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Winter Warmer

12-14-01About three weeks ago I brewed my version of a Winter Warmer. You can find the recipe here. I had a new mash tun setup going into this brew day because my last beer, Pumpkin Ale, had a stuck sparge and resulted in a bunch of other issues. While the Pumpkin Ale still turned out decent, it was not as good as it should of beer do to the loss of sugar/wort from the stuck sparge. With everything revamped in the mash tun, the Winter Warm was the first recipe to make sure everything was working properly.

I heated up my mash water and dumped the grain into the mash tun. I also had another piece of new equipment, a 3 foot metal slotted spoon, that I got for 2 bucks at a local restaurant supply store. It might not sound like a lot, but it really helps break up those dough balls and insure that I get all of the sugar I can out of the grain. Once the water hit the proper temp, I poured it in and started mixing everything together. My target mash temp was around 158, I was reading slightly above that. I waited a bit for it to cool down and added a touch of cold water, but it was still a little high. Not being an exact kind of person, I put the lid on and started the timer.

12-14-03An hour later I opened the mash tun to find a wonderful sight. Lots of light and dark colored grain laying all over the place. Equally mixed and everything. MLK would of been proud. After positioning my boil kettle, I opened the ball value leading from my mash tun to watch a thick black liquid run out. I think this is by far the darkest beer I have ever made. I couldn’t tell if it was running clear at all becasue it was so dark.

After collecting my first runnings I added the strike water for the second, let it sit in there for about 10 minutes and let it run out into the kettle as well. This round was much lighter. It was still dark by beer standards, but you could see through it and had a nice nut brown ale color to it. I also added the pound of molasses during this time, using the hot second runnings to clean out the jar for me as 12-14-04molasses is very sticky.

The wort then boiled for an hour with all of the hop additions happening when they were supposed to. I did not add any Irish Moss to this batch because the beer was so dark, and there is no chance of seeing through it as is. Once it was all cooled down and the yeast pitched, I took a gravity reading. Holy smokes! I hit it right on the head. I wanted to get a gravity of 1.075 and that is exactly what I got. Never before have I hit a target gravity. I always fall a few points below. It fermented for a week and then was racked to the secondary. I will be bottling it later this week and let it condition for a bit. It should be ready for New Years if all goes well and those carbonation problems don’t keep happening. (more…)

Gift ideas for a beer lover

Christmas is just a few weeks away and I thought it might be a good idea to put up a few gift ideas for the beer lover out there. There are  thousands of different products out there to suit any beer lover. My suggestions are from things that I own, use, and drink. I know the economy is puttering along right now, so all of these suggestions come in at under $30.00, which should suit almost any budget. So lets get started.

#1:  Beer a Day calendar

12-06-01What beer way to celebrate beer than to look at a new beer everyday. Not only does it let you learn about a new beer, but it gives tasting notes, some food pairings, and a random beer fact. I had one of these last year and it put a few ideas in my head on beers that I wanted to try and styles that I wanted to homebrew. And do you want to know the best part? This daily giver of joy can be found on Amazon for under $12 bucks. That should make your wallet smile a bit

#2 Beer of the Month Club

I was briefly a member of a Beer of the Month Club at one point last year. The main reason I stopped was becasue I was moving and it got a tad bit pricey. Most BotM Clubs give you the choice of how many months you want to join for and how many bottle you receive. Most of them send out about 12 bottles a month, but there are those who give you a full case each month. The nice thing is that all of the clubs focus on mircobrews (probably becasue they run out of macros). They start at around $20.00 a month and move up from there. Some also allow you to go month to month while others make you get a subscription. In either case, just do a bit of researching to see what fits into your budget.

#3 Mr. Beer Kit

12-06-02On of the first articles I ever did on this site was about my Mr. Beer experiences. Mr. Beer is perfect for the beginning homebrewer. It allows you to get an idea about the processes involved in making beer and gives you a sample of what can be done. Mr. Beer makes making beer very simple and allows for a lot of variety. I really enjoyed making beer with these kits. At one point my roommate and I owned four of them and we were pumping our 2.5 gallons of beer every half week to week. Needless to say we had a lot of friends.

Mr. Beer is having a sale for the holiday season where you can get the whole deluxe kit for $29.95. The kit includes bottles, fermentor, sanitizer, and a ingredient kit to make your first batch. Not a bad deal and if you decide you don’t like homebrewing, you didn’t drop a lot of money on something you are not going to use. Check it out here.

#4 Spiegelau Beer Glasses

12-06-03Every beer drinker should have a proper glass to drink out of. I recently received my first pair of Spiegelau glasses courtesy of the Beer Tap TV and I don’t think that I will ever drink out of another glass again. They are sure thin and they give you a more accurate idea of what the color of the beer is. The idea behind it is that the thicker the glass, the more distortion that it causes when looking at the beer. They also have a nice wide top to let you get your whole face in there to smell a beer. This is the same company who makes those nifty Sam Adams glasses. You know the ones that make their beer better becasue of the glass design. Who knows if that is true, but it is a good story and a really cool looking glass. You can get a set of two for $19.59 from here.

#5 Any Michael Jackson book

12-06-04Any beer lover should own a book by Michael Jackson. Not the King of Pop, but the King of Beer. While Mr. Jackson has moved on, his books provide a powerful reminder of his love and passion for great beer. He is widely credited with being the first journalists to write about beer and helped open a whole generation to the great beers of the world. Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide and Ultimate Beer are two of my favorite from him, and both are coming in at under $20.00 right now.

I highly suggest both books and I be you will find a ton of beers that you did not know about, but now want to try. I know that I did.

I’ll be posting a homebrewer gift idea post very soon, so check back. And just as a shameless plug, you might want to think about Beer Tasting Notes that was made by the same people who bring you this website. It helps fund this site and will also help you keep track of your beers.

Winter Warmer Recipe

11-20-01In my last homebrew post I talked about doing a Colonial American style beer. Well I am still working on that, but I have a lot more reading to do so that I can make it accurately. In the meantime, I thought that I would embrace the coming season change and got with a winter warmer. I’ve always been a fan of winter seasonal beers, but I have never made one of my own. My wife has also been asking me to make something dark and malty. A winter warmer fits perfectly into that style.

Let me begin with the fact that I have only had a handful of beers classified as “winter warmer” before in my life. I think my favorite belongs to Lancaster Brewing Company, which I enjoyed plenty of last year back in PA. The things I like about it are the facts that it has a huge body, a lot of different flavor notes (some fruit, chocolate, brown sugar, molasses, and caramel), and it all comes in being very well balanced. Furthermore, for an 8.9% abv beer there isn’t much, if any, alcohol noticeable and there is not a lot of hop bite on the back. The malt and complexity in it are what shine in this beer.

So I began doing some research trying to find a starting point with this beer. And after all was said and done, I came up with a recipe that I think is unique and should deliver a great amount of complexity.

  • 8.0 lbs American 2-Row
  • 2.0 lbs Maris Otter Pale Malt
  • 1.0 lbs Caramel Malt 90L
  • 1.0 lbs Chocolate Malt
  • 0.5 lbs Chocolate Wheat Malt
  • 0.5 lbs Chocolate Rye Malt
  • 0.5 lbs American Black Patent
  • 1.0 lbs Molasses
  • 1 oz Fuggle hops (3.6% AA for 60 mins)
  • 1 oz Fuggle hops (3.6% AA for 15 mins)
  • Nottingham Dry Ale yeast, with starter

I’m planning on mashing this at about 150 degrees for an hour. Doing so should give a nice balance between malt character and easy fermenting sugar. The 1 lb of molasses will be added into the kettle during the first runnings. I put a lot of dark malts into this beer becasue I want something with some coffee, molasses, and chocolate notes.

The chocolate wheat and rye were a last minute decision and the original recipe had one pound of wheat malt. I’ve never used chocolate wheat/rye malt and this is my first experience with rye malt overall, so I’m not entirely sure what impacts they will have. From my  understanding, rye malt tends to dry a beer out and give a crisper feel to it. Even at that, it makes up about 4% of then total grain bill, so it should not have a large effect weather it be positive or negative.

I also went with a dry ale yeast here for a few reasons. First, I used it on the pumpkin ale with good results. Second, the dry ale yeast is easy to make a starter with and with the fluctuation in temperatures here in Texas during this time of year (40 degrees between day and night) I didn’t want any active yeast to suffer. Third is that the optimal temperature range for this yeast is 57-70 degrees which falls perfectly into my apartment’s temperatures. Fourth, it is highly flocculant (precipitating) and highly attenuating. And lastly, it has a lost ester profile, so the malt should be able to shine through even more when it is not competing with the hops or yeast esters.

The final stats on the beer look like this:

  • OG 1.075
  • 39 SRM
  • 7.5% ABV
  • 20.0 IBUs

I plan of fermenting for a week (or until fermention is complete) and than putting it into a secondary for 2-3 weeks. After that I will bottle it and leave it condition for another 2-3 weeks (hopefully there will be no carbonation problems this time around). Then I can finally enjoy the fruits of my labor.

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.