Skip to main content

Growing the homebrewery

During the summer I did a post about homebrew wants and needs. Since that time I have added a gas burner and a larger pot. Check off two of my three “needs.” More kegs will hopefully be coming by way of Santa, so I think I have my homebrew needs covered for the time being.

I started homebrewing in college when I found that homebrew was cheaper to make than buying cases of beer. The results also generally tasted better as well. I started with a Mr. Beer and used it for 6-12 months and then upgraded to a 5 gallon system. I stuck with my 5 gallon system for some time and I have recently upgraded things to a new level.

I still do 5 gallon batches but with my new kettle and burner I can do full wort boils. I have noticed a marked increase in my beer quality. Last Christmas I was lucky enough to have a wife that allowed me to build a keezer. I’m hoping to upgrade some of my fermentors to Better Bottles soon as well as get a new mash tun.

Since I have been out of college I have much more disposable income (it’s easy to move up from zero), but I have decided to stick with my slow growth pattern. This allows me to tweak things as needed and really zero in on things that might be causing problems in my beer. One thing that slightly annoys me about some homebrewers is their need to have tons of gadgets. Even some new homebrewers have the latest and greatest without fully understanding what they are doing. I’m all for the love of brewing, but I find it a bit unnecessary to buy every piece of equipment an established homebrewer has right away. I always come back to what my parents told me growing it, “it took us our whole lives to have what we have. You can’t have it right out of the gate, you need to work for it.” It’s a good lesson for anyone let alone homebrewers. I will continue to grow my homebrewery, as I work towards my future goals.

Europe Trip: Cantillon Brewery

In my last recap of my trip to Europe I talked about Brussels as a whole and about their beer culture. Today I wanted to share a bit about a specific brewery trip that we made to the Cantillon Brewery. This brewery is known the world over for their wonderful Lambic, Fruit Lambic, and Gueuze styles of beer. If you are unfamiliar with the style, Lambic beers are generally sour and aged for a number of years. They are traditionally served with no carbonation and the fruit variety is, not surprisingly, fermented with some fruit added to the wort. A Gueuze is a carbonated Lambic and the carbonation is achieved by adding “young” Lambic beer, about a year old, to aged Lambic, about three years old.

When you walk up to the brewery you would never know that world class beer is made inside. The only way to identify that the building is the Cantillon Brewery is by the two wooden barrelsĀ  at the barn style doors along with a metal sign at the top of the door. When you walk you are are met with more barrels and a you can see a glimpse of a bar/seating area ahead on the left. A woman quickly approached us when we entered and told us the ground rules of the brewery tour. 1. It costs 6 Euro a person 2. For the 6 Euros you get a books of your language choice (its really a three page pamphlet) and two free samples of their beer. 3. Stick to the numbered signs and 4. Feel free to ask questions.

I’ve never been to a brewery that basically gives you free reign of the place. The reason for this is that they only brew for two months of the year and the summer is not that time of the year.

We began our tour by passing through thousands of bottles stacked one on top of another. Each batch of bottles was dated with a month and year. The oldest bottles that I saw dated to 2009. We then entered the mash tun room where hot water and grain are combined to produce wort. The amazing thing about the mash tun, and for that matter most of the equipment at the brewery, is that it is very low tech. The mash tun looks like it has been there for a hundred years and it is powered by a belt drive. Belts also power the pumps and other necessary equipment.

We then went upstairs where the boil kettle is and I still couldn’t stop marveling at the belt power. In all honest, most boil kettles look the same, so they are not terribly interesting. On the next floor up is where the mystical open air fermentation happens. There is a large copper table and open wooden slat walls that allow the natural yeast in the air to land on the beer. After 72 hours (and well after fermentation has started) the beer is put into barrels where it sits for 1-3 years.

The barrel room is impressive. Hundreds of barrels line the room and the smells of funky fermentation fill the room. While I was there works were milling about the room topping off the barrels that lose water due to evaporation. Upon leaving the barrel room we passed an old bottling machine on our trip to see the new bottling machine. And that’s pretty much the tour of the brewery.

In total it took us about a half hour to see everything. Once the tour was finished we received our free samples in a quaint bar area. I loved the lights, which were bottles with their bottoms cut off (see pictures below). The beer was marvelous. I have never been a big Lambic fan but the subtle complexity of the Cantillon’s beers were a real treat. I also loved the mix of new technology (like the bottling machine) and the traditional brewing techniques. I highly recommend this tour to anyone who wants to see a traditional Belgian brewery. (more…)

Beer Review #67 Festbier

It’s the time of year when the fall beers are rolling out. I have about a dozen pumpkin, Oktoberfest, and fall style beer lined up so far, and that’s just from one trip to the beer store. Today’s beer is Festbier from Victory Brewing Company. Festbier is actually not a seasonal brew anymore, Victory brews this year round but it can only be found in bottles September through November.

Victory describes the beer as “a rick amber lager in the tradition of Oktoberfest.” They also brew this beer with a decoction mash, which basically means they take some of the wort out of the mash tun, boil it, and then throw it back into the mash tun. By doing the brewing method, you get a very strong malt component added to the beer.

Festbier pours a brilliant amber color and is perfectly clear. The pours with a thin white head that quickly fades to nothingness. The nose is very malty, which is to be expected as I mentioned earlier. There are some bread components in there as well. I didn’t notice any hops or ABV on this beer which isn’t super surprising.

On the first tasting you really get a sense of the malt component. The beer has a very nice body. Festbier is a slightly sweet beer, which, with all of that malt, should not come as a big surprise. There is a nice slight hop bite towards the end, but it is very approachable. I love beers that have a nice bread aftertaste, and Festbier delivers.

Overall I really enjoyed this beer. It comes in at 5.8% ABV so you don’t have to plan an afternoon around drinking this beer. It has a nice malty body and not a lot of hops. It should be a dream for a new comer to the craft beer world but is a solid choice for the seasoned expert. I enjoyed every drop and I am going to be getting another six pack soon. I can’t wait to have my patio door open and enjoy a crisp fall night while sipping this and watching my Phillies play in October. (more…)

Back into homebrewing

I recently discovered that there is a homebrew store about ten minutes away from my new apartment. Score. This place just keeps getting better and better. I brewed a Belgian Blonde Ale yesterday which should come in around 4.5-5% abv. It is under the style guidelines, but they are meant to be guidelines, not the end all be all of what a beer should be. It is the first beer that I have brewed in about six months.

I will get the recipe and everything along those lines up on the site soon, but I just wanted to share the joy of homebrewing again. Isn’t that a book? I did run into a few problems while brewing. The biggest one is that the mash tun that I recently built (the last one had to go into the trash becasue it would not fit into the car on the move from Texas) leaked a lot. I know how to fix it, the problem is finding the parts. This particular cooler that I got has a one inch hole in it. From my past two mash tuns, they are typically 3/4 of an inch or smaller. What really sucks is that one inch fittings are tough to find and even tougher to make fit into such a small space. I will get it figured out soon enough.

The beer is happily bubbling away right now and I hope it will be ready to drink my the second week of next month. Hooray for getting back to homebrewing. I missed it.

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…)