Monday, November 30, 2009

Malting Barley In Mexico

Dirty grains

I've started the process to malt some barley that I located at a feed store here in San Miguel. This is part of an experiment to see if I can somehow create beer out of the local materials at hand. This stuff looks pretty rough with a lot of dead grain and chaff. There is also quite a bit of large foreign grass that looks like straw in addition to many black and red beans.
After the first of many washings















To start, I placed five kilos of the barley in a bucket and filled it with water, agitating the grain as I filled. I discovered the grain was very dirty as evidenced by the grey water. With the bucket full to the rim I skimmed off about half a pound of loose, floating material to discard. I repeated this process several times until all of the waste material was gone, the water ran clear and the viable barley was setting nicely at the bottom of the water filled bucket.


I have placed the bucket in a cool closet and will drain the water in about eight hours. The drained grain will set for eight hours and then the process will repeat for a couple days. At that point there should be evidence of growth in the form of chits (root growth).


Rinsed Grains finally clean

As you recall from a previous post here, I have a resource for malted barley out of Mexico City but of course I want to see about getting it cheaper (this 5 kilos of raw barley was 20 pesos or the U.S. equivelant of $1.75) and more importantly to confirm whether I can produce my own or not and to experience the process as I try.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

El Gozo 'Cerveza Alitas'

I am spending the first nine days in San Miguel De Allende living in temporary lodging and don't plan to launch into any homebrewing activities until we move into our permanent place in a couple days. O.K. I have started to purchase a few brewing related items and five kilos of raw barley that I plan to malt myself but other than that, nada. In the mean time I have been roaming the uneven cobbled streets taking in the new sights and noticing the changes to the town since last year.

One remarkable difference I've noticed in San Miguel this year compared to last is the improved variety of beers available. Last year, I could only find Modelo products and a smattering of Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma with their Bohemia Classic being my beer of choice. Now there are a couple of new bars that have a limited but unique selection of imported beers from Germany and Belgium.

El Gozo

El Gozo is one such bar. It has the feel of a downtown Mexico City 'stark modern' look to it with it's blood red walls and corrigated steel panels. The matching red and aluminum furniture give a cold feeling to the place. On the other hand the bartender Jose was very friendly and warm with his clientele and spoke very good English.

Jose handed me a printed list of the specialty beers that he had and pointed to the bottles of each on display behind the bar. El Gozo, 'cerveza alitas' located on Zacateras next door to Cafe Monet has only been in business for the last six months and is owned by Ray Williams. The first beer, Gouden Carolus Classic, at 75 pesos is a product from the Belgian brewery Het Anker and after a careful evaluation of the flavor, I determined it to be a Belgian Dubbel. It's pretty good, maybe a 3.5 on a scale of 5. Turns out it is considered a Strong Dark Belgian although there is no indication on the label as to the style of this beer but it has all the best qualities of a Dubbel with an ABV of 8.5% One other interesting beer I tried was the Bohemia Wheat beer for 35 pesos. Very strange floral, perfumy flavor with a crystal clear golden appearance. Unique but not a beer I would drink again.
Carolus Classic

El Gozo also has Duvel Golden Ale at 75 pesos. Same bottled beer as in the states but with a Mexican label which is interesting to see. The other interesting thing to see is the beer on tap. Believe it or not, kegged beer is unusual in most towns in Mexico, even those with moderate to large populations. Because of the expense and need for a draft system most beer in Mexico is sold in the bottle. Even here in San Miguel, there are only a couple of bars with beer on draft. Of course the beer on draft is Modelo and that is because Modelo will provide the larger restaurants and bars with the system to dispense, gratis.

My brewing persuits will begin soon and I'll keep you posted as to my progress. This year I hope to confirm my suppliers of malt extract and 2-row barley by placing orders. It will be necessary to purchase in bulk (DME 25 kilo bag, 2-row malted barley 50 kilo!) but if I can get these items I will only have to import the hops and yeast. Hasta pronto.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I Feel Violated

Our flight out of San Jose, California went smoothly. My heavy, beer equipment ladened suitcase was checked in without question despite the excessive 35 kilos of dead weight. My small carry-on case had some additional non-metal brewing stuff that wouldn't trigger any x-ray suspicions but was mostly my clothes.




After a few sleepless hours in the air we arrived in Guanajuato and I naturally got the red light at the imigration inspection station and hoisted my suitcase up on the stainless steel table top for closer scrutiny. I threw open the lid to expose an array of vacuum sealed bags of malt extract and specialty grains along with an assortment of brewing equipment.


"This luggage is not normal."
The inspector said in spanish as he turned to signal his supervisor into action. The superior stepped up and pulled out a bindle of milled pilsner malt and held it up to the flourescent light, squinting at its contents.
"Esto es cebada malteado," I said in broken spanish " esta toastado, no es raw."

He looked at me with a puzzled expression, before continuing to rifle through the odd contents. Fortunately, he was the same inspector that looked in my case last year and after my wife Susan (who speaks fluent spanish) reminded him of this fact, he waved us through. At the last moment he noticed that Susan had a banana in her purse and immediately snatched it out and warned her not to try to take fresh fruit into the country. He turned and walked away with the banana prize clutched in his hands while I swept up my suitcase, its contents spilling out the seems, and headed out of the inspection area with relief.


The unfortunate part of this story is the discovery when I got to our hotel. At some point after the suitcase was check in for the flight, probably in San Jose, it was opened and several items were removed. Namely, a CO2 injector and a dozen 12 gram CO2 cartridges. Everything else appeared unmolested. The reason is a mystery to me although I suspect that an imaginative inspecter saw the materials as the makings of a high tech bomb and removed it all, ruining my evil plan and diverting the disaster of a mid-air explosion. In place of these items was a card informing me that the case had been opened for review. Thank you invisible inspector person. Regardless, I view it as a small loss considering all that did get through customs, and a lesson learned for the next time.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cerveza Casera (homebrew)

The homebrew movement in Mexico is at the infant stage in development, kind of like it was in the U.S. in the early 80's. Sparse product availability, exorbitant costs and questionable freshness or quality. I can only find two homebrew retail outlets in all of Mexico, Fermentando and Homebrewing Mexico and the inventory at both is very limited and expensive. For instance, Cascade hops at Fermentando are $6 and at Homebrew Mexico, $13 U.S. per ounce! I guess this is understandable considering the expense of importing the product from Oregon or Washington to Mexico City but I think that the price is more an indication of the uniqueness of the hobby and the willingness of the newly obsessed Mexican homebrewer to pay any price to fulfill his desire to brew his own beer. It is difficult to get some of the equipment we're used to having in the States. For instance, at Homebrew Mexico you can get the vial that holds the liquid for the hydrometer test but the hydrometer itself, is unavailable.


malta en grano (0)


Don't get me wrong here, I want to support these fledgling home brewing businesses by buying locally so that the movement can progress like it has in the States. Creating a Mexican homebrewing market that has all of the ingredients and products that we need to make good beer. At the same time, I have an obligation to inform my Mexican readers of the opportunities to procure the necessary equipment and ingredients that we enjoy in the U.S. and at the same time, to save significant dinero. And maybe this information will incite these retail outlets to increase their inventory with reasonably priced goods.


Note: If you live in a small or remote region in Mexico this suggestion may not apply, but for all others, I believe this information will save you some money and make it easy for you to get the equipment you need.

First, locate a 'cross border' mail service like La Conexion or Border Crossings that will shuttle packages down to your town from a city in Texas. These services will most likely be limited to communities that have a large expat population. In my case, I use La Conexion in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico via Laredo, Texas. After UPS ships my package to Texas, I will be paying approximately $1.00 per pound for the goods and %15-%17 surcharge on the value of the product to have it shuttled down to San Miguel. This can be a huge savings when you consider that a pound of hops right now are running about $10. The 'cross border' mail service costs in this case would only be $2.70 which if you include the cost of the hops and include the $8 UPS charge to get them to Texas would end up being around $21. In other words when all is said and done, an ounce of hops would run you about $1.40 an ounce not the excessive $6 an ounce, quite a huge savings. Even more of a savings is the cost of yeast which can be %50 less expensive than purchasing from the Mexican homebrew outlets. I haven't gone over all of the equipment prices at Fermentando or Homebrewing Mexico but something typical like a hydrometer costs $12 compared to More Beer price of $6 plus shipping. If you live anywhere in the state of Guanajuato, La Conexion and Border Crossings may be the only mail service available to you. In Baja you could use Yet Mail which has multiple services besides mail delivery.
By the way, shipping into Mexico using UPS or FedX is cost prohibitive, in fact after a quick inquiry I discovered that it would cost me $80 to send a 1 lb. package via UPS to San Miguel De Allende from California at their cheapest rate.

Secondly, it is important to mark on or in the shipping package, the estimated value of the content, if not, the inspectors at the border will assign a value that may be more than it's worth and cost you more in charges.
Third, if you don't live in a town that has this service but are within a reasonable distance of one that does, it may be worth it for you make the trip and pick it up yourself. Also, see if you can connect with another brewer that would be willing to receive your packages. Once the Mexican homebrewing community grows in popularity, access to these goods will be as easy to get as in the States. Until then, this is one possibility for a select few that are in proximity to towns with these great mail services.
If you live in or near a town that has this service, please post it here in the comment section for other Mexican homebrewers to use as a source.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Help Me Improve This Blog

Once again I fill my luggage with the 'hard to get' materials for brewing in preparation for my stay in Mexico. I maxed-out my large suit case and half of my carry on which leaves me with about twelve cubic inches of open area for clothes. I may have to stuff my underwear in the side pocket of my computer case. I begged to lease some space in Susan's luggage but she won't budge. She suggested I take less brewing ingredients. Ha! what does she know.











But that's not what this post is about. I wanted to ask the readers of this blog for some feed back at this time. I have been blogging here for a couple of years now and need to know what works and what doesn't. What type of posts you look forward to and what bores you to the point of stopping the feed. Looking back over the last few months I notice a pattern I've gotten into of interspersing posts using five major subjects.



1. experiential homebrewing techniques


2. homebrew recipes


3. commercial beer reviews


4. brewery and brewpub reviews


5. anecdotal (stories loosely brewing related)



My request of you as a reader of this blog is to inform me of you're preferences. In terms of most enjoyable which of these five catagories is most important.


I am also interested in hearing from those of you that just happened by via a google search. I will install a survey on the side bar to use as a way to generally indicate your preference, but I am also really interested in any extra feed back you may have. For instance, what you would like to read or see more of, changing the look of the page layout and format, expanding to include other subjects like food or anything that would make the experience of this blog more enjoyable for you. You can put those suggestions in the comment area at the bottom of this post. I have really enjoyed posting my thoughts about a hobby that I have a real passion for and I hope that this blog has benefited you in some small way.


I look forward to hearing from you, and for those that normally don't comment on blogs, remember that you will be doing me a huge favor in that, if I get twenty responses, Susan agreed to let me use some of her suitcase space for several extra pounds of dry malted wheat extract and some tube socks.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Brewing A 'Black' IPA

Thanks to the generosity of brewer John Gillooly at Speakeasy Brewing in San Francisco I was able to successfully brew up a batch of Black IPA. I guess it could be called India Black Ale (IBA) but nobody does so I'm going to stick with Black IPA. For me, this beer stuck out from all the others at the Stumptown Brewing's 'Russian River Revival' beer fest. Read my take on the festival here.


Without looking at it you would think you were drinking a great example of a west coast style IPA with great hop flavor and aroma with a nice balance of unexpected roastiness. Then looking at it you are shocked by the fact that the beer is black as night. When I had this experience my first thoughts were "I've got to brew myself ten gallons of this!"


After a couple of back and forth emails with John I formulated my ten gallon batch and proceeded to brew it during a demonstration of the Santa Cruz County fair with the help of fellow brewer Michelle.


The following is the ingredients and processes I used to remake this amazing beer. A big "Thanks" goes out again to John from Speakeasy Brewing for making my life better by having this recipe in my portfolio of great homebrews.


  • 10gal. batch


    Efficiency 80%


    Attenuation 80%


    ABV 6.7%


    SRM Blk


    IBU 66


    Original Gravity 1.066


    Final Gravity 1.014

  • Mash in 7 gals. of H2O at 150f. for 60min. *add carafa at last 5min of mash



    23 lbs. 2-row


    1 lbs. Munich


    1 lbs. dark wheat


    20 oz. carafa III



  • Boil 60 min. with



    columbus 14% 1.5oz. 60min.


    centenial 9% 1.5oz. 20min.


    cascade 5.5% 2 oz. 10min.


    cascade 5.5% 1 oz. 2min.


    cascade 5.5% 1.5oz. 1min.


  • Ferment at 65f. until complete with US05 ale yeast (2pkgs per 5gal)

Monday, November 2, 2009

3 More Easy Homebrewing Tricks

As I continue to homebrew, I discover and perfect techniques that make the process easier, more effective and/or more efficient. Often, simple modification in my equipment or in my brewing procedures at first appear small and inconsequential but are in fact significant in terms of making the brewing day more enjoyable. Today I want to go over three more tricks that I use on a regular basis.



Back in March I listed here some homebrew tricks (go here) to save time and money and those are worth returning to as you review these new items.


As the cooler winter months approach and the temperatures in the area where my fermenters sit (in this case my garage) get cooler, I have found a simple way to keep the fermenting beer from dropping down into the range (below 60f.) that prevents my ale yeasts from performing properly. There is nothing scientific about this technique and it requires some vigilance on my part but it is well worth the effort.



1.) I take an inexpensive, clamp-on utility lamp with a 60w. bulb and place it near the fermenter. This heat source is enough to keep the chill at bay. I will initially moniter the temperature and modify the amount of heat that I apply by moving the lamp closer or further away depending on the amount required. Be careful because you can very quickly over heat using this technique. Once I have the perfect distance/temperature ratio in place I can rest through the night knowing that the cold will not be a factor and the yeast will continue to do their job.


I really enjoy a hoppy ale and in my attempts to brew them I use multiple additions of hops throughout the boil, sometimes dropping as many as five bags of hops into the kettle. Each bag will be added at different time intervals depending on the desired bitterness, flavor or hop aroma. In my preparation for the brew day I measure out and bag all of the hops in advance and stack them in order of first to last additions, to make it easier on myself. Unfortunately, sometimes the bags will get mixed up in the action of brewing. This next trick is something that dawned on me far later than I would have liked. It takes the guess work out of which hops are in which bag.


2.) The nylon or cotton hop bags have draw strings hemmed into the top to tie off the opening and prevent the hops from spilling out into the boiling wort. Rather than try to keep track of which bag to add next by stacking them in order or measuring out the hops as I need them, I will number the bags. I have found that the draw strings are usually long enough to tie 'indicator' knots into them for identifying the bag to be added next. One knot is tied on the string of the first bag to go in the pot. Two knots on the bag string of the second addition, three knots on the third and so on. Now I have a set of hop bags with each one identified with knots.


Lastly, I usually keg my beer but sometimes I want to fill several bottles in order to set aside and condition with priming sugar. These would be beers that I can stash and forget about and let age or submit for contests long after the kegged portion has been drunk. The trick?


3.) Carbonation drops. The simple part here is that as you are racking your beer from the fermenter to the kegs you can easily divert some into sanitized bottles, pop in a carbonation drop and cap. No need for calculating or preparing bottling sugar and you can do as many or as few as you want. These sugar pills are a little expensive but in a pinch it's worth having a bag of them around and you can get them in the less expensive generic version. Now, I can put those beer aside for the future.





I think these ideas will serve you well and I'll keep my eyes peeled for more in my brewery in the future. Others can benefit from your ideas, what tricks do you use in your home brewery? Leave a comment.
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