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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Last I wrote I was feverishly working on my garden, battling Bermuda grass and reviving hops and asparagus. The battle overcame my writing time due to exhaustion, I did a lot of digging, digging out Bermuda grass rhizomes, asparagus crowns and hops. The Bermuda grass is an ongoing battle with hope I just have to keep at it. The asparagus and hops seem to be revived. No sooner had Summer arrived that I discovered that roots had choked my septic system. There seems to be a theme here, roots, digging deep and getting to the root of the problem. Can you dig it? After this summer I sure can, but a back hoe is looking like a good investment.
In spite of the detours, I found time for brewing endeavors though not as much as I hoped. The Imperial Stout was bottled and shared with friends with rave reviews. I brewed a simple all extract recipe that has yet to be bottled, perhaps I’ll find the time soon. I did make the effort to attend a beer club meeting last week on the Kolsch style of beer by Joe Hansen-Hirt whose enthusiasm of brewing I enjoy. His presentation did not disappoint. As with most presentations dealing with beer styles there is an overview and history of the style, sampling of commercial examples of the style with commentary and critiques. Then Joe presented his examples of his Kolsch styles beers as did others.
My take on the Kolsch style is that it is a light pilsner like ale, a quaffing beer one that you can drink a few of without dire consequences like some of the more popular ales like IPAs. This is what inspired Joe to pursue this style, that is served in its own special 200ml glass so it stays cold. It is also served fresh not more than a month old . Cami Kent brought a generous helping of beer brats along with at least two styles of potatoes to complement the featured beer .Cami hoped that this would start a trend instead of the usual pizza. A smart move since pizza might not pair with every beer style despite its reputation for pairing with most.
The next meeting that I plan to attend is about water as it pertains to beer. Water chemistry is an integral part of brewing as brewers have generally tended to brew beers that complement the chemistry of the water. I learned from e Bryon Burch that dark beer tended to tended to be brewed where the water is hard. Apparently my water is hard and since my dark beers tend to get noticed I’d say there is a connection. See you soon.
One of the most important aspects of home brewing for me is the fact that it is a skill that allows me the ability to make one of the most satisfying beverages known to man. Taking this a little further, if there were no place to buy beer I could still enjoy it. I have always had an interest in self-sufficiency and part of this is having a garden. Right now I grow over a 100 lineal feet of hops along the fence of the garden, space that would otherwise go to waste. The most important part of beer, where the sugar for fermentation comes from, barley is something I have actually grown. However, I’ve never done the processes that convert the barley to malted barley. It is something I’ve wanted to try, but just haven’t felt I had the time to do it, besides it’s too easy to buy already malted barley. But, what if it wasn’t available? Well then game on! I have an article that details the steps and homemade apparatus to make malted barley. Basically it is like sprouting any seed like alfalfa only on a larger scale. Once the roots get to certain length the sprouting grain is kilned to stop the germination. It’s that simple but another step that is just a little too time consuming in today’s modern world. But if all that were gone then there would be nothing but time.
Now back to the garden which is reserved for the growing of food: asparagus, artichokes, chard, beans, corn, eggplant, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, raspberries and much, much more. While it is time consuming it is immensely satisfying to know that rather than solely relying on the super market we can go out to the garden and harvest what is available. Want chives for the potatoes? Bingo! All it takes is a walk out the back door to harvest artichokes, or chives, lettuce, chard and other staples that would cost a small fortune at the store. All of this is just a stone’s throw from the kitchen, talk about convenience. Ok, there is a cost to this and it is something we all seem to want to run from, it is a bit of work. Strangely, I have found the physical work that I once disdained, incredibly satisfying, I almost can’t believe it.
I have gone into full combat mode in the garden to eradicate an invader that threatens the entire garden: Bermuda grass. Makes a lovely water resistant lawn, but turn a blind eye and it will entwine your hops, asparagus and anything else with its alien like roots. I’ve had to dig up my seventeen year old asparagus bed and replant because the Bermuda grass roots were so embedded with the asparagus crowns. One of my hop varieties about the same age stopped producing a few years back. I dug those up too and replanted. The last few weekends I’ve been removing the luxurious lawn that was the garden path because it was the hotbed of Bermuda grass insurgency. I have to say that it is sad to trade lawn for dirt path, but Bermuda grass is not something you can let creep in like racism, hate or corporate greed. At least I can do something about Bermuda grass.
On Saturday May 3 Home brewers across the World in 49 States and 14 countries simultaneously brewed 17,000 gallons of beer at 383 events with 8500 participants in Celebration of National Homebrew Day. In 1988, May 7 was announced before Congress as National homebrew Day a decade after home brewing was again made legal by President Jimmy Carter signing into law California Senator Alan Cranston’s bill to legalize home brewing. The American Home brewers Association created the big brew as an annual event to celebrate National Homebrew Day on the first Saturday in May. Anyone can host and register a Big Brew event, even Homebrew Shops.
I attended my first event this last Saturday at The Beverage People in Santa Rosa with my club The Sonoma Beerocrats. There were three Brewers: Nancy Vineyard, Co-founder and Co-owner of the Beverage People, Ron Slyh, president of the Beerocrats and myself Steve Lundborg of howdoyoubrewbeers.com. There were four other Beerocrats brewing beer at home at the same time we were brewing at The Beverage People, too bad we didn’t have a simulcast to link us all together. I brought my brewery and equipment to the beverage People the only one to do so and I understand why. While it was a lot of time and effort and trouble, (my brewery didn’t fit in my camper shell so I had to use me older truck) it was very rewarding to mingle and meet new people despite the chaos that comes with such an outing. I had never brewed away from home so the comfort of knowing where everything was and having a set routine was absent.
Each of us that brewed used a recipe from top award winning recipes, I chose the all grain Imperial stout that the brewer had featured his own home grown hops Chinook and Kent Golding’s. I have quite a few bags of vacuum packed Chinook hops stored away so I used those my Kent Golding’s never produce so I had to purchase those. The Imperial Stout had such a huge grain bill I stuck with the 5 gallon recipe. To say that the brew went smoothly would not be the truth, however it was a successful brew. I ended up wort and it is fermenting, that is success at this point, even better is that it tastes good, when done. The best part of the event was sharing information and connecting with other brewers. I was able to reconnect with someone who was instrumental in my Understanding all grain brewing.
When the day was done and the equipment was packed in the truck, I realized that the most important part of the day was sharing with each other our passion for brewing. I got more out that few hours of contact with other people interested in brewing than I have in last decade of brewing at home. So it was a little distracting, but so rewarding to connect with other likeminded folk, something I haven’t done much of, and I’m changing, happily I might add.
For the past four years, one of my most prolific Hop varieties Nugget has been in decline in my hop yard. Usually the first to shoot out of the ground and produce mass quantities of hop cones, it is still the first out of the ground, but then peters out and produces a small amount of cones, not enough to produce a batch of beer. The first question asked when I tell my tale of woe is “Well, How old are they?” MY reply is that I think about 12 to fourteen years old. The usual conclusion is that they need to be replanted. Another is that the mysterious illness that wiped out the hop crop in Sonoma County, where I live is the culprit. The Chinook variety a high alpha acid hop that I use in my IPA recipes, is late to appear and then bursts into bloom, handily the top producing variety that I have. My Cascades the aromatic and most widely used of my hops have begun to show signs of the same decline as the Nuggets.
As I started to dig out the Nuggets it became clear as to what might be going on, the first insertion felt like I was going into solid wood. It was very close it turned out to be a thick mat of roots, which took some effort to rip out. The older roots were about an inch in diameter with some rot in the center, Aha! This is proof that the plants were tired and root bound, as well competing with other weeds Bermuda grass, black berries etc. The soil was heavy clay not nice loamy drainable soil. So I dug out the first 12 inches of old soil from a two foot wide by 16 foot long trench. Then I filled it with a purchased garden soil mix that has more potash and potassium than Nitrogen. To that I added back a wheel barrow load of horse manure and a few shovelfuls of the original soil. Then I added some mineral and planted what appeared to the healthiest of the cuttings that I had pruned form the mass of roots. After three days only one the eight cuttings looks like they won’t make tithe other sixty or so cull tings I stuck in the dirt pile I dug form the trench at least half of them are looking good. So I will be curious as to how the experiment proceeds. Most likely I won’t know until next year whether my hunches are right.
What I do know in conclusion that more diligence on my part with feeding and caring for the hops is what is needed now to insure a steady supply of wet hops for my beer. A Japanese pioneer in permaculture said that the best fertilizer is the Farmer’s shadow. So in that vein I’m becoming more vigilant over my hops crop and garden in general. A garden is so magical, a place where the healthiest food is growing footsteps from your door.