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.

What the Hell Happened?

DSC00016You are probably wondering where I’ve been and why I seemed to drop off the face of the earth. I’ve been busy but, I’m always busy. Truth is we got a new addition to the family. When folks ask why I haven’t been brewing and I say we got a puppy most understand. We lost our friend of 16 years a year and a half ago. To fill the void my wife looked and looked and while there were some contenders nothing took. Some dear friends suggested a rescue site which Julie signed up for and found Merlin, a two month old Border Collie/Retriever mix. I had been looking for a sign that whatever dog entered our lives was meant to be. With Merlin there were an abundance of “signs”. We had been watching the BBC program Merlin and were towards the end when Merlin appeared on our radar. There was one hitch, there was a waiting list and we were number 2. A week later I got the call, Merlin was ready to come home the next day. Julie showed up early and brought our new 8 pound bundle of joy home.
There was another concern, was our house and yard puppy proof? A resounding no, was the answer and we are still working on that after nine days of labor. Since the puppy is healthy and unharmed I’d say we’ve taken care of the key issues but, there is still work to be done. This is where most of my effort has gone aside from getting the garden in which is doing quite well. I did some work on the hops trying to revive some strains that seem to have gone into decline. I dug them up, separating the woody older roots from the newer growth. The puppy loved the woody roots, running off with them to my horror. It is well known that hops are poisonous to dogs, but it is the flowers containing the compounds that make them popular for brewing that are the culprit. He is just fine thank you, and the hops that were treated will have to wait a year before we know.
My last brew the IPA with two yeasts was a success. The Whitbread yeast produced a beer similar to a local favorite according to a friend. My porter was a success at a sleepover at SEA Ranch these both warrant posts of their very own. While I haven’t brewed, I’ve been working on a beginner’s guide. This Sunday I’ll be helping a friend brew beer for the first time. I promise to keep in touch on a regular basis.

President’s Day IPA 2015


It was two years ago that I first videotaped my first and only other brew on this day. So it seemed only fitting to try it again and make it a tradition. One of the things that kept me from videotaping my brew sessions was a good camera. Thanks to a very dear friend I now have a very good camera and was able to try it out. It has become apparent that there will be a learning curve and limits to overcome even with this device.

There were a series of happy accidents. One was having to go to the brew store, The Beverage People on a Saturday because I had to work late the day before. As I parked I noticed a familiar figure entering the store, it was Byron Burch, who taught me to be the brewer I am today. After I was shopping for a while I made it over to where he was where he recognized me, we shook hands, introduced me to his wife and we visited.

Joe waited on me and I asked him his yeast recommendation for an IPA. He made two recommendations a white labs California ale at first. The he recommended a Wyeast Whitbread smack pack after telling me a story of realizing he was running out of time to meet a brewing commitment and with this yeast was able to be drinking it within a week. I was intrigued and purchased it with the intention of using it on half of the batch and my old standby Irish Ale for the other. It was be interesting to see if I have the same luck, which I don’t doubt for I have had some beers that were ready long before their time and drunk quickly.

My president’s day brew started with no major glitches other than discovering that my grain bill didn’t quite match the recipe I use. Rather than pull my hair out and abort I considered this a happy accident in that I had just created a recipe of my own. Other than that and a quick boil over while I was painting some window trim that was under ten feet from where I was. I usually don’t like to do chores while I’m brewing but I really thought I could get away with it. The boil over left the smallest of puddles and I was unaware of it until I went back to check on the boil.

The rest of the boil was uneventful with the wort in the carboys with yeast and airlocks by 5PM. Not bad for having started before noon. By morning the carboy with the new yeast was clicking away rapidly.

President’s Day IPA coming up


This is starting to look like a tradition, I had planned to brew an IPA awhile back but didn’t have enough grain. Then I had to work, so now I have a three day weekend in store to brew the beer as long as I get the stuff I need. I’m planning to do an all grain wet hop ten gallon batch. How can I be brewing a wet hop beer in the middle of February when no hop plant in its right mind is even stirring, let alone brimming with ripe cones? Well that’s my secret and I’m keeping it for the present. So I’m also going to bottle some other beverages that are ready for their debut. I have twenty gallons of Cider and ten gallons of my wife’s favorite, Porter.

The new twist to this President’s Day IPA is that I will be filming with a new camera. The 18 dollar Walmart special developed a squelch on the back patio that was rather annoying to say the least. This will be an opportunity to test the new camera and see if it can defy any background effects like the 12 KW line going over the far end of the patio. So this will be exciting for me and for you a more satisfying Audio Visual experience.

Last year I didn’t brew on Presidents Day because I had to work the Saturday, and when I brew I like to have at least three days. I don’t know why, except it’s nice to have the buffer, to relax after a week of work and then tackle a ten gallon batch of home brew. Whatever it is, I’m grateful for any time off I can get and share the fruits of that labor with you!

Like Riding a Bicycle


During my five day Christmas vacation I brewed my first batch of all grain beer in almost a year. It is also my wife’s favorite, a Porter, ten gallons of it. It should be ready to drink soon, right now it sits in my office, usually very cold which is conducive to beers that have fermented and need to chill out before  bottling so all the things In suspension drop out and the yeast go to sleep. We had a cold snap and it is still chilly during the night, a little frost and then it warms up to a toasty 60 degrees, causing Magnolias to bloom a month or two early. As soon as a beer stops fermenting I usually pop it into a freezer with an override thermostat and get the temp down between 35 to 45 degrees. I like the upper range because I have had carboys freeze and break, I believe the main goal is to put the yeast to sleep so that they won’t cannibalize their dead brethren, which aside from being disgusting imparts bad flavors in your beer.

What amazed me the most was that as I began to brew, everything seemed to fall into place. Yes, I was a little rusty and my equipment needed some extra cleaning and it took a little longer than usual. Despite that delay things went well, the mash temp was little low so I had to heat it up and didn’t burn it. The specific gravity was higher than the recipe listed which is a good thing, usually my SGs are lower. If you don’t understand the significance of that it means that I had more fermentable than expected which means a slightly higher alcohol content. Though, I started late the brew finished at dusk, which is nice, because finishing up in the dark is a bit of a drag. So, all in all things went very well, the fermenters took off and the temp was in the low end of the yeast range, which I prefer because I believe a mellower beer is produced. If you ever think that higher fermentation temps sound good, they aren’t because fusel alcohols are produced, which apparently causes headaches and when distilled can be poisonous.

I will keep you posted when the beer is ready to drink. Cheers!

The Taste Buds of Perception


In the last post I shared how I gave gifts of a simple recipe beer. The comments received are an example of how we perceive the same thing differently, with even our taste buds. I was thanked for the beer that it was good, and then she asked, did it have any hops in it? For a beer of this style that would not be an odd question as it lightly hopped. Another friend asked me as he was drinking the beer in front of me from the bottle sediment and asked “Is this a cider or a beer?”  Now I know that he loves to drink highly hopped IPAs, to him the hops in this beer would barely register on his taste buds. Yet another fellow who also enjoyed the beer asked if it was an IPA. While that may seem bizarre in light of the other two comments it made sense to me because when I tasted the beer the hops were very much present, maybe a little too much for the style I thought.

The other responses were so positive that I found that they gave me some beer for thought. For example “That beer was remarkable” or “That was the best one yet!” This was a simple extract recipe for beginners, nothing special. I chose this because it was the best recipe for beginners, I certainly did not expect such positive reviews because I figured a straight extract recipe wouldn’t garner such adulation. In pondering why, I remembered that a few folks aren’t fans of the trend towards hoppy beers. As a matter of fact I remember reading that years ago the majority of brewers were making less hoppy, read less bitter beers to attract women drink beer. This trend continued until the late sixties when an upstart began to question the status quo with beers that had almost disappeared in the U. S. California Common, IPA, Porters and Stouts. Craft brewing continues to expand as the beer market, particularly the big commercial labels is shrinking.

I mentioned to one of the recipients whom I knew drank a popular commercial beer because it is cheap and not bitter, that this was my version of that beer. To which he replied “If only ……… had character.” He has also commented that every time I give him a home brew he says it ruins the beer in his refrigerator for a week. I often ask someone if they liked the beer I gave them, to get a read on how the style is received one woman replied “I liked it, I like all of your beers.” So I learned that one beer will taste differently to the individual drinker based on their preferences and perceptions of beer. The next step is to convince a few of these folks that they can make their own personal beer crafted to their liking, it’s not that difficult.

The Gift of Giving


Tis the season once again where we are inclined to exchange gifts and yuletide greetings. My favorite gift is to share my latest brew with friends. It is heartwarming to see the joy in the faces of the recipients and hear that they appreciate the brew. It is also a great way to get feedback on the beer, what they like to drink or that they too would like to try to home brew too. Some have tried to homebrew or know someone who has and it didn’t turn out so well. Then there are those who received a homebrew kit as gift and they never found the time to try it out. It intrigued me that there were folks out there who were very close to brewing their own but just haven’t been able to take the next step. I myself have been there, so I wondered what did it take for me to take the leap and how could I help these future brewers to do it as well. So I started to write a beginning home brewing manual that will hopefully be what want be brewers need to become brewers in their own right. It will be available Feb 28, 2015.

So one of my projects was to brew a simple extract beer that had few ingredients and the fewest steps.  It is more difficult to find such a recipe than I had imagined, but I did find one that used light malt extract and corn sugar. I’m not a fan of using any sugar besides malt sugar but corn sugar doesn’t alter the flavor the way cane sugar does. The experiment was a success in that folks have liked the beer, not everyone has commented to me in person. So far no one has left their comment on this site, but I’m hopeful. Don’t be shy reply. Happy Holidays!

Thanksgiving Gratitude


I finally got four days off for the first time in months. I was finally able to catch up on a few things, such as resting, that is something I don’t allow unless I’m exhausted which I was. When I had the energy and time, I caught up on some brewing chores. The first job was to work on cellaring chores with my cider which at this point was 8 gallons with apples ready to press in the fridge so I got the press out and squeezed out over a gallon of juice. This marked the end of the cider season, so I put the press away until next summer. With room in the fridge, I moved the already fermented carboy of cider in the fridge to chill and settle further. The fermenter with the new juice was brought inside to help jumpstart the fermentation with warmer temps since its getting cold in the brew shed.

The other long awaited task is to bottle five gallons of a simple extract ale I brewed at the beginning of summer. This had been laagering or stored in the fridge for over three months so it was nice and clear.  The problem for me is whether there are enough viable yeast to carbonate the beer in the bottle. So gathered all of the de-labeled bottles that I had and proceeded to wash sanitize and dry them. Other aspects of the process were to prepare the priming sugar, clean and sanitize a five gallon carboy as well as the other equipment needed. The project took about four hour’s total

The beer had pleasant light taste with a prominent hop flavor, as close to Budweiser as I’m going to get. The object in brewing this beer was to demonstrate how easily and cheaply a beginner could brew their own beer. For the basic ingredients not including yeast, and yeast nutrient the cost was $18.60 for a five gallon batch of beer. The yeast will set you back $3.99 for dry yeast, liquid yeast depending on the brand is 6.99 to $7.49. I prefer the more expensive liquid yeast so the cost is going to be $26.00. An average batch is going to yield fifty four bottles, divide that into twenty six and the cost per bottle is forty eight cents a bottle! Such a deal! Of course there is time and effort involved, but you are making your own custom made beer. It can get even cheaper if you culture your yeast as I do and the cost per bottle drops to around thirty four cents a bottle. If that doesn’t get you started home brewing, I don’t know what will.

Ten Dollars a Six Pack


Recently I stopped by a convenience store to buy a six pack of beer. I drink good beer, I’m about the full experience; taste, aroma and not just to cop a buzz. So, only craft beers pass my lips and they aren’t cheap at over ten bucks in this case. The beer that caught my eye was an IPA from the granddaddy of the craft beer movement Anchor Brewing. In case you are not aware of Anchor Brewing it was a funky old brewery in San Francisco that had been founded in the late 1800s. It was purchased by Fritz Maytag of the Maytag appliance family, in the late 1960s. I first became aware of Anchor beer when I opened my grandfather’s fridge in the ‘70s to find a six pack of Anchor Steam Beer. Steam beer is a style that became popular during the California gold rush when beer was brewed in less than stellar conditions. Because of this the beer would explode out of the keg with force. Since this was also the height of the Steam power era the term; “Steam” was applied to this style. Anchor has copyrighted the term Steam Beer so you won’t be seeing any other commercial “Steam” Beers.  However the Steam beer style has another name, California Common. This is basically beer brewed with lager yeast at ale temperatures.

By the sixties beer was becoming bland and fairly hard to tell apart, Anchor Steam was the first to break that trend and bring back flavorful beers of times past. They brought back India Pale Ale with their Liberty Ale, their first Christmas offering. Now they have a Christmas ale that uses secret spices that subtly changes every year. I have a friend that treated me to Anchor Christmas ales that he had saved over the years, an amazing blast to the past. Anchor also brought back the Porter a style that had all but disappeared. They were the pioneers that opened up the frontiers of beers of substance that had almost gone the way of the dinosaurs. Now they flourish with more styles to delight the soul and taste buds. Within a decade of Anchors appearance a California Senator, Alan Cranston legalized home brewing of beer. This ushered in a new wave of interest in beer not allowed in sixty years since prohibition.

One of the many reasons that I home brew is that it is cheaper to brew your own beer, but it does take time and patience something many of us don’t have in this day and age. I once calculated that I could brew 10 gallons of my lightest beer for under twenty dollars, that was years ago and I haven’t recalculated. Think of it though that’s eighteen six packs for twenty dollars comes to $1.11 a six pack. While there are other costs involved such as time and energy, but, you have to agree, that is quite a savings.


What’s in the Water?


Recently I attended a meeting of my home brewing club the Sonoma Beerocrats. The club had recently purchased a water test kit that is for home brewers to test the water that they brew. That talk was presented and beer poured by Mike Kelly and Kevin Teel. Mike did an excellent job of pointing the importance testing the brewing the brewing water and how certain aspects of water can complement or detract from the quality of the beer you brew. Things like alkalinity, ph., water hardness, chlorine and other things water picks up on its way to the tap. I learned long ago the water is nature’s perfect solvent and will absorb almost anything it runs into. The options are to use Reverse Osmosis water or Distilled or Ionized water which is as devoid of contaminants. The downside is that buying and transporting enough water for brewing is an arduous task lugging over ten gallons for brewing as Kevin Teel stated. The cost of an RO system or a distiller can be prohibitive as well as the time effort to process the water.

There are ways of crafting your existing water to meet the needs of the style of beer you are brewing that are simple. However, it takes knowing what your water has in order to bend it to your needs. This is where the water test comes in. The club purchased a LaMotte Water Analysis kit for Home brewers with a ph. tester that Mike was very pleased with. After the talk various members submitted their water for testing. I’ve always felt that my water was good enough as is because it comes from a spring. After listening to a couple of club water talks I’m beginning to consider taking on yet another task when I brew beer. What was reassuring was to hear Mike Kelly say that even after reading the leading books a hundred times he didn’t understand it all. He understands enough because he makes great beer.

I’m looking forward to have my water tested soon so I can see where it stands in terms the styles that I like to brew. So far the assumption is that my water is hard which is conducive to brewing dark beers. Which must be true because I get rave reviews on my dark beers. But then again folks tend like most of beers depending on their preference. Still it would be nice to know now that I know how important the water is to brewing. Hopefully I will be reporting the results of my water’s test results. Cheers!