Skip to main content

Homebrewing Update

It’s been some time since my last post on this site. At the time of my last post I had just returned from vacation and jumped right back into a promotion at work which has kept me very busy. While I haven’t been posting a ton (like nothing at all in a month and a half) on this site, I’ve been very actively homebrewing. I thought that I would leave some notes below on my activities before getting back to beer reviews later this week.

Whiskey Barrel

My buddy and I split the cost of a whiskey barrel several months ago and we have produced a very nice Rye IPA and Belgian Tripel from it. The Rye IPA has passed its peak freshness in my eyes but the Tripel is firing on all cylinders. I expect that beer to age nicely and be around for some time. Currently to barrel has a Robust Porter in it (recipe coming soon) that hits some nice notes from the first tasting. It’s been in the barrel a little longer than what I would have liked and has become over-oaked as a result. I added some fresh beer to it a few weeks ago and that seems to have rounded it out nicely. I hope to bottle it this weekend. Going into the whiskey barrel will be a Belgian Dark Strong Ale that has been fermenting strong for three weeks now. I don’t know how it is doing it, but there are still bubbles coming out of the airlocks.

Kegs

The kegged portion of the Rye IPA is in one of my kegs and the other one has a Fall Session Ale. It’s a nice beer that comes in at 4% ABV, but has a ton of flavor that makes it drink like a higher percentage beer. I have a keg of the Barrel Aged Tripel waiting to go on tap once the Rye kicks. I need to replace the O-rings on one of my empty kegs along with a new poppet valve.

Fermentation

All of my fermenters are currently full, which is not something that usually happens for me. Three of them are taken up by the Belgian Dark Strong Ale which will be put into the barrel this weekend. Another fermenter has an American Hoppy Wheat Ale in it that is hopped with a generous amount of Citra, but stays at 4.5% or so ABV. My only glass carboy has three gallons of the fresh Robust Porter that didn’t fit into the barrel. I am toying with the idea of fermenting a few gallons of cider and mixing the two before kegging but I have to let that idea rest for a bit. I also just got two new fermenters in the mail today thanks to Northern Brewer’s buy one get on free sale from last week.

Brewing List

I have a number of beers in my mind that I want to brew pretty soon. The first thing that I need to knockout is a Pumpkin Ale. The one that I brewed last year really hit the mark for me and I am only going to be making slight adjustments for this years batch. I also have a Winter Warmer in my mind that needs to be brewed in short order. Finally I have a bunch of NZ hops on hand so I want to make an over the top IPA and Pale Ale, but those may have to hold off a bit as I want to make sure that I can drink them fresh and I don’t have the keg space to put them in right now.

Reviews will be back later this week and I plan on posting more homebrewing articles as well as I have a lot going on right now with it.

Homebrew updates

I haven’t posted about homebrewing in a little while and I just wanted to give some updates. So far this year I have brewed 15 batches of beer for a total of 75 gallons. It’s crazy to think that I still have¬† 125 gallons to go in order to meet my state allowed maximum. I’m still drinking some of the beer that I brewed during the summer. I have a Belgian IPA on tap right now along with my Pumpkin Ale. I’ll get a recipe up for my Belgian IPA shortly.

The pumpkin is pretty good and it is received some rave review from my friends. I want to dial back the spices a bit and give it a touch more body. I’ll probably end up rebrewing this one before the fall is over with a different yeast that doesn’t attenuate as well so that it can have a bit more body. The Belgian IPA is good, but not great. It is suffering from sitting in the keg too long. IPAs need to be drank quickly and this one sat in a keg for a month and a half. The hop freshness is wearing off and is nothing compared to what it was when it was fresher.

I recently brewed a third version of an IPA I have been working on. I changed up the yeast and the hops, but everything else is the same. I have magnum as the bittering hop and two additions of citra. The yeast change was more out of me being cheap than anything as the IPA was pitched on a yeast cake. I recently kegged, what I am calling, an American Bitter. It uses American malt and hops, but a bitter grain bill profile and an English yeast. It came in at about 4% and initial tasting has this one being drinkable in decent amounts. I’ll get a recipe up on here once I’ve had a chance to really test it out and make sure it meets my internal standards.

On the equipment front I bought 2 new kegs from Keg Connection. With shipping they came in at $78, you really can’t beat that. I also scored a deal from Northern Brewer for buy one get one Better Bottles. That brings me up to 4 Better Bottles and one glass carboy. I’m hoping to do a number of lagers this winter once the basement cools down and I should have no problem filling all of the carboys up. I haven’t ordered much in way of ingredients recently but I did get a bag of grain at the beginning of October from Midwest Supplies for $32. I had a coupon that took away shipping and then some. I can’t get grain for less than $45-$50 around my house so this was a good deal.

I have plenty of ideas that I want to try out in the coming months. I’ve also had the hankering to do a sour beer as well as a barrel aged beer since I just found out they sell used 5 gallon whiskey barrels. I’m going to hold off on the sour beer idea until it warms up and the barrel is a temporary dream. What I really want, and have wanted for awhile, is a fermentation chamber. I would love to make one myself and have it be able to hold two Better Bottles and two kegs. Time and budget will see if that idea comes to fruition. I’m going to start posting more homebrew updates as it’s an area of the site that I have really been slacking on. I generally try to post every even day, and I’m thinking that every third even day will be devoted to homebrew. Anyone else up to anything in the homebrew world?

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.