Archive for August, 2012

Coffee and beer—Two Great Vices That Taste Great Together!

An introduction

As near as I can tell, the use of coffee as an adjunct in beer is a pretty recent invention, and is mostly associated with the American craft brewing tradition. Despite their relative newness, coffee beers are not at all hard to find. Many craft brewers include one in their repertoire, and some of them are in widespread or national distribution.

Coffee typically adds a roast bitterness to a beer that is smoother and warmer than hop bitterness. Depending on the variety of coffee and how it is roasted, it can add toasty, nutty or burnt flavors as well. Because of these characteristics, and because coffee is quite dark, one usually finds coffee beers based on a dark ales. Almost all the ones I have seen have been stouts or porters.

The strength of the coffee flavor can vary widely. Some brewers use coffee for a hint of unique flavor. Kona Brewing Company’s delicious Pipeline Porter is an example. You can taste the coffee, but the drink is definitely a beer first. Other brewers let the coffee dominate the flavor, and use the beer ingredients to accentuate the coffee and provide the alcohol. Peak Organic Espresso Amber Ale is a fine example of this approach.

If you like coffee and you like beer, you really owe it yourself to try some of these. They’re not hard to find, and almost any decent craft beer shop is likely to have a couple. (I can even get Kona at Wal-Mart!)

Coffee and homebrewing

One of the great things about homebrewing with coffee is that you can do it at any level of complexity. It works great with extract brewing, and with all-grain as well. All you really need to do is pick your favorite stout, porter or brown ale recipe, make a couple simple changes, and add the coffee.

The first thing to think about is that coffee is bitter, so you need to cut back on the hops. There’s no real formula here (it’s more art than science), but cutting back by a third is probably a good start if you’re shooting for a Kona-style beer, and by a half or more if you’re going in the Peak direction. You can keep your normal grain/extract load—the coffee isn’t going to affect your malt profile or your alcohol content. (For more advanced beer designers, I usually keep my IBU/Gravity ratio just above the extreme low end of what is typical of the style.)

Picking your coffee

Let’s talk a little about coffee roasting, and where the flavors in coffee come from. Coffee beans are actually the stone of a coffee berry, and they’re green when they are harvested and dried. Green coffee doesn’t taste very good, so the beans are roasted brown to black to provide the quintessential coffee flavor we all know and love.

Coffee has a lot in common with wine. There are many varieties, and the flavor is determined by the variety, the soil, the altitude and the care taken by the farmer and roaster in the production of the final product. Coffee has herbal, floral, nutty, woody and roasty flavors (among many others) and the specific combination depends on all the factors I just mentioned.

Arabica coffee is superior to robusta coffee, and in general, shade grown beans farmed at high altitude are of the highest quality.

The roast is essential to determining the flavor of the coffee. From lightest to darkest, roasts are roughly divided into light or cinnamon, medium or city, dark or Vienna, extra dark or French, and whatever travesty of roasting Starbucks inflicts on its beans.

Lighter roasts are more acidic, and preserve more herbal and floral flavors of the bean. Medium roasts tend to taste nutty because the floral chemicals have burned off. Famous varieties, like Kona, Jamaica Blue Mountain, Kenya AA, Tanzania Teaberry and Papua New Guinea Gold are roasted light or medium to preserve the unique flavor characteristics of those coffees. Dark roasts tend to taste warmly toasty, but retain only a few flavor elements unique to the bean. Extra dark roasts are more aggressively “black” in flavor. The ultradark roast of Starbucks blasts any uniqueness out of the bean, making any coffee roasted that way identical. This is an advantage to Starbucks—they can buy whatever beans they can get cheap without affecting the taste of the product. It doesn’t make good coffee for the consumer.

When picking a coffee for beer, go to a place that sells bulk coffee. Envision the flavor of the beer you want to make, smell and taste the beans, and pick the one that you see being the most delicious in your beer. Don’t be surprised if this is not the bean that is your favorite for making a cup of Joe! I make an awesome coffee oatmeal stout with Vienna roast beans because that’s what works with the malts in the stout. I drink a lighter, nuttier bean in my daily cup. (Though I think a Jamaica Blue Mountain Brown Ale would be awesome, and someday I will make one.)

How to brew with coffee

Once you’ve picked your coffee, and have your favorite dark beer recipe ready to go, brewing with coffee is super easy. I simply brew up the coffee in my coffee pot, let it cool and add the liquid coffee directly to my primary. In my coffee stout, the coffee is intended to be noticeable, but just one piece of the total flavor profile. It blends in with the dark malts to give a pleasant bitter edge to work with the oat smoothness. I use three pints in a 5-gallon batch to achieve that affect. If you want more coffee flavor, brew more coffee. (Note that the cups marked on the carafe of a coffee maker are 4-ounces, not the normal 8-ounce cooking cup. My 3 pints is the full contents of a “12-cup” coffee carafe.)

For the best flavor, you should use the beans as soon as possible after grinding them, and of course, the coffee should be fresh-brewed. (I make mine once my bittering hops are on the boil.) If you don’t have a home grinder so that you have to grind at the store, I recommend buying the bulk beans the day before you brew and storing the grinds in a Ziplock.

I have seen other homebrewers recommend adding the grinds in a fine mesh sack directly to the hop boil. There’s a couple reasons I don’t. Boiling water is actually a little too hot for ideal coffee flavor. You want 195-200 F. Second, if the grinds get out of the bag and wind up sitting in your beer for 3 weeks, you may find that you have extracted some unpleasant flavors. If you do want to use the coffee in the boil, add it with the aroma hops, and boil for five minutes.

After your coffee is in the wort, you treat it like any other beer. It’s not going to affect your yeast or fermentation at all. Follow your standard fermenting and bottling/kegging procedure and enjoy!


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Beer Swag

Beer Swag

Oh, look what came in the mail today!


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Beginners’ Tuesday: Getting Started Homebrewing

This is the first in a series of Tuesday posts specifically geared towards folks just getting started in homebrewing. Today, we’re going to start at the very beginning—how does one get started?


So you want to make your own beer at home? Awesome! You don’t know where to start? No problem! I’ve got you covered.

I’m pretty lousy in the kitchen. How hard is it to make beer?

Good news, it’s pretty easy. If you can make spaghetti, you can brew a batch of beer in your own kitchen in an afternoon. You’re going to heat up some water, steep some grain in it, kind of like you were making tea, then boil it, then cool it down, add some yeast and wait a couple weeks.

Sounds good! What kind of beers can I make?

Eventually, the sky’s the limit. While we’re getting started, we’ll keep it simple. Lagers take special equipment, so we’re going to start with an ale. Since I know you’re going to want to drink this thing quickly, we’ll start with something that doesn’t need much aging. Irish Reds, English Brown Ales and IPAs are all good starting points. Most good homebrew stores have lots of recipes for beginners, and I’ve included a good first-timer’s IPA recipe at the end of this post.

How much beer will I get?

Homebrewers typically work in 5-gallon batches, which makes 50 twelve-ounce bottles or 39 half liters. Start saving bottles now so you won’t have to buy them. You can use anything that’s a pop top with a big rim. You can’t use screwcaps.

This is a good bottle, note that the rim at the top of the bottle is about half an inch below the cap.

This is a bad bottle (though a decent beer). Note that the rim at the top of the bottle is right under the cap.

Cool, what do I need?

Let’s break this down. You’re going to need some brewing equipment and some ingredients.

What equipment do I need?

Most homebrew stores sell a starter kit, and those kits never have everything you need.

You need:

  • A big pot (3-5 gallons). One that fits in your sink is a good idea. I got started with a 3.5-gallon pot, which works fine for simple beers. You’ll need a bigger one if you want to get more advanced later. (I use a 10-gallon pot now.)
  • A spoon you can use to stir your pot when it is full without burning your hand
  • A primary fermenter (a 7-8 gallon food grade plastic bucket with an airtight lid)
  • An airlock for your primary fermenter.
  • An analog thermometer that reads from room temperature to boiling (you’ll cook the display on a digital one)
  • A hydrometer
  • A medium mesh “Grain bag”
  • A small mesh “hop bag” (One will do, but three will make your life easier)
  • An autosiphon and 6-8 feet of hose
  • A five-gallon carboy
  • A stopper and airlock for the carboy
  • A bottling bucket
  • A capper
  • 50 caps + a few spares
  • 50 bottles
  • A bottling wand
  • Brewer’s detergent
  • Sanitizer

All of this available through any homebrew store. If you don’t have one near you, you can order this, plus a few pieces of equipment. All tolled, you’re looking at about $110 if you already have the pot. Most of that expense is for equipment you’re going to reuse for future batches.

What ingredients go in beer?

There are four basic ingredients to a beer—grain, hops, yeast and water. For now, just grab the stuff that’s in your recipe. If your tap water tastes good, brew with it. If it doesn’t, buy 7 gallons of water. Don’t worry about whether it’s distilled or spring or whatever. (Many homebrew sites tell you not to use distilled water. Someday I’ll do a post explaining why distilled water is not a problem.)

The grain is the source of sugar, which the yeast is going to eat to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. Grain doesn’t have much sugar in it to start with; it’s mostly starch instead. For now, we’re going to let someone else do the hard work of converting the starch to sugar, and we’re going to use malt extract. We’re also going to use some steeping grains to add a little flavor and color.

Hops add bitterness to beer; without them, beer would be cloyingly sweet. We’re going to add them three times for reasons that will be covered in a future post. You can get them as whole hops, or processed into pellets. For now, it doesn’t matter which you use.

Yeast comes as either dry yeast packets or as liquid yeast. White Labs’ California Ale Yeast is a good one to use for a first batch. Its ideal temperature range is 68-72 F, and it’s the most tolerant yeast of temperatures higher than that. If you keep your house colder than 68, ask your home brew store employee for help selecting a yeast.

Ok, Great! I’m ready to brew! Walk me through this.

No sweat. The day before you brew, double check that you have all the stuff you need. If you can, put four gallons of water in the fridge.

When you’re ready to start, get 30 pounds of ice and put them in a cooler. Just trust me.

Clean your brewpot with the brewer’s detergent, then put 2-3 gallons of water in it. (Go big if you can, but don’t put in so much that it’ll make a mess when you boil.) Heat the water to about 150 F, and put your steeping grains in the grain bag. Plunk the grain bag in the water and try to keep the temperature between 150 and 160 for 15 minutes. (If you mess up, don’t worry. You haven’t ruined anything.) Remove the grain bag after 15 minutes.

Turn the heat up to high, and stir in your malt extract. Stir well, you don’t want to scorch the sugar before it dissolves! Congratulations, you have wort! (Baby beer)

Bring the wort to a boil, and put your bittering hops in the mesh hop bag. Add these hops to the boiling water and set a timer for 45 minutes.

Add the flavor hops to the hop bag. Add them when the timer goes off, and set the timer for 10 more minutes. (Don’t take the bittering hops out yet.) This is a good time to fill your sink with ice.

Add the aroma hops to the hop bag. Add them when the timer goes off, and set the timer for 5 more minutes. (All three hops should be in your wort now.)

When the timer goes off the third time, take the pot off the stove, remove the hop bags, and place the pot on the ice in the sink.

Stir the hot wort occasionally to mix as it cools. If you have four gallons of water in the fridge, cool the pot to 150 degrees. If you have only room temperature water, cool the pot to 105.

While the pot is cooling, clean the primary bucket with brewer’s detergent and sanitize according to your sanitizer’s instructions. Do the same with the hydrometer, fermenter lid, and airlock. Then drain the fermenter.

Poor the warm wort into your empty, sanitized fermenter. Top it up to five gallons with your cold water and stir well. Check that your wort temperature is 85 F or less, and add the yeast. Fill the airlock with water, and insert it in the lid BEFORE you put the lid on the bucket, in case the grommet on the lid pops out. Fit the lid on snugly, and let your beer do its thing for a week!

It’s ready to drink in a week?!

No, the whole process takes four, but you’ve done the hard part. The next post will take us through the rest of the process.  Update: Here is part 2.

Beginner’s IPA Recipe

Steeping Grains:

1 lb. 40L Crystal malt (If your store doesn’t carry 40L, get a pound of whatever is closest)


7 lbs. Amber Dry Malt Extract (you can substitute8.5 lbs. Light Liquid Malt Extract)


Bittering: 4 oz. Challenger

Flavor: 1 oz. Fuggles

Aroma: 1 oz. Fuggles


California Ale

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Let’s Talk Hops

Hops are one of the four key ingredients in beer, along with grain, yeast and water. Simple fermented malted grain is pretty cloying, so the bitterness of the hops is an important part of balancing out the flavor of a beer. They also add various other flavors that can give a beer much of its character, and understanding how they really work is one of the differences between making good beer and making great beer.

And boy howdy, do American craft brewers and drinkers love them. Walk into any American brew pub or craft brew retailer and you’re almost certain to find lots of IPA’s and Imperial this-and-that’s. There’s an arms race going on the produce the hoppiest beer you can bottle and sell, with Dogfish Head 120-minute IPA, Hop Slam and Hoptimus Prime being among the more famous results.

This is a purely American phenomenon. You’re not going to find Der Hopfenkaiser on a German beer shelf. Even England, which has a tradition of high-hop beers (Wychwood makes some good ones), still only gets as strong as a middle-of-the-road American craft beer.

There are a number of reasons for this. I think the biggest is that it is a full pendulum swing away from the American macrobeers that have dominated the market since the end of Prohibition. Things like Budweiser are made first and foremost to be cheap and quick to get to market. That means using a lot of adjunct grains like corn and rice that add alcohol, but not much flavor and body. In a weak-bodied, flavorless beer, a little hop goes a long way. Hops are also the most expensive part of beer. Between those factors, macrobrewers’ recipes are built round using as little hop as possible. As the craft beer movement developed in the US, hop flavor was an obvious sign that you were drinking something that was not macroswill.

And let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with liking high-hop beers. One of the great things about beer is that it comes in so many different styles that almost everyone can find something they think is delicious. The issue I have with hops and the American craft beer industry is that many people have crossed the line from thinking “I think hoppy beers are better” (a perfectly legitimate opinion) to thinking “Lots of hops are what makes good beers good” (crazy talk.) There was actually a Sam Adams commercial a couple years ago that made that exact argument—that their beer was better because it had eight times the hops or whatever. Crazy talk.

The result of this has been an industry that tends to overhop everything. Lots of hops requires lots of body for any kind of balance. This is why good high-hop beers are also high alcohol beers—they had a ton of grain in them to ferment. If you put a mountain of hops into a 4.2% abv brown ale, you’re brewing a train wreck. The beer will feel thin, and it won’t be anything like a brown ale. The hops will completely overwhelm the nutty flavors that are characteristic of the style, and what you’ll really have is a mildly alcoholic hop tea.

I was once served a 125 IBU American-made doppelbock. That’s about six times the hops that are normally in that style. I almost never return beers at bars, but that was so disgustingly out-of-balance that there was no way more than two mothfulls were going anywhere near my face. The issue is so pervasive that my wife (who doesn’t drink beer) jokes every time I order a new American craft beer, “You’re going to think it’s ok, but that it would be way better if it weren’t so hoppy.”

The trick as a brewer (commercial or home) is to design your high-hop beers to carry the hops. Don’t just stand back and throw hops at your beer. Think about what flavors your hops are going to give you, and how your malt profile is going to work with that. And for the love of mercy, don’t just say “I’m going to make an X, but it’s going to be super great because I’m doubling the IBU’s!”

Also try some malty beer. You never know; you might like it. I’ve lost count of how many people who think they’re total hopheads have tried one of my homebrew lagers and said, “Jeeze! That’s great!”

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Pleased to meet you (hope you guessed my name)

Hello, and welcome to the Home Brew Dude blog!


If you love beer, you’re in the right place. I’m a 30-something homebrewer, currently living in Florida. I’ve been making beer for 5 years, and I’ve been enjoying beer for much longer than that.


If you’re interested in learning about making beer, you’re in the right place. If you’re interested in getting new ideas (and sharing yours in the comments!) you’re in the right place too.


If you just love beer, and don’t care to make it on your own, welcome! A lot of what I have to say is about why beer is so awesome, and there’s going to be lots of content for the beer drinker, too.


A little about me–I’m a lager guy. In particular, I’m a fan of the Austrian beer tradition. It’s a lot like the German tradition, but since Austria never had the Reinheitsgebot (the famous beer purity law) it actually makes a broader range of beers than Germany. So, my favorite homebrews are tasty, European-style lagers. But no fear, ale-drinkers, I make lots of ales too (I have a particularly awesome oatmeal stout.) There’s only so much space in the lager fridge, after all!


I am a moderately advanced homebrewer. I make my beers from all-grain ingredients, without malt extract, using brew-in-a-bag now. I did my extract phase earlier, and I made some great beers that way. (In a future post I’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages about moving up from extract-brewing.) The setup I use is great because you can do some pretty complicated stuff in a regular kitchen, without the need for a big backyard or separate beer shed. Of course, complicated is not for everybody, and you can always make great beer in a simple setup too.


Ok, well that’s the introductions. I’ll get post number 2 up soon, all about lagers and ales. I hope you enjoy the read, and please participate in the comments!

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