The Lemon Balm Bomb


This Spring, encouraged by the folks I work with at Traditional Medicinals to brew an herbal brew I finally took the plunge. Because Lemon Balm grows with wild abandon in my yard, and fresh it has a lemony aroma, I chose it as my first herbal beer. Some time ago I made a lemon balm tincture, by simply stuffing fresh lemon balm leaves into a mason jar and filling it to the top with vodka. It captured the aromatic of the lemon balm as well its other qualities, while it has many, it also acts as herbal tranquilizer and with the alcohol you get a double whammy.  I found it so helpful that I went through it rather quickly. Lemon balm also has antiviral properties as well. I’ve also thought that this was also an excellent way to introduce the aromatic qualities to the beer rather than boil the herb and lose aromatics.

For guidance I used a recipe from Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers by Stephen Harrod Buhner dating back to 1827. According to the book Lemon balm was widely used in beers and ales for it’s the qualities that have been mentioned. The first task was to convert the recipe to the measurements and style of brewing that I do. All of the beers that I brew use barley malt as the fermentable sugar. The fermentable sugar used in the lemon balm recipes was Brown sugar. In many early recipes sugar and malt syrup were used with the understanding that cane sugar would impart a cidery flavor if over used. I wondered what 100% sugar would taste like. Brown sugar has a molasses flavor that imparts some complimentary profiles. The resulting brew did remind of my earlier sugar and malt brews. The flavor was pleasant and drinkable enough, the effect was very different, relaxing and mildly euphoric.

The original recipe did not specify a yeast, something about yeast on bread, in 1827 yeast had not been identified as the source of fermentation. I used an English ale yeast which petered out due to the high alcohol content of the brew. This is known as a stuck fermentation, when fermentation stops despite the presence of fermentable sugar.  At a loss for what to do I went to The Beverage People, where Nancy Vineyard gave me a dry ale yeast and advice to add yeast nutrients. It worked, then carbonation seemed to not be happening. Again back to The Beverage People, where Claire, one the helpful staff gave simple advice that worked. Rock the bottles gently to stir up the sediment and put them in a warm place, such the top of a refrigerator.   That to worked and I found the beer to be very relaxing, though the flavor, while nice, was not the taste of hops that I had acquired. So far others have found the taste to be pleasant.

It was a Home Brew Christmas

Cider glass 001This Christmas I was happy to have two home brew libations on tap: Cider made of Apples and Pears from the orchard and Porter. While the Porter was appreciated by those who love dark beers, the Cider was the star. Part of it I’m sure was the novelty of all the ingredients were gathered within a stones throw of the house and it was homemade. The best endorsement was from my niece Anna, visiting from New Mexico with her boyfriend. She had been trying different ciders finding most of them either too sweet or too dry. Mine was apparently just right, as she exclaimed “Good job, Uncle!

I was also able to give away gifts of my labors to my friends for the first time in awhile. A few had been asking about the status of my home brew. Well the drought is over and I was able to deliver which really felt good. Especially since all expressed an appreciation of receiving some thing that I had made by hand. Many had tried my brews before and were looking forward to the next one. It is also an opportunity to discover what folks like. There are the wine drinkers, the beer drinkers, those that will drink anything and those that don’t drink at all. Many but not all of the wine drinkers would try the cider. Of the beer drinkers there were many varieties light beer drinkers, who prefer lagers with a little hops. Then the opposite those liked robust hoppy ales and nothing else. Of course there were variations in between. To all of them I wish you Happy Holidays!

Double Brew after Thanksgiving

I took some time off around Thanksgiving to catch up on my firewood supply and then brewed some beer for the first time in months. I chose a wet hop IPA  recipe and a Porter recipe that I will add some home grown raspberries into five gallons of the ten gallon batch. This will be the first time I have ever added fruit to a beer. I generally avoid drinking fruit beers and never considered brewing one until my internet marketing coach, Geoff Hoff raved about his brother’s raspberry stout. Well it took a couple of years for me to decide to do it. The sad part is I had procured the ingredients and found a recipe when I learned of Geoff’s departure from this reality a few days before.So I make this in Geoff’s memory for without his guidance I would never had been able to create this website. I have never known anyone as patient as Geoff and lament the loss, for there should be more people like Geoff not fewer. The Buddhists, I’ve been told believe the spirit lingers on earth for forty days before it moves on. Perhaps it was his spirit whispering in my ear to brew the beer. I don’t know, but I will tell you that I feel he is guiding me still. I was working on a sales page for a book he encouraged me to write. Though I admit feeling lost for a few days, a new determination to finish what we started has emerged. Resources are appearing that give hope, but I deeply regret that he isn’t on this plane of existence to share in its completion.

I kegged five gallons of the porter after only two weeks and even though young by most standards, it tastes great. I used and English wit yeast recommended by Joe Hirt-Hansen of the Beverage People which does its job very quickly. Which is why the Porter was ready for quaffing so soon. The IPA was tasty and clear when I drew a sample for a gravity reading. I’m letting it lager for a little while before I keg it. I’ve kegged two five gallon batches of cider, one was served for Thanksgiving and received rave reviews from our son, the bar manager for an upscale restaurant in town. His knowledge of all beverages alcoholic makes his endorsement all the more special. We have other family members who are making cider from their own apples. It is heart warming to watch others find the joy in making their own brew. I hope you find yours if you feel so inclined. To find out more download my free book. Cheers

Cider Thoughts

This time of year I usually focus on cider because the apples and pears in my orchard are ripe.  In my last post I mentioned using some store bought cider to augment the juice in my fermenter. In a way it feels like cheating but when I thought about it today, I realized it actually my be easier and cheaper time wise, though not as crafty and as authentic as the hand press hodgepodge of fruit I use in most of  my cider. Then I remembered that one of the most popular ciders on the market uses concentrated juice from China. I also have to admit that I find most of the ciders I have tasted are far too sweet for me, but then I tend to like my cider on the dry side using champagne yeast. The juice I used is organic at 8 bucks a gallon. The total cost of the juice for a five gallon batch is 44 dollars (I allow an extra 1/2 gallon for the sediment and spillage). Then I did some math coming up with 74 cents a 12 ounce bottle. I figured a six pack of cider would be at least 8 bucks, which came to $1.59 per bottle, more than twice the price. I realize that I’m not figuring in time,  yeast and a couple of other things that are cheap. There is one factor here that trumps everything in favor of the home brewed product.

You know everything about the ingredients, the process and had control over how it turned out. You know next to nothing about where the apples came from, what pesticides were used, and what chemicals were used in processing an off the shelf cider unless it proclaims itself as organic. I really look forward to my first glass of cider in the season. I guess I’m expecting the bitterness of hops in a beer, not the tartness of apples, by time I’m halfway or less through the glass my taste buds are in sync and ready for another. I’ll be kegging my first batch soon, I’ll let you know how it turns out.



Pressing Apples and Pears, oh my!


This last Saturday I pressed enough apples and pears from the orchard by my house to make three and a half gallons of juice. I’m not sure what this combination is called, apple juice is cider and pear is called Perry, so is it apple/Perry? The last couple of times I pressed apples I’ve ended up with a muscle tension headache the next day. This is probably due, I’ve surmised to the fact that I’m trying to squeeze every last drop out of the apple mash with screw. It didn’t seem like a strain but who knows, besides in a months’ time after a delicious sip of cider this discomfort will be but a distant memory.

Most of the apples and pears had been sitting in the fridge for a while and needed to be processed, as a few had spoiled. After sorting washing and cutting out the bad spots the remaining fruit was run through the grinder, now motorized thank god or I’d have been a basket case the next day. I ran the pomace through again after pressing to see if an extra drop or two could be coaxed out. To my surprise almost a gallon was reclaimed.

I had also purchased two gallons of organic apple juice that was just over its expiration date adding yet more pressure to make cider this weekend. This I poured into the carboy with the other juice, which was a darker color the store bought cider, added Camden tablets to ensure against unwanted contamination. After a gravity test, the result being .057 I added a champagne yeast, Prisse de Mouse, as I like a dry cider. The Carboy is bubbling away nicely, I look forward to tasting the cider in a month or two.

An Apple A Day


It is Cider making time on Palmer Creek. Hard Cider that is.

The apple tree of life is still holding onto its apples and will do so for another month.

I give this tree its name because of all of the trees we have this produces the best apples for the longest period of time with amazing yields. I already have 10 gallons of cider ready to be bottled that is a mixture of pears, and three other apple varieties. The pear tree is a French variety canning pear that is also prolific and not really sweet. I suspect that my cider is not super strong on the alcohol front, but has always had a nice flavor.

This last batch I will work on this weekend will probably total three gallons and I will two gallons of Organic apple juice as a backup. I will keep you posted on the progress of all of the Cider batches. Till next time.

Saying Farewell to my Brewing Mentor

IMG_0030 (1)I never really knew how to brew decent beer consistently until I took a class from Byron Burch in 1999 at the Santa Rosa Junior College. I had dropped by his shop he confounded with Nancy Vineyard, and found out about the class. Prior to the class I had brewed off and on since 1971, more off than on, due to fact that my results were 50/50 not good odds considering all the time and trouble it took to make the beer. I must say though one of my favorite batches was a beer that grandfather tried and liked very much six months before he died. Try as I might I never quite replicated that brewing success until Byron’s class. It was a beginner’s class starting with extract brewing the easiest way to get started. From there it was all grain class held on the back porch of Byron’s house we 8 or so students seated in chairs around a three tier all grain brewery. Fortunately it was roofed because there were showers that day. Byron would always state the advantages of all grain was that the brewer had more control with the outcome of the beer and that the ingredients were cheaper than extract with the caveat being the cost of the equipment involved in all grain brewing. My favorite quote of his in regards to Brewing beer is: ”All we are doing here is simply making tea”.
My fondest memories of Byron were the times he would be at the shop and I got to chat with him, he was very approachable. He would recommend recipes to me, one of them a wet hop recipe from the brewer of Russian River Brewing that I still use to this day. Some of the recipes were from someone that used to work in the shop and went on to become a commercial brewer. Byron once told me that Paddy was more versed at creating recipes than him, which left me admiring Byron even more, there was no ego. Except that he was proud of and supported his students. I would often drop by samples of my batches for the staff to try and give feedback. On the return trip I would listen to what each thought of my brew, with Byron replying “you do good work”.
The last time I saw Byron was at the Beverage People on a Saturday, this last spring. He and his wife were seated up front between the counter and the entrance to the classroom were a class was in progress. He recognized me, introduced me to his wife, we chatted briefly and he went to visit the class.
His memorial was held at the Bear Republic brewpub, founded by one of Byron’s students. There were many folks I knew, many I didn’t. I was able to meet new people and reconnect with an old friend that I had lost touch with who knew Byron well and shared his memories when the time came to do so.


This summer I have reaped the rewards of my spring labors reviving my hop varieties that were in decline. The Nugget, a high alpha acid a bittering hop had been none too happy for many years has been making a recovery in its second year since being dug up and thinned. It even produced a second crop, still it is not as vibrant as it once was and there may be something else at play like a soil deficiency or a virus. Being able to diagnose plant pests and diseases is a skill I must work on.
My Cascade hops came from two different sources; one from my supply house and the other from a nearby hop kiln, now a winery. I have always taken for granted the owners assertion that they were Cascades. I was told by a brewer that she could identify a hop variety by the leaves. That is another skill I would like to acquire. The winery hops have always done well, while the store bought ones have suffered. This could be due to neglect as they are at the end of the water line or they may have become root bound, so these were dug up and thinned and replanted expanding my planting of Cascades which are one of my most used hop especially in my wet hop IPA. They do seem to be responding in their first year of treatment.
As the end of August approached It became evident that it was time to pick as the hops ripen they green then the cones open up and become yellow , then pale and then brown. I began picking nuggets as they are the first to ripen and got the best harvest in years. Then the Cascades which had different degrees of ripeness but that was also a great crop. I made sure with these varieties that border on the yard where the puppy roams that I get all of the cones up as they are poisonous to dogs. Generally dogs tend to ingest hops that have come out the wort and are sugary thus the attraction. I’m concerned that the puppy will grab them out of curiosity, puppies tend to do that, we are finding.
The last hops I picked are my most prolific and trouble free variety are the Chinook that are also used in the IPA. I have five gallons of cones that I picked yesterday in the fridge until I can vacuum pack and freeze them. It takes a lot of effort to pick hops I found but very rewarding as I will use them wet, and there is no place I know of where you can get wet hops. I knew a woman who used to pick hops and she said she wrapped electrical tape, the cloth kind around her fingers to protect them from being cut by the vines. Mechanical pickers now do the picking since their invention in the mid fifties. I love being able to brew with my own artisan hops which not available in any stores.

Jumping the Beginner’s Hurdle

For some time I’ve been writing a beginners book on home brewing, to help folks who want to brew their own beer get past the obstacles of never having brewed before. Even though I’ve been brewing over the past forty years I know that there are things that I take for granted that the novice would be stumped by. I know this from talking to people who have tried brewing with unsatisfactory results or have a kit, but have for one reason or another not pulled the trigger. So there the kit sits in a closet never to be used. I was once asked by a first time brewer who had been inspired by my beer to try to brew a batch with friends to trouble shoot their beer. He didn’t specify the problem but opening the bottle answered the question, as the beer spewed upward like a fountain, this is a sure sign of infection due to lack of sanitation. Another clue was the bottle, it was clear a Corona, no home brewer with any knowledge uses anything but a brown bottle. I smelled the beer and took a sip, something bumped my lip, and I pulled out the foreign object with forefinger and thumb. It turned out to be a lime wedge, something Corona drinkers are inclined or encouraged to do. To say I was grossed out is an understatement, I was angry that these clowns had not even cleaned their bottles and that I had to find out the way I did. I took a deep breath and realized that these guys simply didn’t know what they were doing. I was calm and told them without being judgmental or mean what was wrong with their beer with the intent of being educational and set them on the right path. I realized that I too made similar mistakes with lack of guidance.
I also became aware that there is a limit to how much a beginner can absorb when doing something for the first time. My friend that I helped brew his first batch asked me to come over to help him bottle the batch that we had brewed. Since I had to work I gave him a list of things that he must purchase and tasks that he must take care of before I got there. When I arrived, he had purchased everything we needed but some of the tasks had been dropped or misinterpreted. So I was presented with extra work after working almost 10 hrs. There were two choice; leave and tell him when he got his act together I’d be back. The other choice to me was more logical, since I was there let’s just get it done. Besides when he told me that he had a bad day and didn’t understand what I had asked him to do since he had never done it before I got it. Once he saw what we were doing he said he now understood it better than reading a list. This was a gift in that it gave me insight to the things that perplex beginning brewers and how to help them over the hurdles to brewing great beer.

Helping a friend Brew Their First Beer

When my friend asked to come over to watch me brew the next weekend I was perplexed and delighted at the same time. Delighted that he wanted to become familiar with the brewing process, not necessarily to learn how to brew, but to learn it from me. I wasn’t planning to brew and was tempted to put something together, but I was behind in several projects. I emailed him, saying not this weekend but perhaps soon, due to the projects and because of them I hadn’t brewed in months. I referred him to my website and told him where to find a video that I made two years earlier where I documented an all grain IPA that I brewed. Because he just wanted to become more familiar with brewing beer I thought this the most expedient solution as the video is a 10 minute long summary of a process that takes about 6 to 8 hours. In it are most if not all of the details to brewing a good beer. I assumed this would be enough to give him the information he wanted
To my surprise a few days later I received a voicemail from my friend that he had visited the homebrew shop I mentioned to him. Not only had he purchased an ingredient kit, an equipment kit but had enrolled in a beginning brewing class the coming weekend. To say I was surprised is a bit of an understatement, though not out of character for my friend. When he wants to do something, nothing stands in his way. I was impressed with the fact that he actually was going to brew beer with or without me. That is what finally swayed me from my important projects, besides the fact that I really wanted to help out, it was the text that said “Help”!
No matter how much you read or how much you may learn in a class there is a sense of the unknown when you haven’t actually done something and my friend was smart enough to realize this. I knew how daunting the first time could be. I also anticipated the gaps in the kits, the knowledge retention, and trying to put this all together. So I arrived with my “kit”, put together with equipment I guessed would be missing and I was right for the most part. I brought my siphon starter, a large syringe, which was good thing, as my friend would have started the siphon with his mouth which would have contaminated the batch. That was how the first books on home brewing I bought said to start the siphon, they were WRONG! The Syringe is not an expensive item and should be included in the kit. For the record except for that, the kit was fairly complete.
The brewing process went fairly well despite the fact that the kit was a partial mash which is more complicated than a straight extract kit. There is more of a learning curve because in this case there are two processes going on. All in all it went very well with the beer to be safely tucked in its fermenter, yeast pitched, in a cool dark place. I will let you know how it all turned out.