In the pursuit of perfect homebrew, failure still makes beer.


UnSeasonally released seasonals?

Here’s my quick and dirty view on the release of seasonal beers early, e.g. Pumpkin beers in August.

I believe that there’s not much a beer drinker can complain about in this day and age. But, alas, there will always be one bellyacher griping about something. And misery breeds company. So, succinctly, complaining about the seasonal appropriateness of beer releases can toe the line between Aficionado and Snob.

Yes, some beers are by nature seasonal. See: Oktoberfest lagers, winter warmers, summer Radler beers. But season-centric thinking stems from the celebration of ingredients, and ultimately flavors, that are abundant at that time. Therefore, drinking a pumpkin beer in July is much akin to eating a Thanksgiving dinner in March; it’s not the perfect time to indulge, but it’s still goddamn delicious. Ever had breakfast for dinner? It’s about breaking the norm. Go ahead, indulge that craving for vanilla bourbon porter on a summer night! Be bad!

I have a good friend of mine that preaches his year-round love for pumpkin beers in particular. I personally won’t join him most times, but I do respect his resolve. We came up with a hashtag for out-of-season drinking: #drinkwhatyouwantwhenyouwant. Feel free to use it!

All are entitled to an opinion if their own, but on my blog you will probably hear mine. Thoughts?


Blending Beers with Style

I came across some interesting trivia about a perennial favorite beer of mine, always a good choice when there’s nothing of interest nearby: Guinness Irish Stout. Yes, of course, it makes for a great St. Paddy’s day overindulgence, but it is, quite simply, the best and most widely known example of the style and is quite an interesting beer. The consumption of some Guinness the other night prompted the consumption of a very interesting fact/legend (since I couldn’t find a Guinness-direct reference, there is no official recipe posted by the brewery): brewers extract about 3% of the mash, SOUR that beer, then add it back to the secondary fermenter after boiling it for sterility. This gives that black heady treat a signature “tang,” non-reproducible by those unaware of this uncommon style component. After repeated confirmation of this tang, I wanted to dive a little deeper into the history of Irish stout and other beers that are blended for stylistic reasons.


BABES in Boston: Off-Flavors Education for the Masses

What kind of fellow, in his right mind, would pay a local club good American dollars to drink bad-tasting beer? The kind of fellow that has had his fair share of home-brew shortcomings, and would like to learn more about what certain flavors mean in a beer. I had the opportunity to drink some Siebel Institute samples with the BABES club – Boston Area Beer Enthusiast Society.


Pumpkin Beer – to Spike or Not to Spike?

So I’m not quite into the newfangled beer cocktail / beertail (for all you fans of merds) scene. This trend seems to be growing exponentially in a tiny sector of an already very niche category of beer drinkers. But this idea may be just crazy enough to work.


Insight into my obsession with barrel-aged beers

If you haven’t tried a barrel-aged beer like Innis & Gunn, you’re truly missing out. Complexity, oaky flavors, rum spiciness, or whiskey sweetness… whichever way you like it, it’s there for the tasting. Here’s a little article about this growing trend in craft beer and why it’s so freaking awesome. (more…)

Samuel Adams Barrel Series, Special Tasting: 13th Hour Imperial Stout

The fabled Sam Adams Barrel Room, Tun #1

I was lucky enough yesterday, thanks to the folks at Pintley, to draw a chance to attend a private release party for Sam Adams tentative new offering, 13th Hour Imperial Stout. I say “tentative” because they don’t know how or when it will be released yet. I got to zip over to the Sam Adams Brewery today after work for this event, and what a fantastic event it was.

The 13th Hour Imperial Stout is a funky derivation on an “old” standby, the imperial stout. After talking to Andrew, a staff brewer at Sam Adams, I gathered that they decided in order to round out the bitterness of the usual recipes of a stout, they would add something funky to it: Brett and Lacto. Oak barrels purchased from Portuguese spirit-makers and stacked away in the Barrel Room, a room that is almost never opened to the regular tourists (but boy am I a lucky man!), were borne with these brewer’s magic creatures to sour the beer. Multiple batches of the Imperial Stout Recipe were aged for periods of time and blended together for the idealized flavor profile, and 140 BBL of the brew was kept under lock and key.

After having the opportunity to taste this bewitched brew, I have agree that the Brett and Lacto souring flavors added an interesting dimension to the stout, laying solidly on the palatte in front of the characteristic bitterness and dark, fruity, coffee malt flavor; this sour tinge gave a new angle of enjoyment to a style that is already one of my favorites. It’s definitely not a beer for everyday drinking, but it’s a great piece of brew to share with friends, and paired nicely with the sharp cheddar, the dark chocolate, and the salted caramel belgian waffles (yep, that’s right, be jealous) they offered free with the release party.

A sample cup of 13th Hour, so funky it sounds like an Earth, Wind, and Fire "Best Of" album.

Apart from the beer tasting, we were able to cast our vote for one of two unreleased beers from Sam Adams, an Oaked Amber or a Maple Pecan Porter. The voting has been going on  since the spring, and will end in October, and the winner will be offered as a component of the Winter Variety Pack. I personally voted for the Maple Pecan Porter, but I was told that the Oaked Amber has “gathered a large following” already and will probably win.

The choices for "People's Taste" or something... whatever, it was free beer.

We also took some silly pictures in the Biergarten.

Hop vines stripped clean of their wares

Quite tasty, old chap, cheerio!

Trying to sneak *out* of the Biergarten? What a lunk.

All in all, every little bit the experience I was looking for! Thanks again to Pintley for the heads up!

A collaboration for Japan tragedy victims

A textual revolution

I just very recently had a birthday (hooray me!), and for my family’s gifts I asked for one of a number of beer-brewing topic texts. Of all people, my 70-something-year-old Nana decided to show her support for my habit, although faux pax by old-fashioned terms. With a blessing of “I won’t drink any of it, I’m more of a Manhattan gal” I received into my hands a shiny new copy of John P. Palmer’s How to Brew. If C. Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing is regarded as the homebrewer’s bible, Palmer’s book is equivalent to the expanded, annotated, prize-inside-the-box version of the bible. You know, for enthusiastic fans of religion.

Probably available at your local beer supply store, or online at!

Even though my family doesn’t understand how I could READ anything so monotonous, I dove right in. I’m constantly looking for ways to improve my brewing skills. Just because I have a good batch or two doesn’t mean I’m Sam Caliglione (Dogfish Head). My most recent beer, WeizGuy Weizenbock, could definitely be improved. Instead of tasting dark, fruity, and handsome, it tasted like chewing on a piece of 12-grain bread and was a little rough around the edges. Luckily for me, I have 6 bottle-conditioning bombers ready for the test of time.

Even if the beer I just made was great, I still always have room to improve in my process. J. Palmer helps me learn the whats, hows, and whys. Here’s a list of a few things that I plan to change / make for my next batch, hopefully to come in a week’s time.

  • Cleaning and Sanitization – it’s every bit as important as I always thought it was. But I’ve been having some trouble with cleaning itty bits of equipment, namely small-diameter hoses (beerstone residue) and racking canes. How to Brew recommends percarbonate solutions, or OxyClean-like products, for their removal. Soaking the parts overnight in OxyClean, bleach solution (hypochlorite), or even something like CLR (oxalic acidic cleaner with phosphoric and/or nitric acid) can help prevent stains and deposits on anything from hoses to brewpots.
  • Record keeping – I’ve done a decent job keeping up with record keeping using this blog, BrewPal for iPhone iOS (seriously well-spent $0.99), and various little notebooks and napkins. However, in the future it would be nice to have an Excel-based spreadsheet recipe record. If I create this, I’ll make sure I attach it to a post so you ALL can have it (all my fans out there… chirp chirp…).
  • Extract Brewing – I haven’t done enough of this. I’m an habitual partial extract brewer with hopes and dreams of going all-grain in the future, but that takes time, space, and money. Because I’m moving into apartments on at longest a 12-month basis, maybe all-grain isn’t the best way to go for now. Extract brewing is also cheaper by far – I usually pay about $1.10 a beer on a basis of roughly  48 bottles per 5-gallon batch – and much quicker. It could also allow process-centric practice for all the little brewery its-and-bits. Any opportunity for homebrew practice is a good opportunity.
  • Hops and AAU/IBU calculations – I LOVE MATH. Especially Beer Math. I’ve always paid half-attention to alpha-acid percent in hops, and I like using whole-cone hops in my brews when financially possible. But getting down to the nitty-gritty math of it all can be a little bit overwhelming for the bro-tacular brewer. Here’s a few simple rules of thumb, taken directly from J. Palmer:
    • Alpha Acid Units (AAUs) are the standard unit of stating hop additions to your brew. It’s a system that allows for substitution of different hops for flavor without sacrificing bitterness, and it also allows for variable hop oil bitterness ratings for yearly hop crops (a.k.a., Centential 2011 may be more fruitful in oil than Centential 2012). To keep consistency, AAUs are used to describe how much alpha your beer gets from the hops.AAU = (%alpha)(weight in oz)For Example: 1.5oz of Cascade hops (5% alpha) in AAU: (5)(1.5) = 7.5 AAUs.
    • International Bittering Units (IBUs) are more commonly used in describing the actual beer as to how bitter it is. IBU is actually a measurement of how isomerized the alpha acids in the wort become as you boil it, which is also affected by the gravity (sugar content) of the initial wort boil. Isomerized alpha acids impart bitterness, ergo the more IBUs the more bitterness. These equations are complicated, and mostly empirical (fit to lots of test data) according to a scientist named Greg Tinseth who loves him some hops. If you want these equations, you can look up the tables on Google because I’m too lazy to type them. Or, you could just buy the damn book and look for yourself.
  • Fermeting conditions – I learned a lot here that can make my brewing SO much better.
    • The Hot Break– feared and respected, boilovers are a real thing. They don’t have to happen. The break is caused by the precipitation and coagulation of large proteins, which if you’re not careful will precipitate onto your stove or your pot. You can put a few copper pennies in the pot to act as nucleation sites and create more even, controlled boiling.Once these proteins do their egg-drop-soup thing and sink back into the wort, you can whirlpool them into the center of your finished wort and suck them out with a sanitized turkey baster. This will clarify your beer and reduce the size of the trub in the carboy. It’s not a bad thing if a little bit of hot break gets into the fermentor, but not the whole goddamn thing. I made this mistake with WeizGuy.
    • Wort cooling – quick wort cooling is very important apparently. Longer wort cooling times expose the wort to more chance for contamination and for dimethyl sulfoxide (DMS) precursors to be produced in the wort, which will become DMS given enough time and heat. Chilling quickly also makes the “cold break,” yet another protein precipitation. These proteins don’t necessarily affect the flavor of the beer, but create a haze when chilled in the final product and contribute to early staleing reactions. You can cool quickly with an ice bath, or a cooling coil (made from copper tubing and hose parts), or by bringing it to the FreezeMizer – whichever is most convenient. With ManofSteele’s hefeweizen, we left it overnight in the basement to cool – which I guess wasn’t a good idea. Oh well, chalk it up to the adventure.
    • Yeast pitching – higher gravity beers (1.060 and over) can benefit from a double-pitch of yeast for assurance that all healthy cells necessary are available for sugar conversion. I can grow my starter a couple of days in advance for this purpose.
    • Mid-summer brewing – the temperature in my basement is around 76-78F. My fermentors are brewing consistently around 76F in the summer, which is almost the “orgy of fermentation” that Palmer describes as too-high-temperature-fermenting. Lots of little metabolites (by-products) can be produced by yeast if it’s kept too warm. In the case of hefeweizen this is OK, since we’re looking for those banana & clove flavors – so our Hefe is safe – but in most beers this is bad. WeizGuy just got a little dumber. I need to look into a cooling system for my fermentors in the mid-summer months, which may just consist of putting them in front of the air conditioner. Classy and inexpensive, plus the whole house will smell of fermentation! Yum. (not so much for my roommate…)

I’m only a third of the way through this book. Lets hope I don’t become addicted.

Summer Impromtu Brew Days!

Set the scene: a future roommate stores beer ingredients at your house for more than 2 months. One day he calls you asking desperately for a homebrew fix. Like a halfway house, you’ll oblige him this one time as long as it gets him off his homebrew bender. But like a fellow addict, you’ll sit right beside him and help him inject straight liquid homebrew goodness into his veins.

My brew partner, ManofSteele, is this future roommate. We are brewing two different beer recipes the these two nights – a hefewizen and a wiezenbock.

Hefewizen is a fruity, clove-nosed lighter summer style beer hailing from south German and is a classic example of wheat beer. It’s defined as 50:50 wheat:anything else malt. Beers such as Weihenstephaner, Paulner, and Berkshire Hefeweizen are a few recognizable names. It’s an “unfiltered” beer, with the Bavarian Hefeweizen yeast floating suspensfully in the beer naturally (“Hefe” means “with yeast” in German). This property also makes hefewizens a great beer to bottle-condition and then harvest the yeast for another go at homebrewed hefeweizen.

A few hefeweizens you may or may not recognize. But you should get to know them.

Weizenbock is, as defined by Beer Advocate, “A more powerful Dunkel Weizen (of “bock strength”), with a pronounced estery
alcohol character, perhaps some spiciness from this, and bolder and more complex malt characters of dark fruits.” To me, this means a full-bodied, fruit-tinted beer that is a perfect, heavy compliment to a lighter hefeweizen. I also was intrigued earlier this year by one man’s quest to live entirely off of bock beer. I’d like to make a bock beer, but skip the “live off it” part.

My favorite weizenbock, Gutmann. Try it.

While drinking the majority of a Victory Brewing Variety Pack (Golden Monkey, HopDevil, and Prima Pils) we boldly went where no weekend warrior has been – Weekday Night Impromptu Brew Sessions.

It should be mentioned that Wednesday in attendance were several spectators and beer consumers: Dossmaster, Alainebelaine, and J-Money Strutter. Wednesday night, we brew ManofSteele’s hefeweizen creation TBDOANL (to be decided on a name later). Thursday night, we brew WeizGuy Weizenbock.

A little live beer blogging for you:

“ManofSteele’s Hefeweizen” (He doesn’t like to name his beers before he drinks them. It comes to him in a moment of sobriety pre-homebrew consumption)

1.0 lb. Bavarian Wheat
0.7 lb. German Pils
6.0 lb. Bavarian Wheat DME (65% wheat 35% amber)
0.9 oz Saaz hops (60min)

Mash: 30min@130F, 30min@145F , 15min@165F .
Boil: 75min, Sazz addtion @ 60min.

7/6/11 8:40PM– We had the closest-to-boilover experience I’ve ever had at my current place of residence. It was harrowing. It was nervewracking. I bit off all my nails. But we survived without spilling a drop!

7/6/11 10:05PM – At around 15 minutes, we had a second boiling. I added 2L of cold water to the boil to calm the boil and make sure the color was sustained. We’ll see what it looks like when I pitch the yeast tomorrow morning early.

7/7/11 6:45AM – I’ve reconstituted the dry Munich yeast from ManofSteele’s ingredients bag. 1 cup of warm ~105F water, stirred and let to come to room temp. The fermentor, which was in the keg fridge to facilitate overnight cooling, was removed and recorded at a temperature of 72F for pitching. We didn’t separate the hot-break out of the wort before pouring it in the fermentor, which all settled at the bottom anyways. I’m not sure how to separate it using my current system… any suggestions? The color is also a little brown, which I think is attributed to ManofSteele’s insistence on a 90-minute boil. We didn’t really know what we were doing! 45-min boil would be better next time.

12:55PM 7/7/11– Doing a little research while running a few work things. Using my BrewPal app on the iPhone (All iPhone-holding  homebrewers should GET THIS APP.) I found that hefeweizens should have a 5gal keg pressure of 25-35 psi for proper carbonation. I put my Hefelumps and Whoopsles at 12psi, and I thought I was pushing it. Oh well, we’ll do it right this time!

“Momobono’s WeizGuy Weizenbock”

1.0 lb. 40L Crystal
0.25 lb. Chocolate
0.25 lb. CaraAmber
6.6 lb. Bavarian Wheat DME (65% wheat 35% amber)
2.0 oz Spalt hops (60min)
1.0 oz Mt. Hood hops (5min)
1.0 oz Mt. Hood hops (2min)

Mash: 30min@160F .
Boil: 60min, Spalt addtion @ 60min, Mt. Hood additions @ 5, 2min.

6:00PM 7/7/11 – Meeting for brew day 2 of 2, I don’t see much action on the hefeweizen. Might have pitched too low of a cell count with only 1 packet of dry yeast – BrewPal is telling me we needed 2. We soldier on anyhow, with some ACME California IPAs and leftover UFOs from yesterday. Today’s recipe will be a lot less time-intensive, so hopefully we’ll be outta here more quickly than yesterday. I pitched the yeast into my starter and plopped it on the stir plate.

8:30PM 7/7/11 – HOLY CRAP we almost boiled over again. It wasn’t so much the liquid boilover as much the foam resulting from trapped steam in such a high-sugar wort. We were able to tame it down with some skillful wort spoon action, literally “crafting” the wort back down into its rightful place – the pot – and not onto my stove top. I have no money in my budget for industrial Brillo pads. Maybe need to invest in a larger, more homebrew-designed pot rather than a 20qt. lobster pot. 20qt. capacity doesn’t leave much room for error during a 12qt. boil.

Get back in your pot, Weiz Guy!

9:30PM 7/7/11– Finished the boil – looks nice and dark. We strained the hop particles out of the wort while pouring into the fermentor, adding 2L of cold water in between wort pours until we reached 5 gallons. This seems like a much better way to transfer and cool rather than put it all into the carboy at once. I mopped my floor because it was sticky and smelled like a brewery.

Full fermentor and ready for con-beer-sion into alcohol.

6:30AM 7/8/11 – Crash cooled my yeast starter, to settle all the cells out of solution. The “hefebrownweizen” has some serious yeast action on it – 24h post pitching, which is ok by me.

Some straight vacation beer lovin

I know it’s been a bit before I’ve had a post, but I’ve been busy on vacation. It’s too bad, but I’ve had another homebrew batch done, the emptying of my keg for the first time, filling it again, a 60 gallon brew for national Homebrew Day, and other side adventures I haven’t caught up on. But hey, if you were me looking at this weather, you wouldn’t feel like blogging either.

While I was here, I went to the local Marco island brewery. What a beer list! Obviously a rare treat in such a touristy area, they had a two-page craft beer list including Southern Tier, Clown Shoes, Victory, Loose Cannon, Brekeneidge, Left Hand, Magic Hat, and about 15 other breweries represented there. Amazing.

Though it was nice to see craft gaining popularity in Florida, a notoriously low craft state, I stuck with the pub-brewed beers. Mom got a sampler (rare) and I was able to taste their pilsner, Belgian white, and red ale. All relatively simple and well done, the exact kind of beers to down on a hot afternoon.

The assistant brewer Dustin and the head brewer John showed me their setup, which was simple and effective – 5 primaries at a barrel apiece, and they served carbonated directly from those vessels. Carbonation was pumped directly into the fermenters, and once they emptied they were cleaned in-place. All water pumped to the beer was treated through a charcoal filter or reverse osmosis before being used, since Florida water was very chlorinated and bad for beer.

Great trip either way, and it was worth it to see mom make a face when she tried Southern Tier 2x.

Catch you later from Paradise!