Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Hola brewing brothers and sisters!

It is about a month since I brewed the three beers, so I thought I would post the outcomes.
  • Stone IPA clone: It has been in the keg for about two weeks and initially clogged the dip tube with hop particles.  After I cleaned out the tube, I've drunk several glasses, and the hop particles seem to be almost gone and it is clearing nicely.  The hop flavor is strong, as you would expect, and it is quite clean! I think this one is a winner.  Next time, I will dry hop using  a hop bag to reduce the particulates!
  • Patriot Oatmeal Stout (or Maple Ave Breakfast Stout, if you prefer): Also in the keg for a couple of weeks, but no dry hopping, so no clogged dip tube! Delish!  Just as good as the one I brewed for the competition, I'm looking forward to drinking this all winter.  The caramel, roast and malt flavors are balanced perfectly, and it is a treat!  I took some to my friend Andy's house when we watched the Bears/Packers game this week, and it was great!
  • Czech Pilsner: I just kegged this last week and stuck it in my fridge to lager for a while.  Even when I kegged it, it was brilliantly clear, having been hanging in an unheated porch for the past couple of weeks after the fermentation completed.  All the yeast seems to have dropped out (well, most of it) and the flavor was pretty nice, with just a hint of DMS.  I'm  looking forward to the completion of lagering so I can start drinking it in ernest--probably around the middle of January. YUM!
I'm thinking about my next beer, which will probably be a honey porter, since I still have a bunch of Wayne's honey left.  The Tripel I made with it turned out great--I wish I had kept more of it!

Happy holidays to all, and great beer to you!


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Three days of Brewing: Day 3, Czech Pilsner

I'm writing this on Sunday, and day 3 was Wednesday, so this will serve as sort of a wrap up.

Since Wednesday was the day before Thanksgiving, I had to take care of a couple things in the morning before I started brewing, but I did manage to mash in around noon.  The technical part of the mash and boil was pretty straightforward, and I hit my numbers until the end of the boil, when I discovered that I had more evaporation than expected, and my gravity was higher than expected after the 90 minute boil.

I had a couple of visitors on Wednesday as well: Bill Grinley and John Kalinowski--both brewers and BFD members.  Bill is an extract brewer who wanted to learn more about doing all grain, but he missed the start of the mash and arrived as I was in mid-vorlauf.   I enjoyed having the company and a chance to talk beer and brewing with them both, especially as it made the brew day go a bit faster.

My biggest concern on Wednesday was that my Oatmeal Stout was not really fermenting as expected.  In fact there was no airlock activity on Wednesday morning, and I put in another sachet of yeast to try to get things going. Nothing happened the rest of Wednesday, and I was away Thursday and Friday, but when I checked on it Saturday, it was bubbling away.    For that matter, the IPA had pretty much slowed down, and the Pilsner was bubbling along normally, holding about 54 degrees. Whew!  Everything is working, as far as I can tell.

Happy Thanksgiving, and happy brewing to all!  I will follow up with tasting notes on these three brews as they finish fermentation and are ready to taste.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Three days of Brewing: Day 2, Oatmeal Stout

Before I get into today's activity, I have a post-script on day 1. The airlock on the IPA started jumping around 1.5 hrs after I pitched the yeast (or the wort, since the yeast was already in the carboy), and within 4 hours it had overwhelmed the airlock with Kraeusen. Luckily I was there, as my son and I were having dinner, and I was able to insert a blow-off hose before any damage was done. It was pretty fun eating dinner and watching the Kraeusen fill the tube (photo at left) and move through it. We moved the bucket and fermenter to a location that was in the mid-50's to cool it down so the fermentation temp would be around 68.

This morning I could hear the bubbles coming out of the blow-off tube like a heart beat through the wall of my bedroom! The temp of the carboy was still quite high, despite the fairly low ambient temp. Wow!

On to today's brew. Anybody who knows me knows that I love Oatmeal Stout!  I won the Patriot Homebrew competition because it was one of the few beers that I brewed over and over to try to get it right.  So now it is a regular fixture in my fridge, and I need a new batch.  The recipe is published, but it still gets tweaked slightly every time I brew, and this time is no exception, as I subbed out Crystal 80 for Crystal 60, just slightly lighter, but otherwise not much different.  I got an earlier start today, so now, at 11:30ish, I am pretty far along in collecting my wort.  As it should be, Oatmeal Stout is dark, nearly opaque, and I'm getting excited about drinking it already!  Of the 3 beers I'm brewing this week, this will be ready to drink first, probably in a couple of weeks. Here's why:

The IPA will ferment in a short time (really short given the strength of the fermentation), but will need to sit and dry-hop (addition of hops after fermentation, to add aroma) for a couple of weeks.  The Pilsner is a lager, and will take 2-4 weeks to do the primary fermentation, then it needs to sit in the cold ("lager") for about 4 weeks to finish off and be ready to drink.  The stout should be done fermenting and ready to drink in about 2 weeks.  Nice!

Well, while I wasn't looking, I managed to collect about 8 gallons of wort in the boil kettle. I only needed 7, so now I'll have to boil for 90 minutes instead of 60 to get the right gravity. Still, not the end of the world, I think.

90 minutes later.... Well, the evaporation hasn't been as rapid as I thought, and my gravity is still low. I think.  It should be up around 16.4 Plato and it is now around 15.0 Plato. Not the end of the world, but it has me wondering if I correctly measured the evaporation yesterday--or if this much heavier wort is just evaporating more slowly because it isn't boiling as vigorously.  Hmmm.

Well, into the fermenter it went at 2:40pm, with a brand new bubbler-style airlock.  If it blows through the airlock I have another blow-off tube and it is next the bucket!

Tomorrow: Pilsner

Monday, November 22, 2010

Three days of Brewing: Day 1, IPA

It was tough waking up this morning. Days off without schedules are a rarity, but I dragged myself out of bed and got moving. I decided to try something new (to me) that other folks in BFD have recommended, which is to use "Malt Conditioning" (see to try to increase my efficiency.  That took a few minutes to do, but didn't really add any significant time to my brew day, which is nice.  I think it worked, as well, since I got about 80% efficiency in my mash--not bad!

I am sitting here now, several hours later, the boil has just ended, and I'm about to cool the wort down to pitching temp.  So far, everything has gone very smoothly.  Here's how the new setup looks:
From top left to bottom left:  hot liquor tank, new boil kettle, other pot for heating water for mashout.  Toolbox with pump mounted inside, and mash/lauter tun (Rubbermade cooler). 
The design of everything has worked as planned.  In brewing, people dream about having brew sculptures they can use to brew.  People build these sculptures out of metal tubing, or buy ready made ones, often for thousands of dollars.  In truth, they are useful, but you can't use them in a kitchen--and that's where I brew!  My brew sculpture was made by Maytag!  I have no problem making five gallon batches with this setup, and my back is happy about the pump, since I don't have to lift heavy containers of hot (or cold) liquid!  

OK, so about this IPA.  You can sample what I'm aiming for if you go to many liquor stores in the US. Stone IPA is pretty widely available, and is a great example of an American IPA.It should have about 7% alcohol by volume, which is a little higher than your typical macro-brew.  Very hoppy (65 IBUs), light in color, and aromatic from dry hopping, it is a very drinkable beer--if you like IPAs.    I like IPAs!  A lot!  Lately I haven't had enough of them, I think, so this should help.  Here's what it looks like in the pot, cooling:
Copper chiller in the wort.  All the little flecks in the wort are hops or hot break materials (protein).  Those will be left behind in the pot.

And now, in the fermenter:

The recipe was published recently in Brew Your Own magazine, so I decided to give it a shot. Aside from the evaporation rate on my boil being a little high, the only concern I have is that the 2oz of Centennial hops I added with 15 minutes to go are adequately utilized and give a nice piney aroma.  I use a "hop bag" in my boil because I don't have a filter on the bottom of my pot that won't clog if I use pellet hops, which are the most commonly available (they look like rabbit chow).  Pellets are great, but I think I need to make some modifications in my system, specifically doing a whirlpool and adding a counter-flow chiller to let the hops out of the bag.  In time, I'm sure I'll get there.  In the meantime, I'll hope for the best. Or hop for the best!

Tomorrow I'm brewing an Oatmeal Stout--the one I won the competition with. I need to toast some oats today so I will be ready tomorrow for the big brew.  I will also gather my other grains for mashing, so in the morning I can just start crushing and brew sooner. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rob's American Rauchbier

Just a quick shout out to my friend Rob North, who won this year's Patriot Homebrew Competition.  Rob brewed the Rauchbier that is now available at Patriot's games during the 2010 season.  I attended today's game against the Indianapolis Colts, and enjoyed one of Rob's beers.  If you are going to the Pat's game, I recommend you get one, too!

As a public service, here's where to go in the stadium:  Next to the McDonald's on the 100-level concourse in the North end-zone is the Sam Adams Brew Haus.  That is the ONLY place you can find the winning beer, and you must get there before the end of halftime, because they stop serving after that.  It is worth the effort!  Great job, Rob!

Back to Brewing - November 2010

Whew! It has been a while since I posted, and while I have been active in the beer world, I haven't done a lot of brewing since May or so.  A lot of time has been taken up with work, sure, but it also has just been too HOT in Boston to consider brewing much over the summer.  I also was the organizer of the New England Regional Homebrew Competition (NERHBC) which took place on October 23rd, and that took up a lot of my time over the fall--and is a topic for another post!

But now, I'm back!  I just got a shiny new 38qt (9.5 gal) stainless steel brew pot, which, with the help of my friend John Kalinowski, I outfitted with a 1/2" ball valve and a Blichman Brewmometer.   Cool!  This is replacing a 30 qt (7.5 gal) aluminum turkey fryer pot which I was using as a boil kettle. It will be reuses as a hot liquor tank, however, and will retire my bottling bucket from that job!  The net result, I hope, will be a more streamlined brewing operation, less lifting (keep my back intact) and, well, more beer!

The coolest thing about the new kettle is that it will fit over 2 burners on my gas stove.  That means faster heating, and (hopefully) a better boil.  I tested it out today and it heated 8 gals of water at about 1.75 degree every minute--since I'll probably be boiling about 7gals of wort, and that is a bit heavier, I'll still be happy with 2 degrees per minute.

I had forgotten that it is a bit of a challenge to get ready to use a new pot.  From the time I got it (and yes, I could have ordered it pre-drilled) here's what I've been doing:
  • Measuring out where to put the valve and the thermometer. Both are centered midway between the handles, and the valve is about as close to the bottom of the kettle as I could go without being on the curve. The instructions that came with the Bremometer said to put it a minimum of 6" above the bottom of the pot, but when I measured that, I decided it might just be at the top of the wort--not a good thing.  So I went for 5.25" which is around 5 gallons, as I found out today.
  • Drilling it out.  John came over with his step bit, which is essential, and we drilled out in no time.  The great thing about a step bit is that it doesn't create a lot of burrs that would cut the gaskets for the valve or thermometer, which aren't welded on.  We still sanded it out though to make sure.
  • Leak testing: Once we screwed the valve and thermometer in, I had to make sure they didn't leak.  That was surprisingly easy.  I had one small drip near the valve, but that was easily fixed. I hardly tightened much more than hand tight, either!
  • Calibrating measuring stick: It may seem odd, but the pot was not marked anywhere to show how much is in it.  I have another pot that has markings by quart, so I can tell how much liquid I have, but this new pot has none.  So, I took my big mash paddle and added 1/2 gallon at a time, marking the paddle for each 1/2 gallon up to 8 gallons (much more than that and I'll have a boil over for sure!  That took about 30 minutes, but it will make it easy for me to tell how much wort I collect and what is left after boiling.  A little work on this now will save a lot of uncertainty later.  The pot I had been using was marked on the outside, but that didn't tell me as much, so this time I am starting clean.
  • Cleaning:  The last step, and one of the most important is to make sure there aren't any leftover oils from manufacturing or any other dirt that had appeared in storage, shipping or my own set up.  So I took my 8 gallons of water and added 8 tbsp of PBW, heated to 140 and let it sit for a while.  When that was done, I dumped the PBW solution into my old brewpot to make sure it was clean.  A good thing, too!  There was a layer of stuff that came off, and now my hot liquor tank (it holds hot water) will be good to go tomorrow as well.

Here's what the new pot looks like now:

Tomorrow: Brewing for the first time in the new pot! I am taking time off from work this week to get some brewing in, as I have not done as much as I would like. Here's the lineup (remember, it is Thanksgiving week, so I'll be busy Thursday and Friday with family stuff):
  1. Monday: Stone IPA clone
  2. Tuesday: Patriot Oatmeal Stout
  3. Wednesday: Czech Pilsner
More posts to follow on the next 3 days...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Brew HaHa - shown on TV

Schedule for "Brew Ha Ha"

  • 6:00pm Sat, May 8 | 10 - if you live in Cambridge 
  • Online, click to view  - I hope you enjoy it! I had a blast working with the group that made it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Starting to brew - some tips

Every so often someone asks me how they can get started brewing.  It's a great question, and since everyone who brews is a new brewer once everyone has a story.  Here are my suggestions on what to do if you want to start brewing:
  •  Watch a video on homebrewing to see if it looks like something you want to do. Here's a good example:
  • Try brewing with someone else.  If you don't know a brewer, look for a club in your area (see on the Homebrewers Association website, or google Homebrew clubs in your area.  Or ask at a local homebrew shop if you have one.  When you contact a club, just tell them you want to learn how to brew and you are experimenting. Brewers are friendly people and I'm sure they will hook you up with someone who is brewing quickly!
  • Read a book about brewing.  From my experience, John Palmer's How to Brew is the best one going. He has lots of detailed tutorial information for your first batch, and a really useful amount of information on the science of brewing that you will be interested in later.  I still refer to this book for information on a regular basis.
  • Get a kit for your first batch--but make sure it is fresh! Note that there are both equipment kits and recipe kits--you will need both unless they are selling a combo for beginners.  Kits are usually graded for level of difficulty, so make sure you pick one that is "beginner" for your fist batch.  There are some good options online at Beer, Beer, and More Beer, Northern Brewer, or William's Brewing--or go to your local home brew shop.    Fresh ingredients are key, don't let them sell you the dusty old kit that's been on the shelf for months--get one that is new and has fresh ingredients or don't buy anything!
I would be remiss if I didn't mention sanitation.  One of the worst things that can happen to your beer is an "infection".  You can prevent this by (a) cleaning thoroughly using something like PBW or B-Brite; and (b) sanitizing everything the beer touches post boil with Iodaphor or StarSan.  Why do I say "post boil"?  Well, the boil sanitizes everything in it.  After the boil, however, you will be putting the chilled wort into a fermenter using a racking cane, tubing, etc., all of which need to be germ free or you risk infection.   A little extra effort will protect your beer!

In the end, brewing is supposed to be fun, so don't take it too seriously, especially the first time out.  As Charlie Papazian says "Relax, have a homebrew!"  You are making beer, after all, not doing brain surgery.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Choosing a successor!

February 12th,  I was fortunate to be invited to the Samuel Adams brewery to help judge the final 5 in the 2010 Patriot Homebrew Competition.  There were five finalist beers to judge, an Alt, a Marzen/Oktoberfest, a Wheat, an IPA and a Rauchbier, and I was one of several on the panel who included most of the folks that judged this round last year, a couple new ones, and of course Jim Koch, founder of the brewery.

For me, this was a real honor, as I got to meet some folks who are beer and media celebrities--not to mention the group responsible for my win in 2009.  Wally Brine (Loren and Wally show), Carolyn Faye Fox (Improper Bostonian) and Gail Ciampa (Providence Journal) whom I had met previously.  Dan Hausle of WHDH came armed with some of his own homebrew to share, and Norman Miller, the Beer Nut (, Todd and Jason Ahlstrom of Beer Advocate, Mike Adams (WEEI) were the remainder of the panel.  Let me tell you, this was a FUN group! Lots of jokes and personal stories during the tasting.

We tasted each of the beers in the final round and it was interesting to me that the panel members were checking the BJCP guidelines to learn about the characteristics of the beers and whether they were correctly represented.  It occurred to me that this step really wasn't necessary, as the original competition had determined that these were good exemplars of their categories, and since they were all in different categories, judging them against style really didn't mean a heck of a lot!  When you get 5 different style beers out, the only way to judge them is to say which beers you like best--which brings in a lot of personal taste elements.

After we tasted the fifth beer, the debate started, and we had to pick the top two .  We asked Jim questions about what he was looking for in terms of selection criteria.  For example, as the brewer, did he want the beer that seemed like it would be the most salable, and would be appealing to most drinkers?  Since the previous two beers had been a Black IPA and an Oatmeal Stout, would he really want an IPA again so soon?  How daring did he want to be? Lots of great questions--the answers will have to wait until the winner is announced, I think.

At the end of the day (when we got to taste some Mother Funk and some Noble Pils--a really nice beer), we chose a great beer as the 2010 Patriot Homebrew winner.  I will be happy to make my way back to the Sam Adams Brewhouse on game day, and say "I'll have one of those!"  All of the brewers that made it into the top five should be proud of their beer, as it was all very good--as it should be.  This is a great competition, and I applaud Jim Koch and the Patriots organization for this pairing of football and beer, and for supporting the home brewing community!  Thanks guys!

Brew HaHa

I have not posted in a while, and I have had a number of different posting ideas floating around in my head, but have not managed to write about any of them.  nevertheless, I need to bog about this one!

Brew HaHa is a documentary made by a group at Cambridge Cable TV.  I was filmed for the documentary--making the Roggenbier actually-- and my footage made it in.  Actually a certain amount of the brewing process shots (grinding grain, weighing hops, the different grains) were shot at my apartment, as well as some interview footage and actual brewing activity.  It was really interesting to watch the film, which premiered last night at Cambridge Cable TV.

The story of the documentary is covered in the linked article, and I recommend watching it on CCTV ( though I couldn't tell you when it will be on-- they have a program guide for that.  It was an interesting experience, and I met some new and enjoyable people as a result--fellow brewers and beer appreciators both.

Anyway, when you find a time to watch the documentary, I recommend that you enjoy it with a beer in hand!  I'll be interested in any feedback that you post.  Enjoy!