 inch end falling in between the very end of the downtube and the bottom of the glass lining (literally about 1/8th inch from the bottom).

The first filter was a 4-ply cheese cloth tightly tied onto the end. It was fairly difficult to push the pump lever down to get liquid out. I slowly pumped out about 1-2 cups, and then filled the carafe with more hot sparge water...and kept repeating this process until the final volume was obtained.

The second filter was from a stainless screen bent and tied around the end of the coupler. I also drilled 8 small holes into the coupler for more flow. I also got a continual sparge by raising the carafe and attatching a drain tube ending below the intake of the downtube. This time sparging was continuous. Pumping was only used to get the "syphon" going.

These carafes are designed to hold hot temperatures for a long time, and it rested perfectly never dropping a degree. I simply mash in like I would with full batches. The downtube is not inside during the mash process so as to stir the grains, check temperature, and pull ph and conversion samples. The downtube is inserted right before sparging.

The capacity of this 2.2 liter carafe is about 1-1.25 lbs of grain. Not a whole lot, but it makes for a fairly simple experimental batch system.

My first use for this thing was for an all-grain yeast starter for a double-decoction Munich Dunkel brewed in December 2006. The gravity of the starter (I believe it was 2.5 liters) came out right about 1.040. It fermented very well. The whole starter (yeast + liquid) was added to the Dunkel wort.

The Munich Dunkel is finished and quite drinkable now. It has a subtle and enjoyable "grainy" taste to it, that is completely unique to any other beer I've made. It was the first time I did a double decoction mash, so I'm not sure if it was the decoction procedure or the starter. But, the slight grainy quality blends well with the slight sweetness and low bitterness. Overall it is a well balanced lager.
1. Downtube & coupler fitted with plastic tube spacers

2. Coupler with stainless screen bent & tied on

3. Carafe & drain tube positioned above collection vessel

4. Complete system

Monday, March 5, 2007


After searching all over the web to find out what a young/developing wild yeast pellicle looks like, the best/only photos found were taken of either one fully matured, or shots at the microscopic level. You can find these through by clicking on "culture photos" at The Biohazard Lambic Brewer's Page. So after reading a lot and see these photos, I'm fairly confident that what's growing on my bulk aged Old Ale is in fact a pellicle.

I thought I'd post some photos of the Old Ale's "young" pellicle. And depending on how long it will age, or how the pellicle develops, I may post additional photos.

First, a little background on the Old Ale...

The beer was brewed for "Teach a Friend to Brew Day," on November 5th, 2006. The recipe was formulated using the book "Designing Great Beers." We hit an OG of 1.083, one point above the target. Fermented with a Scottish Ale yeast strain at a relatively cool temperature, it finished clean and fruity at a SG of 1.030. I thought this was a little high, but after doing a little more reading, it looks like that's a fine ending gravity.

This beer is designed to be bulk aged for a long time. In fact, I've extended aging until it looks like its other words...indefinitely? During the brewing of January's Schwartzbier, we cracked open a bottle (the extra volume from primary to secondary). Here's how we describe it's youthful state...

A subtle malty sweetness lends to a fuller fruity sweet flavor. The body is fairly full with a touch of cedar, and a velvety mouthfeel. Effevescent with a light consistent head. A balanced medium hop bitterness carries subtle flavors of tangerine, grapefruit and mint.

The "loose" conception of this old ale is to purposely add to it an overall sense of great age. A number of flavor additions to help build its character will be...Lambic Blend yeast, dry hops, coriander & cardamom spices, perhaps some tangerine & red grapefruit rinds, and a very long aging period (bulk - 6 months, and bottle - 6+ months)...good thing I have a lot of patience! Beyond the Lambic Blend, never did add these additional ingredients.

Additional posts about this beer...

Ancient Ale (what I call this original old ale)
Fresh Old Ale (A fresh batch for blending w/ Ancient Ale)
Tasting Blended Old Ales (Blending Fresh and Ancient Ales)

The wild yeasts in the Wyeast lambic blend is causing the pellicle to form. Check out these photos of early colonization...

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Mild Brown Ale

A quick brown ale made out of some left over ingredients. Since there's a bunch of slow conditioning lagers taking their sweet old time, I wanted to get in a quick ale. This one was made with my mini-masher (coffee pump carafe). I was expecting to get about 27 gravity points out of it, but the extraction rate was strangely low at 1.019. Some light DME made up the difference (almost 50% of the fermentables).

Mild Brown Ale Recipe:

1 gallon primary and no secondary

.43 lb German Vienna Malt
.43 lb Wheat Malt
1.6 oz Crystal 80L
2.5 tsp Chocolate Malt
1.25 tsp Roasted Barley
.4 lb Light DME (dried malt extract)

.15 oz. Hallertau pellets, 4.0%, 60min.
2 pellets of Hallertau, 4.0%, 30min.

Muntons dry yeast packet