Friday, April 25, 2008

Mint Stout

Here goes another 1 gallon stout yeast starter. Still one more stout idea that may spark something unusual for my brother's wedding in the Fall.

This an improvised version from Randy Mosher's Radical Brewing. Here I used some starter wort from some previous batches, adding a touch of crystal into it. Then I put in chocolate malt for half the dark grain proportion and split the other half into Roasted Barley and Black Patent. The boiling wort smelled quite good.

The hopping is pushed a little to the aromatic side by 5 minutes. The mints were added as close to the level as Randy's recipe, and smelled quite nice at knockout. This batch filled the gallon jug to the very top, and was poured over sediment from an initial pint starter.

Mint Stout

Grains & Fermentables
1.00 lb. Briess Light DME
44.0 oz. Amber All-grain wort (from previous batches)
0.20 lb. Belgian Biscuit
0.10 lb. Rst. Barley/Black Patent
0.10 lb. Chocolate Malt
0.10 lb. CaraPils

.10 oz. Centennial, 9.5%, pellet, 90+min
.20 oz. Centennial, 9.5%, pellet, 15min
.20 oz. Spearmint, fresh, sliced, KO
.02 oz. Peppermint, dried, KO

Wyeast 1056: American Ale (decanted, 1 pint starter)

Brew Day Stats

Brewed: 4/25/08
Bottled: 5/12/08

OG: 1.054
IBU: approx. 46
Color/SRM: Black/38
Ferment Temp: 72-78°F

ABV: approx. 4.5-5%

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Black with a strong dense and lasting tan head, almost opaque with some haze, and orange/amber highlights
Aroma: Minty, sweet, chocolate, reminiscent of mint chocolate chip ice cream
Taste: minty, chocolate, balanced bitterness w/ sweetness, some tartness almost like a lactose quality, light roast flavors
Mouthfeel: medium-light, good carbonation
Aftertaste: mint and light bitterness on back of tongue
Drinkability: Unique, drinkable, refreshing, surprisingly balanced with a good taste in an unconventional flavored stout beer. Definitely worth trying out, by following this or Mosher's recipe.

Click here to see a full list of one gallon batches.
Here to see Mint Stout 2.
And here to see the Raisin Toast Stout.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Worms Can't Get Enough

Thousand and thousands of hungry worms chow down on every last spent grain. Apparently, they can't get enough, so Mikey says. He's built up a hefty supply of red wigglers, and would love to sell you a pound if you like.

They are a thinner cousin of the basic sidewalkin-after-a-big-rainfall earthworm, but possess a much larger appetite. Vermicomosting is what he does. I'm happy to have someone willing to haul my weekly sac of spent grains far away, especially because it will be turned into something as great as the beer it originally gold. Worm castings/compost is a nitrogen rich soil enhancer (at about 20-30%), and perfect in potting soils or for rejuvenating old garden earth.

It's Earth Day today. I figured this was an important subject to bring up. Brewing is hard physical and mental work. It takes hours of concentration, lifting, pouring, stirring, crushing, cleaning, etc. At the end of the day, lets face it, its difficult to imagine doing anything more besides downing a few brews during the whole process. But in fact, there is more work to be done to minimize the resulting environmental stress. There is a lot of waste when brewing beer like combustion-fuel/gas, water, spent grains & hops, yeast, CO2, sanitizing & sterilizing agents, bottle caps and old plastic hoses, plastic bags, and more. There are ways to reduce, and/or eliminate, most of these, but it takes thoughtfulness and action.

The Bearded Brewer in Minnesota has been writing about some of these issues, and has helped increase sustainable awareness in brewing. After reading about his efforts with water conservation, I decided to take action in some areas too. It's very important to take care of our small and fragile planet, and if I can't reduce and/or eliminate most of my brewing waste, then I'll have to find some other hobby that isn't so wasteful. The beer is tasting so darn good, so I'm pretty sure I will.

Take a look at other green ambitions
in a post earlier this year...

Sustainability 2008

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ordinary Bitter

I'm still finding beer styles I've never brewed before. English Bitters...these are styles that aren't too common at bars in Chicago. Even when they are found in six-packs, they are usually American versions. But, after trying two traditional English imports on tap at the Map Room, I instantly loved the taste. So unique and purely quaffable, there is nothing quite like it brewed in America. Right away, I knew I had to try brewing one for myself.

The Ordinary Bitter is undeniably one of the most drinkable beers. The balance of malts and overall hop bitterness in this style is very subtle yet precise. There also seems to be a mineral-like quality to it. I instantly fell in love with it, especially because I'm drawn to making beers that are more subtle, lower in alcohol and balanced. After looking around for recipes, I noticed many similarities. Jamil's Ordinary Bitter is really the most basic. I still have not gotten my hands on Special Roast (see side-bar link Grains 101), so I hope the combination of character malts will play the role to a degree. The following recipe is similar and what I'll try out first.

It will be poured over a third generation ESB yeast cake, and at an OG of about 1.035, it will probably be finished in under three days. Not sure if that is entirely good, but one thing is for sure, we will be tapping this beer sooner than later.

I feel very good about the stats on this brew. The day unfolded without a hitch. A great vigorous boil starting in two pots and then consolidated to one for the final 25 and 1 minute hop additions. The OG came out 1 point high at 1.038 with an overall efficiency of 80% and a final volume just shy of 6 gallons. The final gravity of this brew should be well near 1.007-9, so I'm hoping there is enough residual sweetness and body.

Ordinary Bitter

6.5 lbs. Marris Otter Pale Malt
.50 lbs. British Crystal 60L
.20 lbs. Belgian Aromatic
.20 lbs. Belgian Biscuit
.10 lbs. British Roasted Barley

1.00 oz. US Kent Goldings, 4.8%aa, pellet, 90min
.65 oz. US Kent Goldings, 4.8%aa, pellet, 25min
.60 oz. UK Kent Goldings, 6.3%aa, whole, 1min
.25-.5 oz. UK Kent Goldings, 6.3%aa, whole, keg hops

Wyeast 1968: London ESB 3rd Generation yeast cake

Brew Day Stats

Brewed: 4/20/08
Racked: just primary
Bottled: 4/29/08

Water Adjustment:
2 tsp. Gypsum & .75 tsp Acid Blend to strike water
2.25 tsp Gypsum to 2nd sparge water

H2O/Grain Ratio: 1.25qt/lb
Mash Ph: 5.4-5.5
Sacch. Rest Temp/Time: 153°F/90min
Mash Out Temp/Time: 165°F/20min w/vorlauf
1st Batch SG: 1.052

2nd Batch Sparge Vol/H2OTemp/MashTemp: 4.5gal/176°F/168°F
2nd Batch SG: 1.018

Pre-Boil Vol: 7.5gal
Pre-Boil SG: 1.034
Boil Time: 100min
Post-Boil Vol: shy of 6gal
Mash Efficiency: 80%

OG: 1.038
IBU: 28
Color/SRM: Golden-Copper/11
Ferment Temp: 68-74°F

FG: 1.014
ABW: 2.5%
ABV: 3.2%



1. A very short blow-off hose was used without changing to an airlock. As the temperature decreased in the porch, the water from the blow-off tub was sucked into the carboy and into the finished beer.
2. Added a little dry yeast from an open package in the frig to about 9 bottles.
3. The bottles clearly show signs of infection with a growing ring of white stuff around the neck and surface of the beer. Though it tastes ok, I question the condition of the 5 gallons in the keg.
4. Added dry hops with a large tea infuser ball. The taste of the beer was getting good, until a metallic flavor began to show itself. I suspect the infuser ball.
5. Its a fairly mild metallic flavor in the mid-after taste, and I plan to throw in as much left over hops as I have to help hide it.
6. Its a mild beer with subtle flavors all around (malt, toasty, bitterness and hops) But with these two problems, it has unfortunately turned into an off tasting beer. Oh well.
7. 5/13 - Added .80 ounce of whole Cascade hops directly into the keg. Already started to foam up a bit.
8. Back to the bottled beers. It was the first time I used Munton's Carb Tabs to carbonate bottles. After my second time, only a day later, I noticed the same ring of white stuff at the surface of the beer in the bottle. After tasting an Ordinary Bitter from the bottle, it was actually quite good.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Battle of the IPA's - North vs. South

Busy being all judgelikeA few weeks ago, Travis ( sent me a few bottles of his home brewed ales and lagers. At that time, I was very busy, and didn’t have any time to sit, drink, and give them the attention they deserved. Recently, I got an email from him asking if I had drunk the Lagunitas IPA clone. I didn’t. And that was a good thing, because he informed me that Jonathan over at (MNB - was sending me their Swashchuckler IPA. They both wanted me to be a judge to determine who made the better India Pale Ale. I’m not really all that much of a beer critic, but I was quite flattered to say the least.

So, I finally got to sat down with both beers with my good friend Erik. We were both eager to taste what the east coast home brewers had made. It was fun and tasty, and below are the tasting notes for each beer. I also would like to thank my wife Sarah for taking such great photos.

India Pale Ales are generally viewed as the most bitter and hoppy of ales. They are generally pale in color, assertively hopped, and have a malt backbone that supports its aggressive hop profile. There are definite differences among English and American styles. In this tasting, I feel like each beer sort-of represented each country.

Swashchuckler IPA by Monday Night Brewery

Monday Night Brewery's SwashchucklerAppearance: Pours a deep golden color with amber hues and an even/light cloudiness. A ¾ inch white head fades quickly down to a ring of bubbles around the edge with slight lacing.

Aroma: Upfront there are sweet aromatics. Apricot, vanilla sweetness and fresh malts dominate. Then a mild hop after-presence comes through with some citrus notes and mostly reminiscent of English varietals.

Taste & Mouthfeel: Fairly balanced flavors favoring sweet/darker malts. Bitterness is present and soft verses sharp and cutting. Hop flavors come through much like in aroma and again suggest English in styling. Medium bodied with lower carbonation gives this ale a good mouthfeel.

Aftertaste: Pleasant malt finish without lasting bitterness on tongue. There does seem to be a lingering, yet clean, mineral taste perhaps from Georgian waters.

Overall Impression & Drinkability: An overall impression takes me to England. This version is darker and takes on a much sweeter flavor profile from what I guess is residual sugars from darker crystal malts. I also wonder if the yeast count was sufficient for this batch. Hopping levels are smooth and understated. The hop bitterness and bouquet is just short of assertive or clean & accurate enough for my taste. A pretty drinkable beer, and it's softer carbonation makes it feel more session-like.

Lagunitas IPA Clone by Travis

Travis's Lagunitas IPA cloneAppearance: Pours a nice pale golden color much like the real Lagunitas, with lots of carbonation creating a dense thick and frothy white head with strong staying power, and good lacing. There is a clarity to it, but has a more particulate cloudiness.

Aroma: Clean, strong citrus and subtle soft fruit hop scents, hint of sweetness.

Taste & Mouthfeel: Sharp citrus hop taste upfront lending to a nice simple malt secondary flavor. The bitterness is strong and dominates the overall experience. There is a clean and attenuated sweetness coupled with higher carbonation that makes this beer finish on the dry side. The mouthfeel is medium in body.

Aftertaste: Mostly bitter and quite assertive/almost harsh. I get a hint of sour quality coming from the citrus/lemon-like hop flavor, and combined with higher carbonation is reminiscent of a German Wiess (Hacker-Pschorr).

Drinkability & Overall Experience: Overall I think it is like a fusion of American pale ale and German Wiess. It is a bright and refreshing IPA, but fuller carbonation makes it a little difficult to put down, and may accentuate some of the sharp edges. An unrefined & edgy bitterness commands the palate, but does allow just a little malt to slide through.


The Lagunitas IPA clone has a more unrefined “home-brewed” quality, it’s brighter and more bold in hopping, but is also a bit edgy. The Swashchuckler IPA is quite sweet, and has a mysterious finishing quality that tastes more balanced or “micro-brewed.” It was a little challenging to compare two beers that tasted so different, and I had to base my decision on the overall taste. Even though both could use definite adjustments in balance and refinement, and don’t come close to my Hop Blend IPA from 2007 (but that is a different story all together...ha ha ha!), I definitely favor the Lagunitas IPA clone by Travis.

Monday, April 14, 2008

What is a Lager? What is an Ale?

I invited my next door neighbor to sit down and kick back with a couple pints of Copper Lager 2 on draft. It was a calm Sunday afternoon, perfect for brew and good conversation. He was very impressed with it, and even ranked it as one of the best tasting beers he's ever had. What a great compliment! I too am enjoying it very much, and could also rank it as one of my best lagers. It is super smooth and balance. The 2-row malt base gives it a fuller flavor and mouthfeel, while the hops bring a fresh bold attitude to the aroma, flavor and aftertaste. It finishes clean without any complaints, and causes a large thirst for more.

But how would I categorize this beer? I didn't enter it into the AHA national competition, because I wasn't sure. Is there a generic "Continental Lager" category? I said to Chad, it could be a Pilsener. It wasn't American in taste. It could be a German or Italian Lager.

Anyways, when I mentioned that the hop presence in this beer could be considered Pilsener-like, Chad Pilsener a lager? From my experience, it seems he's not alone, and many people do not realize that it is. Or, that lagers can actually be brown, amber, red or even black. Heck, I didn't know about all the styles of lagers and ales before I started brewing my own beer and tasting most of the commercial examples.

Lagers can be pale or very dark, light to heavy bodied, and be made from all the same ingredients found in ales. It is important to realize that each style of beer pretty much has its own special yeast strain. There are many ale yeasts, and there are many lager yeasts. Ales yeast generally performs with the most favorable flavor characteristics in a warmer range of 60-75°F, while lager yeast performs best in a cooler range in the 40's & 50's. But I'll let you read more about the specifics of ales and lagers over at Wikipedia.

This post is for you Chad, and anyone else who isn't sure what is an ale or lager. Below you will find a breakdown of most ales and lagers. I tried to list them from light to dark. I'm generalizing here, but I hope you get the gist of it. Also, in my list of categories, I group all my home brewed lagers (light to dark) under "lagers," and the other beer styles are ales.


American Pale Ale
Belgian Tripel
India Pale Ale (English & American)
English Bitters (ordinary, special, ESB)
Cream Ale, Kolsch (ale/lager hybrid)
Wheat Beers/Hefewiezen
Scottish Ales
Amber Ales
California Common, Altbier (ale/lager hybrid)
Irish Red Ale
Belgian Double/Strong Ales
Brown Ales


American Light Lagers
German Helles
Dortmunder Export
Pilseners (Bohemian, German & American)
European Ambers (Vienna, Octoberfest)
Bock (maibock, traditional, eisbock)
Schwarzbier (black beer)

Visit the BJCP for a complete listing of beer styles.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Round 3 - ESB vs. American 2

Here is the third and final round of split batch amber ales fermented with competing yeast strains. In round 1, the beers remained somewhat understated to see how the yeast strains effect the malts. In round 2, the hops were kicked up a full ounce and the 60 minute bittering units increased about 10 points. In round 3, the beers will resemble round 2, but present a more American hop feel.

This recipe has the largest percentage of base organic 2-row pale malt at 86%. Though the base is larger, the color will be slightly darker from a very small addition of black malt. I'm hoping for a more pure malt taste with an almost sharp quality. I love using the word "accurate" to describe simple and direct flavors (mostly for hops). The way to get accuracy, is to really simplify and focus in on what makes that flavor more pronounced. I suppose many things can contribute to "sharpness" of the simple malt profile, but in this recipe, the accent malts are scaled back, the base percentage is boosted, and the black malt may provide a slight astringency (maybe like crushed black pepper on the top of tomato soup...or something like that) that further accentuates the base malt. Water conditions may also play a role in this equation.

Until now, the hops I've been playing with were blends using German, Czech and English varieties. Here I look forward to smelling and tasting some good old American hoppiness. After tasting the first round, I think the bittering units can be scaled back to a place between Round 1 & 2. Also, the hopping schedules for these are the most similar, compared to the first two rounds. Chinook is the bitter base, and Nugget Cluster is the 1 ounce foundation of aroma. Cascades are more fresh with good citrus notes going into the American 2. For the ESB, Challenger will provide a good herbal fragrance and flavor.

Pretty soon we shall see the outcome of all of this. I will be posting all the results in the Final post. Stay tuned.

13. lb. Organic 2-row Pale
1.0 lb. Crystal 80L
0.4 lb. Crystal 120L
.25 lb. Victory Malt
.25 lb. CaraPils
.20 lb. Black Patent

London ESB

.50 oz. Chinook, 12.9%, pellet, 75min+
.80 oz. Challenger, 6.3%, pellet, 15min
1.0 oz. Cluster, 7.9%, pellet, KO
.20 oz. Challenger, 6.3%, pellet, KO

American 2

.50 oz. Chinook, 12.9%, pellet, 75min
.80 oz. Cascade, 6.9%, pellet, 15min
1.0 oz. Cluster, 7.9%, pellet, KO
.20 oz. Cascade, 6.9%, pellet, KO

Brew Day Stats

Brewed: 4/11/08
Racked: just primary
Bottled: 4/20/08

Water Adjustment:
.5 tsp acid blend, .5 tsp gypsum, .5 tsp CaCl in strike water
1 tsp gypsum in 2nd sparge water

H2O/Grain Ratio: 1.3 qt/lb
Mash Ph: 5.4-5.5
Sacch. Rest Temp/Time: 154-2°F/1hr
Mash Out Temp/Time: 171°F/15min

2nd Batch Sparge Vol/Temp: 5 gal @ 182°F/173°F

Pre-Boil Vol: 5.75 gal each
Boil Time: 90+min
Post-Boil Vol: approx. 4 gallons each

Color/SRM: amber/16+
Ferment Temp: 68-72°F

OG: 1.061
IBU: 47
FG: 1.014
ABW: 4.9%
ABV: 6.1%

Amer. 2
OG: 1.061
IBU: 47
FG: 1.014
ABW: 4.9%
ABV: 6.1%

Navigate to
the other posts
in this series...

Round 1
Round 2

Friday, April 4, 2008

Blending & Bottling Old Ales

Nine gallons of two old ales were finally bottled, blended, or transfered to another bulk aging vessel. First of all, I'd like to thank Eric Gons (a recent visitor) for sharing his experience with a similar undertaking in old ale blending. I decided to follow his example and brewed a fresh batch of old ale (Fresh Old Ale) to blend with a 14 month old stock ale (Ancient Ale) for bottling.

The Ancient Ale by itself is really fascinating. Its like an aged sherry or tawny port wine (without wood character). It has moderate aromatics of sherry, brett and sourness. I don't really call it an old ale anymore, rather it is more appropriately a "stock" ale. It definitely lost all of its "chewy" malt palette and has thinned out and dried up some. It will be quite enjoyable by itself, but is probably better blended with younger beers of varying styles like old ale, browns, porters or even an imperial IPA. The Ancient Ale's qualities will most likely dominate this blended version. Take a look at the final results, tasting notes and photos of the Blended Old Ale.

The bottling process was long and drawn out. I think it would be easiest to share the process...

Procedure for bottling 2 Old Ales on March 11th, 2008

a. Prepare bucket, bottles, hoses, priming sugar(s) before starting
b. Pre-carbdrop bottles for unmixed portions
c. Bottle 10 bottles of FRESH
d. Rack 1.75 gal FRESH into 3gal carboy
e. Rack rest into bucket, take FG, then add priming sugar (cover)
f. Bottle 10 bottles of OLD, and take FG sample
g. Rack OLD to fill 3gal carboy (1.25 gal)
h. Rack rest of OLD into bucket
i. Bottle (3.8 gal)
j. Start cleaning EVERYTHING!!!
k. Don't mix up bottles/label them

Most of this batch went into 12 ounce bottles because I'll probably want smaller servings, plus they will make the batch last longer with more bottles reserved for extended cellaring. The blended portion for bottling was at a ratio very close to 2-parts Ancient Ale to 1-part Fresh Old Ale. A portion of each was bottled on its own, so it should be interesting to compare all three beers.

As for the 3 gallon blend for additional bulk aging, the ratio is 58% Fresh Old Ale to 42% Ancient Ale. Only a day later did I notice renewed fermentation by the wild yeast strains. It won't age quite as long, and will be dry hopped and oaked towards the end of this period. It will be bottled straight and blended with a different style of beer (northern brown or robust porter or perhaps an imperial IPA).

So far it has been a very rewarding experience, and I'm excited to see how all of these old ales mature and compare. I will be writing about the results in a future post. At this point in time, I just want to say that aging beer this way takes it to a whole new and much higher level in overall quality. It just doesn't taste anything like home brew anymore...more comparable to a fine wine or barrel aged craft beer. I highly recommend extended aging (with or without wild yeasts & lactic bacteria) and blending beer for those who like these styles, and those who have a good deal of patience!