Archive for October, 2012

Holy Spruce Juice Batman!

I’m making a beer this weekend using spruce extract, so I decided to test it last night to get an idea of the amount to include.  The bottle recommended 1 tsp. per gallon, so I poured a half-liter of light lager and added 1/8 of a tsp.

Holy Christmas Tree!  It was like sucking on a pine.  It was drinkable, but it was piney.  So, I’ll be cutting waaaaaay back on the actual recipe.  I’m thinking about using 5% of the recommended dose, so 1/4 tsp. in a full 5 gallon batch.

It’s always a good idea to test any concentrated flavor extracts before you add them to your beer.  I tried to make a cherry beer once with candy flavoring.

It burned.


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Beginners’ Tuesday–Homebrewing Cask Ale

Cask ales are a big new thing in the American craft beer scene, and a very, very old thing in the beer world in general.  The tannins from the oak used to make the barrels add a layer of complexity to the beer, and can change the flavor in some very pleasant ways.


You’re going to notice more difference between casked and uncasked beers if they’re less hoppy.  Malt flavors are more affected by the oak tannins; hop flavors are almost completely unaffected.
The good news is that you don’t actually need an expensive cask, which is difficult to clean and care for.  In terms of flavor, there is no meaningful difference between adding beer to oak, or adding oak to beer.  You can use oak cubes or chips instead.  In fact, homemade wine kits always come with oak chips that you add to the wine to simulate the flavors of the barrel.


There are two factors that determine how much oak flavor you will get–the surface area of the oak, and the time it is in contact with your beer.  Oak can be overdone, giving you an unpleasant and astringent beer, so you need a plan of action before you begin.  Typically, 1 ounce of oak chips left in contact with the beer 1-2 weeks gives a nice cask flavor.  If you’re using oak cubes, remember that there is a lot of oak in the cube that is nowhere near the surface, so you need more.  3 ounces of cubes is about the equivalent of 1 ounce of chips.


You can use oak in either primary or secondary.  I prefer secondary because I want them in for 2 weeks, and my beer doesn’t live in the primary that long.  Oak commonly comes in packages that are not well-sanitized, so I usually pasteurize them before I put them in the beer.  All that takes is 15 seconds in water over 161 F.


I usually do a 3-week secondary, so I actually add the oak to the secondary after the beer has been in it for a week.  You really don’t want to leave the beer on the oak too long, so if you can’t bottle it within two to two-and-a-half weeks, you’ll need to move it to a tertiary.


Beer is often casked in used barrels, and those barrels may have been used for other beers, for wine, or for whiskey.  To simulate used barrels, try this.  First, wash and sanitize a funnel, a beer bottle and a cap.  Then, pasteurize your oak and put it in the bottle.  Finally, fill the bottle with beer, wine or whiskey and cap it.  Let the oak absorb the flavors for a week, then add it to the beer you are making.  I’ve had great results with this!  Whiskey is so high in alcohol, you can use anything you have, but with wine and beer, you want to open a bottle fresh.  You don’t want any bacteria that have nested in that red wine bottle you opened two days ago to get into your beer.


Making cask ales at home is actually super easy!  Any store that sells winemaking gear will have lots of options, and you can always order online as well.



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New Ingredients to try

When I got into doing mashes, first doing partial mash, then doing all-grain, I kept it pretty close to the vest on my base grains, using Pilsner, UK 2-row and American 2- or 6-row, depending on what I was making.  Those are probably the big 4, with Pilsner for German-style beers, UK 2-row for fuller-flavored ales and US pale malts for ales that need a cleaner flavor.

With my next couple of beers, I’m going to break out of that rut and try a couple new base malts, and I’m excited about them.  I’m going to make a Whisky Ale with Maris Otter, which is very traditional for cask-style ales.  (By the way, tomorrow’s Beginner’s Tuesday post is about how to make a cask ale.)  Maris Otter has a distinctive nutty/biscuity aroma.  I’m intrigued to see how it goes.  I can envision it becoming my go-to base malt for less-hoppy British style ales.

With that whisky ale, I’m also going to try New Zealand-grown Pacific Gem hops, which are reported to have an earthy flavor with a dark berry note.  I think that will match nicely with the peat-smoked malt and the oak tannins.

I’m really very excited about this Whisky Ale!

I’m also looking at doing version 3 of my Oatmeal Java Stout in the foreseeable future. I don’t feel like ‘m getting the right profile from the UK 2-row with that beer, so I’m going to use Mild Malt, which is a traditional base for stouts and dark porters.  I also need to adjust my specialty grains because the batch is too chocolately.  I need some more aggressive darkness to make it work, so maybe roasted barley….  We shall see.

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A colossal failure

People talk a lot about the recipes that work, but little about the ones that are colossal failures.  There’s a lot to be learned from those failures, though. So, let me share one of mine.

A few years ago, my friend and I decided to make a pineapple pale ale.  The details of the recipe are lost to the sands of time, but the gist of it was an extract “pale” ale (it was a bit darker than it should have been) with a boatload of hops, and some pineapple.

We didn’t realize that the sugar in the pineapple was basically going to ferment out completely.  While we were expecting this tropical pale ale kind of taste, what we got was an intense sourness.  Really, really intense sourness.

We also didn’t hop the beer very well.  I wish I could remember details, but we put almost all the hops in the boil, without enough aroma hopping.  Then we dry hopped it, and we did that waaaaaaaaay too long. That left a hop profile that was bitter to the point of being angry, then very, very, very green.

Between the sourness and the bitterness, the thing drank like it was sucking the moisture off your tongue.

Yeesh.  Lessons learned.

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Hops–a frustration

I’m not as knowledgeable about hops as I am about the other beer ingredients, but this is something I’m trying to change.


Thus far my strategy has been to add hops to a beer that are regionally appropriate to the style, so noble hops for lagers and Fuggles or Goldings for British style ales.  This works just fine because I make malty beers.


I want to make an English Pale Ale, though, to make a more hop-forward beer in a style that I would like to drink.  I specifically want piney hops to pair with the Maris Otter base malt, and I’m going to keep the recipe crystal-malt free.


So, I go to some resources on hop varieties to figure out which ones are evergreeny, and no two resources ever agree on anything.  One source suggested Simcoe, but others say Simcoe is a tropical fruit hop primarily.


I don’t really get why you can’t get a straight answer on this.  Various resources on malts give basically similar information.  Everyone agrees that Munich is sweeter than Pilsener.




So does anyone have any suggestions for a really piney hop?


Does anyone have a suggestion for a resource on hop flavors that has proven accurate for them?

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An adventure at the home brew store

The last time I was at the home brew store, I ran into a new guy who was making something like his third or fourth batch of beer.  I asked him what kind of beer he was making, and he said, “Oh you know, ordinary beer with Challenger hops.”


I actually found this fascinating, because it’s totally upside-down from my usual design mode in beer–start with style, put lots of effort into selecting malts, and then throw some hops at it that will work.


Just goes to show that there’s a zillion ways to approach brewing, and if you make something you like, you’re doing it right.

It was a brown ale, by the way.


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Beginners’ Tuesday—Extract Lager recipes

I apologize for the long delay in posting this. Things have been very busy with non-beer things.

I had intended to finish up lager week with a couple of extract lager recipes for you to enjoy. Here are three: Pilsner, Oktoberfest and Doppelbock.

Classic Czech Pilsner

Czech Pilsners are one of the simplest beers going. The classic version has only four ingredients—pilsner malt, Saaz hops, yeast and water. This is one of the hoppiest lager styles, so it’s popular among American craft beer enthusiasts. For best results, brew with distilled water.

7 pounds Liquid Pilsner Extract (or 5.75 lbs. dry pilsner extract)

4 ounces Saaz hops for bittering (60 minute boil)

2 ounces Saaz hops for aroma (5 minute boil)

White Labs Pilsner Lager Yeast

Set your fermenter to 52 F for primary and secondary.

Oktoberfest Lager

Oktoberfests are sweeter, maltier, darker and heavier than pilsners. This is the classic amber German lager beer, and it’s my personal favorite style. Here is an extract recipe based on my award-winning Oberbräu Festbier. Use moderately hard water for best results.

8 pounds liquid pilsner extract (or 6.5 pounds dry pilsner extract)

2 lbs. 40L Crystal Malt (steeping grains)

3.5 ounces Hallertau hops for bittering (60 minute boil)

1 ounce Hallertau hops for flavor (15 minute boil)

1 ounce Hallertau hops for aroma (5 minute boil)

White Labs Oktoberfest yeast

Ferment at 55 F.


Doppelbocks are malty beers, and the hops should be in the background. This recipe uses boiling hops only for that reason. This one is punchy. You’ll get 9% abv or so.

13 pounds of liquid pilsner extract (or 10.5 lbs. dry pilsner extract)

1.25 lbs. 40L Crystal steeping grain

1.25 lbs. 120 L Crystal steeping grain

4 oz. Styrian Goldings for bittering (60 min boil)

White Labs German Lager X Yeast (or German Bock Lager, which will be less creamy)

Ferment at 52 F with Lager X or 50 F with Bock Lager


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