Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looking Back on 2008

There sure is a lot to write about in this final post for 2008. Going into it, I knew 2008 would be a big brewing year. With my building relationship with Half Acre Beer Co., to trying out many styles I've always been curious about, there was lots to look forward to and good challenges along the way. In comparison to last year's 75 gallons, production in 2008 rose a whopping 127% to just over 170 gallons. With batch sizes ranging from 1 gallon to 9, most were in the 5 to 6 range, and 39 brews (beer & soda) have been made. See the list in a continually updated post... A Brief History of Ted's Brews.

2008 has proven to be deeply rewarding on many levels. I was happy with every beer, and with a better understanding of ingredients and yeast behavior, I was able to predict the turnout of some uniquely "Ted" styles (Yvonne's Sterling Moon, Robust Porter, Rhino Rye). Just getting better balance with all the tasting elements in various styles of beer (bitterness, malts, sweetness, hop flavor & aroma, yeast, alcohols, etc) has been great. The results from this year's Schooner Homebrew Championships were awesome having 2 beers placing 1st (Brett aged Old Ale) and 2nd (Rauch Bock). I've also enjoyed swapping homebrews with brewers Travis and the Bearded Brewer, both of which are making excellent beer.

Like many other technical hobbies, brewing offers many areas to learn about and improve on. One area that seems to plague the finished beer is a lack of body. Slowly I'm learning that on the homebrew level, more dextrins are needed to help this, and adding plenty of Carapils to the mash will definitely help it out. Being one of the lightest crystal malts, Carapils is light enough that a lot will not contribute any outstanding flavors. This in combination with a higher mash temp and additional proteins (flaked grains), some good body is achieved. Acidity/Ph in the mash is also something I've figured out yearly in the year, and by using enough acid blend, I'm able to adjust the other salt levels to benefit any regional style. I've gotten some very rich, yet balanced beers this year, and will definitely go back to their stats as a benchmark.

Kegging is new for me. They have been both fun and a hassle. To remedy some problems they were causing with my neighbors, I had to find them a home, or discontinue using them. They have a home now, and it has become a super cool kegerator project. My Dad and I spent many hours building an attractive wooden collar for the taps. Not completely finished yet, but it is functional. Documenting the progress with posts and photos was also fun, and I invite you to take a look here at Finding a Home for Kegs.

The most rewarding part of 2008 has to be my involvement with Half Acre Beer Company. I was able to develop the second beer on their current product line...the Over Ale. It was very tricky to do, given that I didn't know what hops were eventually going into it. Then, it would also need to be scaled up to the 20bbL level. Overall, it has come out fairly close to my original recipe, and I'm happy to say it's selling pretty well. Overall, I am very happy to have had the opportunity to contribute to the beginnings of the newest brewery in town. As they have taken a considerable step forward, building their new/used brewery here in Chicago, my relationship has changed to what we both call the Ambassador of Homebrew.

This year I've gotten a few others involved by teaching the art and science of brewing. They came in to brew their own batches of beer in what ever style they wanted. They also got to go through the full all-grain experience, because there really is nothing like brewing from raw materials and creating a truly remarkable beverage. I love how everyone really gets into it, both scientifically and in the culinary sense. We're all crammed in a very small kitchen where the aromas tend to concentrate. When anyone leaves to catch a breathe of fresh air, they are once again greeted by all the scents in the's simply amazing! Yvonne's Sterling Moon was a kegged batch created for my good friend Yvonne, a very lager-like pale ale that was perfect for her parties on the lakefront. This has been lots of fun, and I hope to get even more people hooked in 2009.

Chi-Town Northside Homebrewer's Connection, is a club I've initiated with the intent to bring local homebrewers together to share stories, techniques, equipment, ingredients and beer. For now, the meetings will meet at my place on the 2nd Tuesday of the month, but the location may begin to change/rotate to some really great spots like local restaurants and our very own Half Acre Beer Co.

Looking forward, I'd like to get better at posting the results of the beers being created out of my tiny kitchen. Writing reviews for beers is sometimes the most difficult part. Maybe this is why I don't get into writing reviews of commercial beers. Regardless, it's very important in terms of using this info in the future when my memory has failed me.

I haven't really decreased my impact on the environment as much as I would have liked to. Since I have gotten into kegging, I think carbon dioxide harvesting and reuse in dispensing beer could work well. I've also had the largest yeast cakes this year (4-5th generation), and I'd like to know how best to dispose of it.

Keeping up with this journal is a lot of fun. Tracking viewership over the whole year has been interesting and informative. The average number of daily viewers has gone up gradually, and more significantly during the last trimester. I'm happy to see the level of absolute new viewers remain constant throughout the year at about 72%.

Finally, in ending this mega-post, I'd like to thank each and every one who has been to my site over the past 2 years. I enjoy writing about this stuff, and will continue to do so. I find comments add greatly to the hobby of brew/blogging and welcome all comments, questions & suggestions. I always look forward to giving a good reply.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Kegerator Collar - part 4

Upon putting the lid in position, I noticed a mistake. The entire inside flanged edge of the seal isn't sitting on the top trim piece. For some reason I measured the seal's thickness (½inch) as the dimension for it's width (7/8inch). It forms a partial seal, but I plan to put on another layer of trim to create a full seal.

Before the Thanksgiving holiday, I won two vintage faucets on Ebay, and being the second person to bid, I scored them for a steal...only $23.50 each. I've been searching on Ebay for vintage faucets for most of the year, and saw some nice ones early on. When these popped up, I knew I had to have them, and was willing to pay for it. They look brilliant & weigh a ton.

However, a big downside is they leak in 3 places, and their seal mechanism is a mystery to anyone who looks at it. I figure it will take a while before the are fully functional. They are quite large overall, pretty wide, stick out more, and the bottom of the spout is set lower. I took all of this into consideration when drilling the first two shank holes. If they don't work out, the spacing is for three regular faucets so another one could easily be installed in-between.

These temporary chrome faucets are loaners from a friend who once had a kegerator for commercial beers back in Arizona. He's in the process of getting another one, so I can use these until then. Thanks Isaac, I appreciate your generosity.

What you see here is a functional kegerator, and assembled just in time for our annual New Year's party. The lid was mounted with only 2 screws per hinge because I'll have to drill new ones when the top trim is fixed. The temperature control probe hole was drilled inside the hing cutout. And you can see an unfinished tap handle made by my good friend Erik, which will be sanded smooth and painted.

I have some final decorative elements to put on like a special bottom trim, and a unique home made drip tray. Perhaps some tap handles too. This will be written in the Finale post.

Other posts about this project...

Finding a Home for Kegs
Kegerator Collar - part 1
Kegerator Collar - part 2
Kegerator Collar - part 3
Kegerator Finale

Friday, December 19, 2008

Copper Lager 3

It's a pretty bad ice & snow storm passing straight through Chicago today. Last night Doplar radar showed the storm spanning from Lake Michigan all the way to the eastern boarder of Colorado. Yikes!

But when its freezing outside, lager season once again begins. To start it out right, I'll be brewing my 3rd annual Copper Lager. Years prior, this beer was made up from left over grains, and it was really a great beer no matter what hops were thrown in. This year however, the recipe is created special and with a few twists.

It's orange-copper color will come from Belgian CaraMunich 57L malt. It looks pretty dark and should be a nice replacement for the usual American Crystal. The hops should be a bit more focused with Sterling as bittering, and Perle as flavor/aroma. Also, I decide to throw the bittering hops in at 45 minutes till the end. I'm curious what a touch more hops at that time might do instead of the usual 60 minute addition.

The biggest difference is a change in yeast strain. Because I'll be brewing an Octoberfest lager with this yeast cake, I wanted to try out Wyeast's Octoberfest Lager Blend. I have a feeling it will be similar to the Bavarian strain.

This beer is really a fun one to make, and it has only gotten better every year. I hope these changes will make an even better brew. I may regret not making 9 gallons.

Please read about the others...
Copper Lager 2
Copper Lager 1

Copper Lager 3

8.0 lbs. Organic American 2-Row
2.0 lbs. German Munich
1.0 lbs. Belgian Wheat
.75 lbs. Belgian CaraMunich 57L

.80 oz. Sterling, 5.3%, pellet, 45min
.40 oz. Perle, 5.7%, pellet, 45min
.45 oz. Perle, 5.7%, pellet, 30min
.30 oz. Perle, 5.7%, pellet, 15min
.40 oz. Sterling, 5.3%, pellet, 15min

Wyeast 2633: Octoberfest Lager Blend decanted 24oz. starter

Brew Day Stats

Brewed: 12/19/08
Racked: 1/4/09
Kegged: 1/29/09

Water Adjustment:
Strike: .5 tsp Gypsum, .5 tsp CaCl, .75 tsp Acid Blend
2nd Sparge: .5 tsp Gypsum, .5 tsp CaCl, .25 tsp Epsom, .25 Kosher Salt

H2O/Grain Ratio: 1.25 qt/lb
Mash Ph: 5.1
Sacch. Rest Temp/Time: 152°F/60min
Mash Out Temp/Time: 166°F/10min
1st Batch Vol/SG: 3.85/1.061

2nd Batch Sparge H2OTemp/MashTemp: 183°F/172°F
2nd Batch Vol/SG: 3.65/1.026

Pre-Boil Vol: 7.5 gallons
Pre-Boil SG: 1.044
Boil Time: 90+min
Post-Boil Vol: 6 gallons
Mash Efficiency: 75%

OG: 1.054
IBU: approx. 30
Color/SRM: Copper-Orange/9-11
Ferment Temp: 50°F

FG: 1.018
ABW: 3.8%
ABV: 4.7%


1. Brewing went well. Hit the OG on the mark @ 1.054.
2. I recall the scent of this wort from previous years. Overall, it didn't smell as sweet. Perhaps the Crystal and Melanoidin/Aromatic malts are sweeter than the CarMunich.
3. Made changes to the hops after opening and smelling them. The Perle didn't smell bright and fresh enough, so I put more into bittering and moved some Sterling to the 15 minute position. Either my scale is broke or there was more hops in each 1 ounce package. I measured more than 2 might be a tad more hoppy this time around.
4. There usually is a fairly long lag time before fermentation with this size of yeast starter.
5. After 24 hours, it's a still wort. Just the very smallest sign that something is happening in there...when I swirl the carboy, the airlock bubbles pretty good. The temp is held at about 52°F, and it should pick up in the next 12 hours or so. Not too worried.
6. It's been super cold the past few days, and had to set the thermostat controlled heater up to 60°F just to maintain a temp near 40°F. But today the temp has risen into the 20's outside, and rose up in the porch, and as a result the fermentation temperature rose close to 54°F. Not so critical, and it's going back down slowly.
7. The smell of the fermenting beer is pretty good. A little sulfur notes coming out, and it seems like it'll be a pretty clean beer...not as sweet as the previous Copper Lagers. Pretty exiting to use a new lager yeast!
8. Tasting a carbonated bottle from primary, and a sample at kegging (which has a very subtle amount of carbonation), it does taste remarkably like the first two Copper Lagers. The FG is higher here, and the maltiness is a bit more accentuated, so in a sense it does have a level of sweetness. I thought this yeast would attenuate better.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rhino Rye and the Zen Porter

Both the Rhino Rye and Zen Porter had very similar hopping, and I finally did a side-by-side tasting with new brew friend Devon. As you can see in the photo, they're both drastically different in color, which effectively displays the difference in the malts that made them. There are definite differences, but there's a hoppy element that brings them together.

First of all, the Rhino Rye beer was an experiment that went right. Never did a rye beer like this before, and while pushing the flaked rye to 30%, I also wanted to push the hopping to a point where solid bittering and a fairly full flavor and aroma came through. I like the hoppy rye beers out there, like Two Brother's Cane & Ebel.

I like how the Rhino Rye had everything going on, while being a very light colored beer. The rye came through nicely and the sweetness was smooth without that caramel quality on other pale ales. The choice of hops were both cutting and soft/floral...Cluster and Mt. Hood. A nice combo! And the amount of dry hopping was perfect.

The Zen Porter (robust & dry-hopped), is a full flavored, rich tasting black porter with great body. It's well balanced, sweet and dry qualities are nice. The roast comes mostly from a generous helping of Brown Malt and a more understated portion of black patent and chocolate malts. It's not "roasted" like a stout.

Since the Zen Porter was rich, and I envisioned it being smooth yet sharp in taste, I thought the hopping should be somewhat aggressive. Then the Rhino Rye came to mind. The hop varieties are different, so they come off being a bit more intense. Target and Glacier for bitterness, moving into Cascade and Columbus for flavor and aroma. Overall, the hopping works very well. The bitterness is solid and compliments the black malt, and combined it sets up this beer with a clear hop focus. The first word that comes to mind for both the aroma and flavor green! A unique and robust hop aroma bursts out of the glass and it sort-of takes a bit of getting used to. But after a few tastings, I became hooked and started to crave my unique tasting beer.

Both these beers surprisingly, and quite delightfully, have become two of my favorites this year. Unique in both malts and hops. A hopping strategy that's assertive, yet not overbearing in beers that have interesting/complex malt characters and at a higher level 6% abv.

Please below for more info on each beer.
Rhino Rye
Zen Porter

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Nut Brown Ale 3

I received a message from a friend asking about the possibility of having a beer made for her Dad's 50th birthday bash. He enjoys a quality brew, and a freshly kegged beer will be the perfect addition to a memorable party.

I asked Jenny about what styles he might like, and also gave her some suggestions around the limited selection of hops. Perhaps a hoppy fresh Sterling pale ale, or a rich and dark nut brown ale? Nut brown was her choice, and luckily I had all the ingredients to make a good one.

This version will be very similar to the Nut Brown 2. There are differences in hops, crystal malts, and a touch of Brown malt. The hops here are a bit German, but Tradition hops could possibly pass as Fuggle, and they will go in as the flavor/aroma additions. Sterling should bitter nice and clean. I'm getting ready to brew some kick butt lagers and bought too much CaraMunich malt, so this brew got Belgian and German CaraMunich for caramel sweetness. The brown malt should give this beer a subtle roast complexity.

Overall, we hit the stats pretty close and missed our target OG by 2 points. Not too bad. The higher mash temp could create some sweetness with unfermentables, and a full pound of Carapils should add some body.

Nut Brown Ale 3

9.0 lbs. Organic 2-Row
.75 lbs. Belgian CaraMunich 45L
.25 lbs. German CaraMunich 57L
.50 lbs. Biscuit
.50 lbs. Victory
.24 lbs. Special Roast
.16 lbs. Brown Malt
.50 lbs. UK Chocolate Malt
1.0 lbs. CaraPils

1.0 oz. Sterling, 5.3%, pellet, 60+min
.55 oz. Tradition, 4.6%, pellet, 60+min
.75 oz. Tradition, 4.6%, pellet, 10min
.45 oz. Tradition, 4.6%, pellet, KO

White Labs 005: British Ale

Brew Day Stats

Brewed: 12/14/08
Kegged: 1/6/09

Water Adjustment:
Strike: 1.25 tsp Gypsum, .75 tsp Acid Blend, .5 tsp Chalk
2nd Sparge: .5 tsp Gypsum, .5 tsp CaCl, .25 tsp Kosher Salt, .5 tsp Chalk

H2O/Grain Ratio: 1.3 qt/lb
Mash Ph: 5.2
Sacch. Rest Temp/Time: 155°F/60min
Mash Out Temp/Time: 166°F/10min
1st Batch Vol/SG: 3.8gal/1.060

2nd Batch Sparge H2OTemp/MashTemp: 184°F/169°F
2nd Batch Vol/SG: 3.45gal/1.028

Pre-Boil Vol: 7.25 gallons
Pre-Boil SG: 1.041
Boil Time: 90+min
Post-Boil Vol: 6 gallons
Mash Efficiency: 73%

OG: 1.056
IBU: 30
Color/SRM: Brown/20-24
Ferment Temp: 68°F

FG: 1.021
ABW: 3.7%
ABV: 4.6%


1. This White Labs British ale yeast strain produces a fairly sweet beer with high residual sugars. The FG on both the Spiced Pumpkin Ale and this Nut Brown were both in the 1.020's. It also flocculates very well (like ESB)

2. This wort was poured over the yeast cake from the Spiced Pumpkin Ale. The cake was very thick with some pumpkin mush. There must have been some spiciness in the cake, because this brown ale has a hint of spice in it. Hopefully when its carbonated, the combination of nut brown scents and flavors will blend well with a hint of spice.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Kegerator Collar - part 3

This project has become much more involved and challenging than we both originally planned. But it has been well worth it, even the the one hour drive out to my parents house. I would first take my daughter to her tap dance class, then leave straight from there. She was always excited to go because Grandma was ready to play, bake, make supper, watch a movie, play with sand in a tiny tea set, or just hang out while Grandpa and I were cutting wood.

Well, onto the collar developments. The side exterior panels were first put into loose position with one small finishing nail. They don't have to be fully glued and clamped to the core. Then the front panel was glued, clamped and nailed into position. The mitered corners came together beautifully, and what a relief this was. Having an additional 1/32 of an inch on each end allows these corners to adjust a bit, and they press together tighter when the middle of the panel gets clamped and nailed.

The back panel was then installed in the same way with the lid hinge cutouts positioned towards the top edge. The side panels simply got one nail to hold them on while the mitered corners were glued and clamped. These corners, plus the top trim piece should hold the sides on sufficiently, especially because it isn't a load bearing side.

At this point everything is still coming together nicely, and I can hardly believe we're almost finished. The top trim piece was cut to visually fix what will be an off-centered lid. Since the lid is mounted to the core piece, and the outside wall of the core is about 1/8 inch beyond the wall of the freezer, it will sit back about 1/8th inch. Again, after a few pints, no one would ever notice it. But, we did cut the top trim pieces so that the overhang in the front is 1/8 inch less than the 1/4 inch overhang in the back and sides. That should create enough optical illusion to remedy the problem. Cutting the mitered corners for these pieces was also a little tricky, and we got them looking pretty tight, and a couple rows of caulk and a couple finishing nails will seal and hold it down for good.

With this design (as seen on many collar projects on the web), the collar looks much wider than the freezer. I knew this going in, and decided to accentuate this peculiarity by adding to it. The top trim piece will overhang to create a tiny bit of crown style molding. I think this will look really nice in addition to a decorative leaf carved trim piece along the bottom edge. As with the hinge cutouts in the back panel, we also made these cutouts in the top trim, but this time they were cut much smaller, because the hinge at that point is narrow and doesn't have the flanged bolt anchors.

My Dad went ahead to finish some stain touch-ups, and varnished it in time to take it home after a quiet and relaxing Thankgsgiving feast. It really looks AMAZING! I'm so happy & proud of us, and give thanks that we had this time together, to bond a bit, and to build something that should last a very long time.

In the next post I will talk about mounting the collar and minimizing rocking movements. Some new and old faucets, the spacing, and drilling their shank holes. A final decorative touch. And then onto to the project finale, and New Years party debut.

Other posts about this project...

Finding a Home for Kegs
Kegerator Collar - part 1
Kegerator Collar - part 2
Kegerator Collar - part 4
Kegerator Finale

Monday, December 1, 2008

Blackstrap Root Beer 3

For my third root beer, I decided to stay with the original Blackstrap Root Beer and the Blackstrap Root Beer 2 recipes, but once again lightened the sugars and molassas while taking up the spices a another notch. This batch is brewed for the Seeds of Change Fair Trade Market hosted by Berry United Methodist Church in Lincoln Square. It is a wonderful time & place for buying handmade local & fair trade goods, enjoying homemade foods and treats, being entertained by entertaining entertainers, and mingling with the very best people around town.

The boiling spices smelled fantastic and a bit more intense, but I think it will be really good in the finished sweet soda. I also added a very small amount of vanilla extract to round out the spices. The true test of its goodness will be whether visitors at the Seeds of Change will like it. It will be served on draft and available for sale along side homemade chili, breads, cakes, cookies and treats.

Blackstrap Root Beer 3
Brewed 12/1/08
3 gallons

2.75 cup Organic Evaporated Cane Juice Sugar
2.00 cup Light Brown Sugar
0.20 cup Organic Blackstrap Molassas
5.00 Tbs Malto Dextrin

2.5 Cinnamon Stick, cracked, 30min
.30 oz Licorice Root, 30min
.50 tsp Grains of Paradise, crushed, 30min

1.0 tsp Cassia Buds, crushed, 10min

3.0 Tbs Root Beer Extract
.25 tsp Vanilla Extract

Spices boiled in 1 gallon water for 30 minutes. Turn off heat. Add sugars and extract. Chill in cold water bath in sink. Add to keg. Top off with chilled bottled or filtered water. Force carbonate. That's it.

Tasting Notes

This is it. It tastes very good. Scaling down the sugar was the right thing to do. Its not too sweet anymore, and the molassas isn't overpowering, but builds the complexity of the sugar taste. It seems like the level of sugar can go down while the richness of the molassas slides in for support. The level of spices has come out more, but I like it a lot because there's a good balance between the spice and the sarsaparilla flavor. I have a good feeling it will be tapped out by the end of the day at the Seeds of Change Market.

Now that this is a solid base for a solid root beer, now I can start to fiddle around with additional flavorings like orange, cocoa, herbs, other spices and perhaps dark fruits.