Archive for the ‘Brew Session’ Category

Brew Day!!

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

20121104-164325.jpgIt was over 70 degrees in the HMB today with perfect clear skies. I could think of NOTHING better to do than crank up some Good ‘Ol Grateful Dead and fire up the brew rig for a lazy session! Good times were had.

Give a Man a Brew and He Drinks For a Day, Teach a Man to Brew…

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Me and my old 5 gallon 'ghetto rig'

My old 5 gallon 'ghetto rig'

Another old saying is, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach”. I’ve always thought that was total BS. It really should be, “If you can’t teach it, you don’t really know how to do it”. Perhaps that comes from being married to a teacher. More likely it comes from years of dealing with people who, despite their title or position, can’t tell you a thing about what they do or how they do it. So Every year I put my “know-how” to the test and teach a brewing class at my house. The school where my wife works has an annual auction and for the past three years, I put the class up as an item for bid. I’ve always had several takers and while it raises money for the school, it also gives me the opportunity to see if I can really impart whatever knowledge I feel that I’ve gained about brewing to a typically uninitiated audience.

In my regular life, I’m a software engineer, and working with less experienced engineers, mentoring them and bringing them up to speed is fairly commonplace. It’s not typically difficult to do because they have a understanding of engineering and coding principles, etc. I find that teaching someone to brew can be far more difficult. They typically have no previous background in brewing. They generally don’t even know the main components that go into a brew, the equipment needed, why the need to sanitize anything. It’s truly a blank slate. From the perspective of the “student” it must be a bit daunting. I can remember starting out, but it’s been so long ago that I really can’t quite recall that exact look of wonder I must have had walking into the brew store for the first time.

Comic Book Store Guy

Do NOT be this guy

So start off slow. Don’t assume knowledge the new brewer simply could not have. Explain everything you’re doing and why. Whatever you do, do NOT try to come off as the super brew master, regardless of how many awards you’ve won, or how good everyone says your beer is, you will end up sounding like the Comic Book Store Owner from the Simpsons. You’ll lose your class before you even begin. I begin by talking about all the dumb mistakes I made starting out. I explain how I overcame certain flaws in my process and that by no means is the current process I use the perfect one. A little humility goes a long way and sets the newbie at ease. If a mistake gets made while you’re brewing, then call it out and use it as an opportunity to show how easy it is to screw something up, and how to fix it. Did you miss your starting gravity? Why? How could you go about fixing it? Why does specific gravity matter in the first place…

What I’ve found is that most people who express an interest in brewing don’t usually go on to become brewers themselves. Be it a time commitment, the amount of gear needed, whatever, they just can’t make the jump. But then there are the few who do and there is nothing better than seeing that person complete their first brew and watch it all with a bit of pride knowing you helped kick-off this new passion. Teach someone to brew. It will make you a better brewer and you just may end up being responsible for the next award winning brew master! You never know!

“Letters to a Young Brewer” or, “Unsolicited Advice You Didn’t Know You Needed”

Monday, September 13th, 2010

When I don’t get the chance to brew for several weeks in a row (my wife keeps us on the move pretty much constantly in the summer) I spend some time scanning the homebrew forums, looking for insights. Sometimes I find them, most the time I just find anecdotal BS passed off as wisdom, but hey, it’s the internests, so take it as it comes. I very often see posts by new brewers asking a series of questions that the seasoned vets among us don’t spend much time thinking about, but probably should.  So I thought I might do a quick rundown of the things I’ve learned brewing and pass along my own anecdotal BS wisdom. I think I may do this as a weekly.

Fermentation practices seem to scare the bejesus out of new brewers, perhaps rightly so, but I see lots of hand-wringing about it on the forums, so I thought I’d start there.

It can be said that sanitation in all elements of brewing is the most important thing you can do at all times, and you would be correct. However, if you accidentally touch the wort when transferring it to the kettle, or have to scoop out a stupid bee that decided to end it all by kamikazeing into your collection vessel (don’t ask), the boil will take care of most issues such as this. Do feel free to stomp on the bee and swear at its mangled corps once you have it out of the wort. No one could blame you for that. However, once the boil is done and the cooled wort is transferred to the fermenter, there is no safety net. I follow a few steps to mitigate contamination in the fermenter:

  1. Right about the time I have the boil started and the first charge of hops thrown in, I retrieve the fermenter(s) and give them a quick rinse just to get out any dust or loose “stuff” that may be hanging out.
  2. I fill them about 1/3 full of warm water and dump in about 5 tbsp of PBW powder, swish it around in the fermenter until I feel it’s mostly in solution, then fill it up the rest of the way.  I’ll let the fermenters sit like this for about 45 minutes while the boil is going on.
  3. After a good scrub with a cleaning brush, I then dump and rise the fermenters with warm water.  I usually rinse 2 or 3 times with about a 1/2 gallon of warm water each time to be sure the PBW is out.
  4. I then mix up a 1/2 gallon of warm water with about a tbsp of Star San, dump it in the fermenter, cap the fermenter with aluminum foil, then swish the sanitizer all around the vessel.  At this point, you have done about all you can to insure that there are no “bugs” in your fermenters.
  5. Just before I move the chilled wort to the fermenter, I give the sanitizer one more swish around, dump out the excess (no rinse needed for Star San), then drain in the wort from the kettle into the fermenter.  From that point you can add the yeast and aerate the wort by your preferred  method, cap with your airlock and store it for the primary fermentation.

Happy brewing!

Oak – I’m a fan

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Having become a big fan of Firestone Walker’s Pale 31, I decided to mimic the oak aging by throwing some oak chips in the fermenter just after primary fermentation had completed.  I went with just one ounce of oak chips (normally, I would use two ounces) the idea being that since it’s a pale ale, I didn’t want it to be overwhelmed by the oak flavor.  10 days later, I racked it to the keg and I am very pleased with how it turned out!   There is a hint of oak behind the hops which gives it a slight cream flavor while still staying very much a pale ale.   This is an odd hop schedule for this beer, but it turned out so well that I will definitely brew it again!

Pale 42

OG: 1.053, FG: 1.012

ABV: 5.3%, IBUs: 35

Color: 7.8L, 5 gallons

Strike target: 152 F, Sparge: 168 F

Yeast: WL 001, or Nottingham

Ferment 7 – 14 days at 67 F

Grain Bill

10.0 lbs 2-row (83.3%)

1.00 lbs Munich (8.3%)

0.50 lbs Crystal 60L (4.2%)

0.50 lbs CaraPils (4.2%)


1.00 oz Kent Goldings (5% AA) First wort hop

0.75 oz Centennial (10.4% AA) 15 min

0.75 oz Cascade (6.9% AA) 15 min

0.75 oz Chinook (13% AA) 15 min

1.00 oz Centennial (10.4%) Dry hop

1.00 oz Cascade (6.9% AA) Dry hop

1.00 oz Chinook (13% AA) Dry hop


1 tsp Irish moss or 1 tablet Wirlfloc 15 min


1 oz oak chips after primary fermentation has completed

Brewing a N. English Brown. Haters gonna hate!

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

It seems a good brown ale takes a back seat in this country to the Pale Ale, IPA and even the American Amber. I really find this bizarre. While the American Ambers are a fine beverage, the English Brown, if you can get a good one, outshines it’s amber cousin with some depth of malt complexities that most ambers seek to avoid. I’d put a nice Samuel Smith up against a Fat Tire any day, but like everything, it’s completely subjective. Judge for yourself! I’d encourage anyone willing to give it a go to brew up a nice English Brown and try it for themselves!

Northern English Brown Ale (5 Gallons)
OG: 1.052 FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.3% IBU:27
Color: 16.0L
Strike: 152F Sparge: 168F
Ferment: 67F for 7 – 10 days

Grain Bill
9.25lbs Maris Otter (83%)
0.75lbs Special Roast (6.4%)
0.50lbs Crystal 40L (4.3%)
0.50lbs Victory (4.3%)
0.25lbs Pale Chocolate (2.1%)

1.5oz Kent Goldings (5%) 60 min
0.5oz Kent Goldings (5%) 5 min

1tsp Irish Moss or 1 tablet Wirlfloc 10 min

So How Much Does it Cost to Brew?

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

I get this question over and over and it’s a fair one. So finally, on this last brew, I did a cost breakdown just to see. This is purely a cost/10g batch. I don’t factor in equipment and I left out water usage since everyone has different water rates. I figure for a 10 gallon batch I use about 35 gallons of water. That accounts for water left in the mash tun, evaporation, cleaning and so on. I took my most grain intensive recipe (just for a “worst case” cost) and created a breakdown. In the last column I break the costs down by 12oz bottle since non-brewers tend to think in 12oz increments. For quick reference, I list cost per 6-pack and 24 case, again for the benefit of non-brewers (click the image for a larger version):

Brew cost for my IPA recipe

Brew cost for my IPA recipe

So there you go, it’s roughly $0.65/12oz bottle. You’ll note that this does not include labor. My best time on a batch of this size is about 4.5 hours. (Including setup/tear-down). You could argue that adding labor would double, or even triple the cost, but c’mon, it’s a freakin’ hobby!

Nice weekend, gotta brew!

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

Finally getting back down to business and brewing again! I actually managed to sneak in an IPA brew session a few months back and it came out extremely good and went extremely fast, so I think I’ll do it again and this time keep it a little more quiet! Check the recipe here.

Finally brewed this weekend, CRIPES!

Monday, August 25th, 2008

So its been something like 3 months since I’ve had an opportunity to fire up the ghetto brew rig and get it done! I messed about with a Arctic Red clone recipe a bit and was even able to use 1/2 an ounce of the 1.5 ounces of Cascade hops that came from my hop garden! Its bubbling away in the fermenter this morning and I’m managing to keep it around 68 degrees. Just a short 3 weeks to go before the kegerator get’s fed again!