Posts Tagged ale

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.




, , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

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.

, , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Lager Week, Part 1: Lagers and Ales

Welcome to Lager Week!

This week, we’re going to do a series of posts on making homebrew lager. If you love pilsner, Dopplebock, Oktoberfest, Munich Helles, or Rauchbier this week is all about you!

Lager-making not significantly different than making ale, though it does require some special equipment and procedures. It is accessible to any homebrewer, from the newbie with one batch of extract under their belt to the most hardcore all-grain Hausbräumeister.

Lagers and ales are the two most important categories of beer, comprising virtually all of the world’s commercial beer production. Preferences are highly regional, with lagers dominating in most of Europe, and in American macrobreweries, and ales dominating in Britain and in American craft breweries. (The fact that well-made American beer is mostly ale, while American garbage is mostly lager should not be taken as evidence that lagers are lousy. We just don’t make many good ones in the US.)

So, what’s the difference? The biggest is temperature—ales are fermented at 62 F or warmer, lagers are fermented at 56 F or below. (There are a few styles in that gap that kind of blur the lines. The German Kölsch is a noteworthy example.) Many references refer to “top-fermenting” and “bottom-fermenting” yeast, which I avoid. Where the inactive yeast congregates is basically due to the temperature, and the fermentation actually occurs throughout the liquid portion of beer.

So, cold-fermented beer is lager. Warm-fermented beer is ale.

There’s more to it than that, of course. Ales are faster to make, and require less equipment. This is why ales outnumber lagers in homebrew and craftbrew circles by a mile. Lagers almost always go through a cold-storage stage to condition them. Ales don’t. So, a homebrewer with an artificial carbonation system can turn around an ale in 2 weeks, and with natural carbonation, ales are ready in 3-4 weeks. Even with sophisticated equipment, it’s difficult to get a lager from brew day to drinking in less than 6 or 7 weeks. It’s that storage that gives lager their name. Lager is the German word for a storage facility, and lager beer has its origins in the German-speaking world, especially in Bohemia, Bavaria and Austria.

There are significant flavor differences. A good lager is crisp. A good ale is complex. Comparatively, there are more flavors bouncing around in an ale than there are in a lager. This has everything to do with yeast biology. Most of those flavors are tasty chemical compounds called “esters,” and yeast are much more efficient at making esters at higher temperatures, so you get a lot more in ales. In an extreme case, they can make the beer taste almost fruity

The difference in flavors has a significant impact in how you design a good lager or ale. Of course, you want both to be balanced, but lagers are more sensitive to subtle changes, whereas adjusting an ale’s flavor can take pretty big changes. I think of lager making like trying to balance mice on a see-saw, and ale-making like trying to balance buffalo. The goal is the same, but you have to approach it differently.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss the special equipment required for lager-making. Wednesday, we’ll look at brewing and conditioning a lager, Thursday, we’ll talk about handling lager yeast, Friday is all about diacetyl and Saturday, we’ll talk lager recipes.

, , , ,

Leave a comment