Category Archives: Experiment

01-25-10

Make your own Belgian Candi Sugar

I’m a big fan of drinking and brewing Belgian beers. Many Belgian beers require the addition of Belgian Candi Sugar. Brewers use the sugar for many reasons as it will help boost the ABV, increase fermentability, and thin the mouthfeel of the beer. As a homebrewer, I’m always looking for ways to save a buck and Belgian Candi Sugar is one of those ingredients that is super expensive. Luckily, you can easily make your own sugar without much effort. I’ve done this several times and I’ve been very happy with the results. In the steps below I will explain the process of making Belgian Candi Sugar and hopefully show you how easy it is.

Step 1: Gather the ingredients

You will need the following items in order to create your own Belgian Candi Sugar:

  • Table sugar (I use five pound bags of sugar)
  • Water (I use 2.5 cups of water)
  • Food grade acid (lemon juice or cream of tartar are my go to’s)
  • Boiling pot
  • An accurate thermometer that can sit in boiling mixtures for extended times (candy, fryer, or digital thermometer with a long probe will work fine)
  • Tin foil
  • Tray

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Cleaning a whiskey barrel

As I noted a little while ago a friend and I decided to go in on a used 15 gallon whiskey barrel. We decided to brew a Rye IPA as our first batch (recipe coming soon) and before any beer can go in the barrel, the barrel itself needs to be cleaned as to not contaminate 15 gallons of beer.

03-28-01

Questions to ask

To begin with I want to quickly look at some things that you might want to consider when picking a whiskey barrel. Below is a small list of things that I would take into account if I were getting a barrel:

  1. How old is the barrel?
  2. Was it recently dumped?
  3. What did it previously hold? Beer, liquor, wine?
  4. Are there any noticeable cracks, bulges, or anything else that looks out of sorts?
  5. Is the barrel sealed or is the bung open?

There are many reasons to ask these questions, but the main thing you are looking for is something that will turn out a quality beer. The age of the barrel matters because you want to know the strength of oak and or liquor flavor that you are going to get. A newer or once used barrel will not give as much liquor flavor, but it will give a lot of oak flavor. A recently dumped barrel is important as you don’t want the wood to dry out, thus giving air and the little bugs that come with air a chance to make their home in the wood. Some used barrels will hold things other than liquor. My preference is to not get a barrel that once held beer as there could be yeast in there that you will never truly get out. Make sure that you barrel looks like a barrel for many of the reasons noted above. Finally you want to make sure your barrel is sealed. Ours was sealed with a wooden bung, that needed a hammer and several good whacks to dislodge. This helps ensure that your barrel stays air tight.

Cleaning

There are several options to cleaning your barrel. In this process you are looking to get rid of anything that would contaminate your beer. Remember, a barrel is the same thing as a secondary fermentor. Below I have outlined several options and provided your with the option that we went with and why.

Sanitize like a fermentor

You can put a typical no rinse sanitizer into a barrel like what you would do with a fermentor and let it sit for awhile. This will kill most things on the surface of the barrel and if your leave it sit for long enough, it will absorb into the wood killing things that are deeper. It will not get rid of anything, nor will any of these methods. I considered this for a long time, but decided against it as I didn’t want anything left that would kill any yeast that transferred over. We are looking to bottle this beer after aging so I want to have some yeast alive for carbonating the bottles.

Campden Tablets

Campden tablets are usually used in wine making. They kill pretty much everything that they come in contact with. For the reasons noted above we did not go this route, but may in the future.

Potassium Metabisulfite Powder

This is the active ingredient in campden tablets and I did not pick it for the same reasons.

Hot Water

I decided to go with hot water. I heated 15 gallons of water up to 170 degrees and then poured it into the barrel with the help of a funnel. I then sealed the barrel up and left it sit there for 30 minutes. I was looking to neutralize anything on the surface and to also check for leaks. The hot water allows the wood to swell quickly, ensuring that any leak would be plugged more quickly. I also knew that we had a good barrel that was sealed well. In addition, the beer going into the barrel is currently at 9.5% ABV, so most critters that would like to ruin our beer wouldn’t be able to survive in that setting.

The beer has been in the barrel for about a week at this point. I’ll give it a few more weeks before I check it and add back any beer that has evaporated out. There are a number of other ways to clean a barrel, but hot water in a well sealed, recently dumped barrel, did the trick for me.

My new used whiskey barrel

If you haven’t been following our Facebook and Twitter, and let’s be honest, why wouldn’t you, you missed the news that I recently came into a 15 gallon used whiskey barrel. Actually a buddy of mine and I went halfies on it. I’ve been wanted to do some barrel aging for some time as it seems like a new fun challenge.

02-22-01As you can see it looks like a full sized barrel, just scaled down a bit. The barrel was sealed immediately after it was drained and when you swish the barrel around a bit you hear a bit of whiskey in it. I’ll post a few things about barrel aging beers and tips if you want to do something similar as well. The first beer to aged in it will be a Rye IPA, which was brewed on Presidents’ Day (all 15+ gallons). After that we will fill it with a Belgian Tripel and then an Oatmeal Stout. From there I need to do some planning. Anyone have any specific questions on barrel aging homebrew that I can answer in a future post?

 

Colonial America beer

11-17-01I’ve been trying to come up with my next recipe for homebrewing and I can’t really decide on what I want to do exactly. I keep going between a porter, a winter warmer, or some type of amber ale. I really just can’t decide at all. And then I got an idea; how about a Colonial
America style of beer?

I thought it sounded like a great idea so I have been doing a lot of research into beer styles and brewing techniques during the Colonial time in America. I have run across several helpful articles and have really started to dive into them. I am still working on a solid recipe but I thought that I would share my current ideas and information and see if anyone can point me in a more correct direction.

Right now I am looking at three “styles” of Colonial beer. The first would be a basic porter, not super strong, but packed with roasty flavors and medium carbonation. The second style I am looking at is more of a British style pub ale that Thomas Jefferson is said to have enjoyed. Who knows if that is true, but it makes a good story. In place of all of the British malts and hops I would substitute American malts and hops. The final beer that I am looking into is a Spruce beer that was common during the Revolutionary War. It would be a darker beer, similar to a porter, but also have some essence of spruce put into it. Now I just need to narrow down my focus a bit.

I also am concerned with doing this beer authentically. I will have to use some modern brewing practices, but I would like to get the ingredients as close as possible. I know that hops change from year to year, and there is no way to actually know what the barley was malted at during that period but digging into some more material, I hope to find some more clues.  Below are a few links that I have been looking over the gain a better understanding of Colonial brewing in America.

Links

As I said, I have a lot more research to do, but these links are a start. I have a few books that I can get more information out of, but I will have to dig in and find the correct information. If you find any other info out there I am more than willing to take it.

Homebrew carbonation problems

11-06-01I’ve brewed three batches of beer since I have been in Lubbock, Tx. Every single one of them has not had proper carbonation and it is starting to drive me nuts. The first two beers, Belgian Dubbel and Belgian Tripel, were both carbonated with carbonation drops. I put the proper amount, according to the packaging, into each bottle, but both are under-carbonated. The sad thing is that these styles of beer are supposed to be highly carbonated. They have nice flavor, just not enough of the bubbles.

For my Pumpkin Ale I went back to my old carbonation method, dry malt extract. It costs more than corn sugar and carbonation drops, and takes a bit longer, but I have always been happy with the results. As of right now it is more carbonated than the Belgian beers, but still not up to snuff.

I have been trying to think of reasons why my beers are not carbonating. I’ll say that I got a bad batch of carbonation drops or the packaging is wrong. The Dubbel is at 6% ABV and the Tripel at 9% ABV. I don’t think there is a problem with the yeast being tried and not fully carbonating. The Pumpkin Ale has its own problems which might be affecting it. Because of the stuck sparge and a few other things it is coming in at an amazing 14.5% ABV. The yeast I used is not known to be highly tolerant, so it could be stressed out or dead, thus the lack of carbonation.

Eventually I will be kegging things, but that is another year or so off. So until then I need to work on my carbonation. I never had a problem back in PA, perhaps the 3000+ feet of altitude change is part of it, I don’t know. My next homebrew is going to be lower ABV so I can get a better idea of what is going on.