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Christmas beer! (And thoughts on ingredients and methods.)

The other day, I bottled my Christmas ale, and it’ll be fizzy and ready to drink this weekend.  It was a success, and I’m excited to drink it.  The concept was a red ale with Pacifica hops and spice and orange peel infusions.  I did a lot with this beer that was a little different than I have done in the past, to try to get a better product and it really worked out for me.

I used Maris Otter base malt for the first time (specifically the Thomas Fawcett MO). I’ve never been much of a fan of American 6-row because I don’t think it really has any flavor.  By contrast, 2-row, especially British 2-row is more complex, and it brings a lot to the beer.  MO is similar to 2-row, but more so.  It’s not powerfully flavored, just complex and grainy, and maybe a bit earthy.  You can tell why it is the traditional base for ales.  The MO flavor carried right through to the final product, and it was a smashing success. 

The funny thing is the main reason I’d never used MO before is that it’s kind of nichey, and I had never seen it in a recipe.  All the ones I’ve read call for 2-row or 6-row, so when I got to designing my own recipes, I fell into that same rut.  So, MO was a pleasant surprise.  It’ll probably be my default base malt for ales in the future.

Traditionally red ales are made with roasted barley, from which they get their red color.  I had to sub black patent, so I didn’t actually get a red color, but rather a pale brown.  It hasn’t made any discernible impact on the flavor, but since the beer is spiced, I may just not be noticing.  I have learned that Beersmith’s color estimates are off, at least for my setup.  My beers always come out paler than estimated, even though the alcohol estimates are always spot-on.

I raved in an earlier post about the Pacific hops, and I’m going to rave about them some more.  They’re fantastic.  They’re low-alpha, so they’re not too bitter, and they’re very, very earthy.  That’s the main flavor I get out of them.  I’ve heard other references say that they are citrusy, but I’m not convinced my sensitivity to citrus is very high.  Maybe others will get that out of them, but I get an earthiness that pairs fantastically with the complexity of the Maris Otter malt and the yeast flavors from British ale yeast.  If SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hop) brewing is your thing, I’d bet you could make a spectacular Special Bitter with Thomas Fawcett Maris Otter and Pacifica hops.

In the past, I’ve treated orange peel according to the recommendations I’ve read online–boil them for 5 minutes like a late hop addition.  I’ve always been deeply dissatisfied with the results.  I just don’t get much orange flavor coming through.  I did that with this beer, and it was no good.  So, this time, I added orange peel to the secondary for the last 10 days before bottling.  (It was supposed to be 6, but my bottling got delayed.)  I’ve done this with fruit flesh additions in the past with great success.  I was a little concerned that I would get unpleasant bitterness from the whites of the peels, but I really didn’t.  I used an ounce of dried bitter orange peel and an ounce of dried sweet orange peel.  It works well in this beer, but it’s too intense for something like a Belgian white.  If I ever do another one of those (I’m not a big fan of Belgian beers) I’ll probably do a 7-day infusion with a half ounce or two-thirds of an ounce total.  The infusion also included a healthy handful of cloves and a stick of cinnamon.  I’ve heard it from beer judges that you shouldn’t use cloves in beer, because it’s a phenolic off-flavor, so when you drink it, you’ll go, “there’s something wrong with this beer.”  I disagree, at least for my palate.  I think you have to be trained to think of cloves as a beer contaminant, and I haven’t been.  With the orange peel especially, it makes my palate go, “Yum! Christmas!”

So that’s my experience with the 2012 Christmas Ale.  I really hit the ball out of the park with this one, and learned some pretty cool stuff about ingredients. 

You should be able to get Maris Otter at any homebrew store.  Pacifica hops are a bit rarer, but New Zealand hops are getting easier to find all the time.  If your local doesn’t stock them, they’re easy to order online. (But check your local first.)


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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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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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