Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hot Stuff! Chili Beer

I had heard of people making chili pepper beer before and thought it would be fun just to say I've done it and to grasp what that flavor would impart to beer. My local liquor stores are quite bad when it comes to getting a diverse range of craft brews, particularly those that are common place throughout the US. Only this summer did they receive Rogue's Chipotle Ale

However what I was going for was not just to impart the roasty quality of that particularly daring ale, but to also see what sort of firepower I could add. My recipe research said that Serrano peppers or small chili peppers would be best. However, as mentioned elsewhere - I will take what I can get - my local organic grocer only had Anaheim peppers. Honkin huge ones!

The brew itself was a recipe for an Extra Special Bitter as something about a good English hop with dry bitterness combined with a subtle heat seemed to make sense for my brain and palate. The peppers were added to the secondary fermentation after about 5 days of rigorous primary fermentation. As shown above, I took 5 large Anaheim peppers and removed the stems. I roasted them in the toaster oven for 12 minutes until the kitchen started to smell roasty. The skin was soft and starting to brown slightly. The purpose of the baking is to both kill any unwanted organism that could be on them as well as to impart that roasted flavor. Once cooled I cut them in half and dropped them into the carboy. Racking on top was the easy part, racking off after 9 days however was very hard as seeds and skin had come off and were sticking to the siphon.

As expected, I had to hold the carboy upside down while cleaning it and use a knife to try and spear the peppers individually to then pull them through the opening. It was...a lot of work.

This beer is quite good actually just as a beer. But like many of my beers that have an unusual theme to them, you wouldn't want to drink Hot Stuff back to back. It is a nice sipping ale that has an obvious burn to it on the way down, and for those who suffer from heartburn, I wouldn't greet pint after pint with anything other than milk of magnesia.

115th Dream Hopbursted

Eventually, my addiction to hops comes back around. I went with a more hop heavy kit than I have brewed before, 115th dream hopbursted IPA from Northern Brewer. The name for the kit comes from the amount of time to boil and the use of a technique that ensures extreme Flavor/Aroma presence from your hops, known as hopbursting. For a good little explanation of why hopbursting is an effective method to imbue this quality to the wort, see this fellows blog.

Pictured above is that addition of dextrose which came with the kit and was added after the boil was complete. The additions of soluble sugars for this recipe were intended to create and Imperial style which has higher alcohol levels as well as just more of everything. The 1 pound of hops should be the dead giveaway. My major complaint, as with most homebrew supply stores and their kits, they don't always give you all the ingredients so you don't really know what it is your tasting. In this case, the massive amount of hops for bursting were called "hop blend".

Yeast starter was applied as instructed, because of the massive amount of sugars which didn't dissolve properly due to the large blanket of boiled hops that laid on the surface of the wort. For this reason, my gravity was a bit under weight, but the yeast tore right through it all. Just take a look at that bunghole! Primary is oh so messy.

On the whole, the kit was just so-so. Very heavy hitting ingredients bill, but taste and aroma wise it could have been much simpler and more effective, as well as cost efficient. But we aren't in it for that, are we.

Lemon Coriander Weiss and Keg Time

I had been wanting to make a batch that was going to be refreshing and light in honor of summer's arrival. I also wanted something that would be quaff-able enough to put into my kegerator and have a picnic outside with. This was the beer I chose - a Lemon Coriander Weiss. The kit was from Midwest, and it offered a twist with the additions of coriander in the boil and lemon zest in the secondary. The boil went well, no surprises. After having 20+ batches u
nder my belt, my concerns are generally in the cold side of the brewing - yeast getting finicky is far more hazardous than boiling wort at 5 degrees higher than recommended.

When applying fruit or vegetables to the carboy, one should always try and keep as few outside contaminants from getting in. This includes anything from cat hair to drool to pesticides. Similar to the damages to your body, chemicals that are intended to kill bugs should not be included in your beer as they will kill your yeast. Always buy organic, or better yet, grow it yourself! Zesting far more lemon than called for the in the recipe, I wanted this beer to be as crisp and citrusy as possible. The other hazard in adding fruit, vegetables, hops, etc. to the secondary is the risk of clogging your siphon. Small particulate matter or large chunks of food can really be annoying when trying to get the beer into its next receptacle. That includes from bottle to glass and tap to glass. Many brewers have debated the strategies of dry-hopping their ales with as minimal interference to the segues as possible. The last thing you want is a dip-tube or keg-line clogged with a cluster of bitter hops, unless your into that sort of thing.

Primary Secondary Kegging

Once you enter the realm of gauges and explosive materials, lookout. Things seem much more complicated and impractical for something as simple as beer. But then the luxury of technology can do many things, including cutting down your bottle conditioning by about 2 weeks! Im in. Not to mention ridding yourself of the pain in the ass of washing, rinsing, sanitizing, storaging all those bottles. But theres also nothing quite like bringing a bottle of your own somewhere. My mini-keg lets me bottle about a third of the batch and rest goes to the keg. Because it was my first kegging experience, I rushed it. I wanted that beer to be ready sooner than it should have been. The sugars were not completely dissolved, and both the few bottles I stored and the kegged beer lacked overall carbonation. The sweetness was ever present and the beer was cloudier than I had hoped. The lemon and coriander were great, but not enough yeast knocked down and not enough time for the fermentation.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Minnesota, Beer, Chicago, Beer, Wisconsin, Beer

I managed to sneak away into the comforts of the Midwest United States for a few weeks recently and - with my interests shaping my route - many sites related to beer came through the truck window.

Unfortunately, i could not get into Surly for a tour. As always, they have about a 3 month waiting list but I think I can weasel in for my next trip as promised by a sympathetic ear in the head office. So my beer exploits in Minnesota remained fixed at my fathers homebrewery, the vastly expansive free market liquor stores, and as always the usual haunts that have great happy hours. A beer I have to draw attention to that I picked up on my way south from Moorehead Minnesota is called Rooster. It is brewed by a not-for-profit brewery in Hendricks, Minnesota. When you buy a 24 they donate 3x the cost to fund conservation and land management initiatives for critical habits in Minnesota. God I love that state. The majority of my time was spent bulking up my beeradvocate cred and waiting out the rain.

(Misato refusing to recognize my existence, dad in the brewery gettin his bottling on, and obvs.)
My trip down to Chicago was fantastic. Drove through snow covered rolling hills, deep into the Mississippi River Valley where the cliffs rise as abruptly as the mighty miss herself. Stayed with my sisters and hit up as many breweries/brewpubs as we could. Starting with Metropolitan Brewery which was just a few buses away from their place. Metropolitan is pretty freakin cool, particularly in the small shop of 3 employees who basically do it all (they wanted volunteers, and I wanted to be). Also each one of their fermenters had names of obscure star trek characters! Tages and I were talking next to their 4 pronged bottling machine, just top right of that was this cool keg sculpture of a long horned bull. My only qualms was with the beer itself, all German Lagers, no IPA, Ever!
Just had to add in the photo of the Chicago Fire game we took in, where they actually sold Lagunitas at the stands! Craft Brewery at a soccer game! fantastic. And yet the whole city seemed to be smattered with these trite adverts for Miller lite. The traveling fan from Houston clearly chose too much taste and vomited all over the away section, after the fight, and just before his own friends were taking photos 'around the drunk guy' for facebook.

Next was the Haymarket Brewpub. By far the best selection of micro-brews I have had, period. Haymarket famously named after the Haymarket bombing of 1886. The scene there was a bit bourgeois for a bit of proper anarchist history, but ill try and remind myself that the brewers are the ones who make the beer, the managers sell the space. This first picture below is of all their samplers we went through. Their menu of their own beers was a full page, they had 3x that of other craft beers on the back. Even had a section on their menu called "Shit Beer" with your budmillcoors. Number one for me was the Mother Jones Belgian Dubbel, Followed by the Mathias IPA and Speakerswagon Pilsner. Of course we made our way earlier in the day to the Haymarket Memorial, and came upon mutha f**kin Emma Goldman!
After a great time steeping in Chicago culture, I made my way back slowly through Wisconsin (which holds a piece of my heart) so I could hit a few of their growing craft breweries. Sadly the cooperage at left hasn't been active for over 100 years, but it was a nice stroll through an old farm with many of the original trades buildings in tact. Don't ask me where I was, i just followed the sign. New Glarus Brewing (in New Glarus Wisconsin) has an obvious path of success laid before them. Their new brewery is massive, landscaped, and full of shiny everything on the inside. I kinda liked this one more than most tours I have been on because I got to just walk around by myself with a beer in hand while workers were brewing/yeast testing/bottling etc. Very cool. Also got to buy just about every seasonal they have made in the last 2 years. The last photo is their old building, size matters there i guess.

Heading further North towards Madison I made it into Capital Brewery. Unfortunately no such luck on a tour, but I got the guy to show me around a few of their storage spaces and their kettles. I also bought several of their beers. Not a fan personally of most of what i drank, but they too almost exclusively brew the German Lagers. But it was on the map, so I had to do it. They had an awesome beer garden though in back of the place but it was raining, and i hadn't eaten and just sitting in there drinking a beer seemed not quite right. They don't need my business I have a feeling after having been brewing for almost 20 years.

On the whole, an excellent trip for personal experience and diversifying what will continue to be my beer stratum. I highly recommend a trip like this which is relatively close, and several major cities with a handful of hours between each other makes it reasonable. Go slow, take your time, and belt the radio tunes out of the window on cruise!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Keg Time

Brave new world. It was only a matter of time before I decided to put a bit of cash to the next step in this recent-past-time, the experience of draft beer. Thanks to Forrest Whitesides' article in Brew Your Own on building a portable kegerator, it was made easy and very achievable without the extra costs that a ready made setup would set you back! As you can see, the finished project photo has me looking like a proud parent.

The portable kegerator is composed of 4 parts:
-3 gallon cornelius keg
-5lb co2 tank
-Chrome Single Faucet Column (2.5 inch diameter) 11.5" tall.
-70qt/66litre cube cooler (roller?)

I was only able to build this rig because I was in the states which, it must be said, has an appallingly fantastic selection of any kegging equipment/cooler size you could want in comparison to Winnipeg. The entire set was a bit costly, but is much cheaper than if you were to buy a pre-made 5 gallon cooler kegerator with a chill plate (a flat metal device that is made cold and allows the beer line to run through it before going to the faucet which cools the beer on contact as it passes through). In total the price was around $400 dollars. You can choose to make it swanky or basic depending on your ability to find a used 2.5 gallon or 3 gallon Corney keg, economic faucet with tower which is made of black plastic, and not to mention the option of buying a smaller cooler without luxurious wheels and pull-handle as if heading to the airport for a 32,000 ft keg stand.

For a simple tutorial on how to prepare a keg and rack into it, as well as pressurize and force carbonate the beer, Northern Brewer TV has a good video here. As I have never done this before, my curiosity lies in the areas of 'how much pressure should be applied for specific styles?' and 'how do i prevent yeast from being tapped with the beer if the keg cane is sunk into the sludge?' and 'how to I clean my keg lines when the ball locks are fastened onto the hosing?' These answers will be found through trials by fire and will keep posting in relation to them as they arise. In addition to the basic equipment I also got a few extras such as the keg faucet cap which is intended mostly for the picnic sitch to keep bees and flies out of the nozzle. Also I picked up a keg freeze pack jacket because the biggest task with this system will be keeping the beer cold. Because there is a lot of space in the cooler, the more ice or cold items will have to be jammed in there to keep it consistent as temperature change over time is taxing for the yeast.

My next batch, a Lemon Coriander Weiss (which will be a nice light summery brew intended for picnic kegging), will be made this weekend and fermented as usual in the primary and secondary. The major difference is when kegging your beer, you don't bottle and you don't add bottling sugar 'thusly'. However, because my keg is only 3 gallons out of the total 5 being made, I am going to bottle the remaining amount. Because of the C02 that is used in kegging, the yeast only sits to further mature rather than eat additional sugars which would normally be used to add carbonation to the bottle of beer. The keg needs 2-3 days to be thoroughly mixed with the CO2 being pumped into it once it is racked from the secondary. Looking forward to this new challenge.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A cautionary tale.

So, I'm going to begin from the end with this batch description. As the picture describes and reads, this Silver Dollar Porter was a bit of a nightmare. My first All-Grain batch of the Apartment Ber series. As I knew, dealing with 10+ pounds of grain was always going to be a problem in my tiny kitchen, with no wiggle room for error and no compost within 10 feet of me.

As described here, All-Grain requires a much more intensive process of both temperature and liquid utilization. In order to get the most out of your malts, you want to boil as much of the sweet wort runnings from the mash-tun as you can. Because I don't have a turkey fryer or a 7 gallon pot...I decided to boil three different pots getting as close to 4-5 gallons as possible. This allows for better hop utilization and longer breakdowns of the sugars produced from the starchy malt. The voluminous boil makes the better beer. This method however made the process stressful, humid and fevered. I hope everyone can taste a little bit of me in each bottle! (Ah the magic of not being bound by state sanitation regulations) The top picture is the primary chilling in an ice bath in the sink using the 'wet t-shirt' method. Because I boiled so much more liquid, the longer it will take to reduce the temp for pitching the yeast. By resting the primary in a cold bath and wrapping a soaked shirt around the top and keeping the waist end in the water, heat is wicked away as the water will always remain colder than the source it is covering.

To operate this process successfully, divide your hops by eye into the number of pots you will be using. You don't want to over-hop one pot versus the other where the malts will be stronger than the hops and weaker in the other. In addition to this, because of the metallic content of the pots used and the surface area of each, they will come to a boil at different times. In my case, i used two timers, one for the smaller pots and the other for the larger. Maintaining your hop schedule is key.

The batch here is a porter, dark in color and slightly lighter in body than a stout but still very dark with higher IBU's. The brewing process itself went off without a hitch despite the increase of scalding hot liquid around me. The original gravity was nailed, the temperatures for mashing were consistent, and the runnings produced just enough to get what should be a 5.5% abv.

The biggest struggle was dealing with the spent grains. Rather than carrying the awkward mash-tun with soaked grains - making it about 50lbs - down the block to the nearest compost bin, I decided to empty it into bags and buckets. I will Never use bags again. Even double bagging didn't stop the wort from leaking all over the place. After thinking the grains were contained, i would turn my back for a second and the runnings would be trailing the baseboards. If i had a resident cow in the spare room, things would be easy. Despite all this, the batch is fermenting away. Increased sediment in the primary is expected due to the husks and grain pieces coming along the way as well as the increased yeast I have been pitching with. If this becomes an issue, most brewers lower the temperature of their fermentation space which knocks down a lot of the yeast so that it doesn't carry over to the secondary or the bottle. Also Irish moss is effective for this, the method I prefer.

I don't believe I will be All-Grain brewing in the Apartment Ber series again, atleast not until I find that cow. A cautionary tale.

*UPDATE* Despite all the tedious work involved in making this beer in such a small space, it took 2nd place at the Brew-It-Yourself competition in June of 2011.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Brewed up a recipe from Papazian's manual which is described as being 'wild and boisterous.' He titled it as a Dithyrambic Roasted Brown Ale which is "A frenzied, impassioned choric hymn and dance of ancient Greece in honor of Dionysus." One can only hope, mmmkay. An extract kit with roasted barley and a touch of black patent malt. This recipe is an attempt at creating a brown ale similar to Newcastle brown but with much more happening body and nose wise. Nothing out of the ordinary with this kit, other than my new approach to yeast. I have started paying less attention to the strain called for by the recipe and much more attention towards keeping a healthy batch on hand. This not only promotes frequent brewing but also conserving a house batch that needs less preparation than a smack pack and is cutting down on ingredient costs.

This shot above is something that I hadn't noticed before about the wonder of yeast, but, basically they get finicky by the temperatures they interact with, and in this instance the top of the wort was too warm for them whereas the bottom was more suitable so they flocked down there and created a layer to fortify themselves in until the temperature evened out. Curious little fellers. Pitching the yeast into too warm of wort may not kill the yeast, but they can often excrete some off flavors in disgust at your hasty actions, be careful.

The yeast strain began as a London Ale III yeast from wyeast. On brewday, if keeping up with a 5-7 day primary fermentation cycle, the young batch is racked off its sediment and a few jars worth of the sludge is saved. The jars not used on the day were kept in the fridge to be reactivated and used for a later batch. Keeping a jar full at room temperature during the brewing of the new batch, the yeast is still viable and ready to pitch as soon as the wort has been cooled. A few considerations to keep in mind when tasting the finished beer: the sediment brought over from batch to batch not only includes the yeast but also hops and grain sediment. The small amount of these things should not overpower any characteristics of the new batch but may become what would be called a 'house character' to the beer. IF all these beers end up tasting the same, I will make some changes to how i separate the sediment from the yeast, but until then, healthy yeast is always preferred to a smack pack that has been carried over distances and possibly out dated. One of the great qualities of doing this yeast method is the amazingly rapid activation. Within 3 hours bubbles start to occur in the blow-off bucket as compared to the 10-12 hours from a half cup of yeast in the smack pack. More yeast means more activity means better sugar conversion. Some of the downsides is that cleanup is far more intensive as the blow-off hose is definitely required with this much yeast going in. Eruptions and purging as can be seen in that bucket! Also when racking the beer, alot more sediment comes over in the siphon, however this is not a bad thing as the occasional batch is under-yeasted if anything by the time it gets to the bottle. Cheers to boisterousness.

*UPDATE* Boisterous indeed, this beer garnered 1st prize at the BIY-Fest in June of 2011.