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5 Gallons

I love homebrewing. I love creating something of my own and possibly something that no one else have ever created. My only problem is that I hate making 5 gallon batches of homebrew purely because it is the standard. I think that I am going to start making some small batches in the range of 3 gallons. My reasons behind this are two fold. First is that I hate, hate, hate (did I mention I hate) bottling my homebrew. It is the most labor intensive part of the whole process and kegging would make everything so much simpler. Soon Nate, soon. 3 gallons is much quicker to bottle than what 5 gallons would be becasue when all is said an done, it is going to be half as much, or about a case worth of beer.

The second reason is that I get tired of drinking the same beer over and over. Maybe it is my beer review taste buds that crave something new, but I find that the two cases I get from 5 gallons sits around of a long time. Making smaller batches will help me clear stuff out and also give me the chance to brew more. The only real problem with brewing smaller batches is that it takes the same amount of work to brew a 20 gallon batch as it does a 3 gallon batch. I am ok with that since I am doing it for myself only. I’m not a competition brewery by any means and I still enjoy a good commercial beer on a normal basis.

My homebrew, a year in review

I didn’t do as much homebrewing as I would of liked to do this year. In total I did40 gallons worth of homebrew. That’s eight five gallon batches. Below is a list of the beers that I brewed up this year.

  • Imperial Porter
  • SB Birthday Beer (Amber wheat)
  • Irish Red
  • Belgian Dubbel
  • Belgian Tripel
  • Pumpkin Ale
  • Winter Warmer
  • Amber IPA

Some of those beers turned out better than others. I have to say that my darker beers are my better ones. That is probably I enjoy roasty flavors and it is easier to hide other flavors with them. My Irish Red and SB Birthday beer did not come out very well at all. The Irish Red was a victim of improper hopping. I switched the hops and the bittering component came out way to strong and dry. The SB Birthday beer was the victim of sitting in a fermenter for too long and also was in the sun for a bit of it. They were both drinkable, but not up to a decent standard.

My Belgian beer experiments went pretty good. The Dubbel needed a few more darker malts and I would change the yeast in it to something that would give off a bit more plum and dry fruit esters. Overall it tasted  fine, it just needed to be a bit richer tasting. The Tripel was darn good. The malts and the yeast worked perfectly. It was well balanced and a good representation of a Tripel. There were a few too many hot alcohols in it which was caused by a higher than wanted fermentation temperature.

The Pumpkin Ale was a complete disaster. The stuck sparge  left a ton of extra sugars and I didn’t think it out with extra water. With a lower than normal wort level and a high sugar level the beer ended up being 15% and too highly spiced. I can see it being a really good beer, it just needed to be brewed correctly. It is still drinkable, but edges on not being so.

My Winter Warmer is still bottle conditioning but it tastes wonderful. It is a bit more bitter than I wanted and next time I would take out some more Black Patent malt, as it gives off a ton of flavor. I called the beer a Winter Warmer, but in reality it is a stout. I left the option open to put spices in it, but I did not want to since the beer before it, the pumpkin ale, had more spice than I knew what to do it. All you need to do to make it a true Winter Warmer is add in a few spices and bam, you have it.

The Amber IPA is getting bottled this week, so we will see how that turns out. My real all star for this brew year was the Imperial Porter. It came in a 8% and had everything you could want in a porter. It was well balanced and you could not even detect an alcohol on the beer. I really like it, I wish I had more.

This next brew year I’m not sure what I want to make. I think next on my list is a simple American Amber. After that I have not idea. I am still looking into the colonial beer, but that is a ways off. We will see what this year brings, but I am excited as I am really honing in on my efficiency and turning out beer very close to what I want them to taste like.

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.

What do I need to homebrew?

One of my buddies just recently asked, “what do I need to have to be able to homebrew?” He actually brewed his first batch of beer tonight after he got his starter kit in the mail. I thought that I would take a few moments to go over the very basic things that you need to have as a new homebrewer. I am going to leave out a few things that typically come in a beer kit, becasue, as a new brewer you simply don’t need or shouldn’t be worrying about them. If you don’t want to read my explanations, simply scroll to the bottom of the page for the final list of necessary equipment.

Boil Pot

11-13-02The first thing that you are going to need is a pot to boil your wort in. A basic definition for wort is the liquid that contains all of the sugars that the yeast will eat. Your pot can really be any size, most people will say that you need to have something big enough to boil a few gallons and I would agree with that. I started with, and still use my 20 quart pot, and have had great success with it. You can find a stainless steel, 5 gallon pot for 20-50 bucks depending on where you shop. My local Big Lots has them on sale right now for $20. You can read my entry on brew pots here as there are a few other (aka cheaper) options out there, but I am going to stick with stainless.

Fermenter

11-13-01The next thing you have to have is something to ferment in. Most beers are brewed in a closed fermenter. What this means is that once the wort and yeast are combined, there is no other air introduced to the container. Just think of a water bottle, once you put the lid on no extra air can come in. Some brewers do open fermentation where the beer is put into a container with no lid or cap, and is left alone. This is fine as long as nothing falls into the beer, there is minimal air movement, and you are willing to risk airborne critters entering your beer. In either case, the beer needs to be in something rated food safe. If it is a glass carboy you have no problems, and if it is a plastic bucket, just double check to make sure it is food safe.

So we have something to boil the wort in and somewhere to put it once it is done boiling. Now we need a way to get it out of there once the fermentation is complete. Actually, let me back up for a second. Most brewers like moving their beer from one fermenter to another after the fermentation has completed. This does a lot of things for you if you are going to be storing the beer for a long time, but if you are ready to go right to the bottle, you don’t need to worry about a second fermenter. Remember I am going for a basic list here, so no secondary.

Siphon and bottling equipment

Getting back to moving that beer out of the fermenter and into the bottle, we need something to do that with. There are two options a siphon (aka a racking cane) or an auto-siphon. What both of these devices use is basic physics (pressure) to move liquids from a high pressure to a lower one. There is a little more to it, but that is the general gist. A siphon you must start and then work it into your beer. To be honest I’ve never used one. An auto-siphon is slightly more expensive (about $5 more), but well worth your time and effort. You simply pump it and the liquid starts flowing. Pretty easy. Along with your siphon or auto-siphon you are going to need a tube to transport the beer to where you want it.

Our next few things kind of go hand in hand. At the end of the tube from your siphon you want to have a bottle filler. A bottle filler has a spring loaded tip that only allows your precious beer to flow out of it if the tip of it is depressed (on the bottom of a bottle). They run in the 2-5 dollar range. Just make sure that you are getting one that is spring-loaded. Obviously we are going to need some bottles as well. To top off the bottles we need to have bottle caps and also a capper that crimps the caps onto the top of the bottle.

Sanitize brother, Sanitize

There is the equipment side of things. The other necessary thing that you have to have, repeat HAVE TO HAVE, is some type of sanitizer. It can be as simple as bleach or as cool as a non-rinse sanitizer. In any case it is absolutely necessary. You can have the best equipment in the world, but without sanitation, you can’t make good beer (and possibly not even drinkable beer). Yikes. This is because there are tons of microscopic  critters out there that like beer as much as we do. If they get into your fresh wort, they will compete with your yeast in eating the sugars. These critters can make some terrible smells and tastes if given the chance. So just kill them when you have the chance, all of them.

11-13-03

So a quick recap of things absolutely necessary to homebrew:

  • Boil kettle: size doesn’t matter but a 3-5 gallon one will serve you well
  • Fermenter: because you need somewhere for your yeasts to live
  • Siphon: so you can get your yummy beer into a bottle
  • Bottle filler: you need to fill those bottles in some controlled fashion
  • Bottles: what else would you drink your beer out of?
  • Bottle caps: you want your beer to be carbonated don’t you?
  • Bottle capper: those caps need to stay on the bottle somehow
  • Sanitizer: other little critters like beer as much as we do, don’t give them a chance to have it

Well there you go, all of the stuff you need to make beer, other than the ingredients of course. I’ll cover that in our next into to brewing post. Thanks for reading and let me know if there are any questions that you have. This is in no way a complete list of things that you could have, but this is the necessary list of things. There are plenty of other products out there that will make your homebrewing experience easier and more satisfying.

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.