Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Ten Most Viewed Posts For 2009

I hope that all of the readers and beer enthusiasts that follow this blog have a healthy and prosperous new year. I want to thank you all for supporting my efforts to share my homebrewing experience by joining me on this site.

The following is a list of the top 10 Beer Diary... posts listed in order of their popularity for the year 2009.

1.)How To Make Your Own Keggle Sight Glass

2.)Pulque Not Beer

3.)3 Simple Homebrew Tricks

4.)One Simple Kegerator Trick

5.)Duchesse De Bourgogne

6.)Filter Your Beer If You Can

7.)Take A Homebrew To Work Day

8.)Bottling Alternative

9.)Cerveza Casera

10.)3 More Easy Homebrewing Tricks

Happy new year, Feliz ano nuevo, and here's to enjoying a pint with you in 2010!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Beer From Home Malted Barley

Tadaaa!! Beer brewed from home malted barley.

It was a fun and educational ride and the ultimate pay off is a pretty good pale ale. The following is the recipe which includes a significant amount of cane sugar to get the gravity up but it didn't hamper the delicious (if I do say so myself) maltiness of the barley.
There is also a nice citrus flavor provided by the cascade and centennial hops and a crisp mouthfeel from the dry final gravity and moderate to high carbonation level. I poured samples for friends this evening and got a mix of responses from
"that's pretty good" to "sure I'll have another" . O.K. not outstanding testimonies but at least they didn't spit it out.

What's interesting to me is how much the flavor stands out in this beer after drinking the light lagers of Mexico. It's a welcome change.

Here is the ingredients and process I used for brewing. Do you batch sparge? This was the first time I did this as I normally fly sparge, I hope I did it right. If there is a better method let me know for future attempts at this.

1. Mashed 9.4 lbs. home made barley in 2.5 gals. h2o at 150f. for 90 minutes then (batch sparge)
2. drain entire content of mash tun then
3. added 2.5 gals. of h2o at 170f. and drained and again
4. added 2.5 gals. of h2o at 170f. and drained
5. brought 6 gals. wort of 1.028 (5 gals = 1.033) to a boil with .5 lbs. cry #60 and 1 lb. cara red steeping grains
6. added 2 lbs. cane sugar (Mark C. if your reading this - still no cider flavors from the sugar addition)
7. boiled for 60 mins. with .5 oz. Simcoe hops
8. boiled for 15 mins. with 1. oz. Cascade hops (irish moss)
9. boiled for 2 mins. with 1. oz. Centennial hops
10. Chilled in ice bath
11. fermented at 65f. using US-05 dry ale yeast for 7 days
12. bottled and conditioned for 2 weeks

Efficiency: 50%
Attenuation: 85%
ABV 6.18%
IBU's 40
O.G. 1.055
F.G. 1.008

Any questions about this recipe? Leave a comment.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

When Your Yeast Quits

This is an often experienced occurance in the homebrew world and has happened to me a couple of times. In fact, I presently have a German hibiscus/wheat beer that has stopped dead at 1.020 when I expected it to finish at about 1.012, the original gravity was 1.050. This is a German style hefe weizen with the addition of hibiscus flower. I used the Safeale S-33 Belgian ale yeast from MoreBeer to ferment. There are a number of reasons that stuck fermentations happen. Yeast viability, lack of adequate aeration, high mash temperatures, low fermentation temperatures, you could probably name a few others. The point is that the beer has not fermented completely and you've got five or ten gallons of under-attenuated beer sitting in the fermenter looking up at you with an expression of defeat.

An under-attenuated beer can be problematic for a couple of reasons. The main reason is that the taste will be sweeter than you may want considering that you hopped with an expectation of a drier beer and the mouthfeel fuller as a result of the remaining sugars in solution. The second problem effects those that are bottling the beer. Normally you would add approximately half a cup of bottling sugar for a five gallon batch (48-12oz. bottles) to achieve the carbonation that you want in the finished beer but with all that residual sugar in solution to begin with, you may just be creating bottle bombs caused by the over carbonation of the additional sugar.

In the case of this beer, my expectation was for a final gravity of around 1.012 and so I am a little dissapointed but determined to get the rest of those points out of it one way or another. My belief is that the temperature got too cold and I may not have oxygenated the wort well enough causing the yeast to drop out of solution assuming a dormant state. My solution?

1.)pitch a fresh pack of US05 ale yeast
2.)gently stir up the yeast cake with a sanitized spoon to get it back into solution
3.)warm the beer up to 75f. with a 60watt light bulb placed strategically near the fermenter

Not real dignified but I have high hopes for success here, I have to.

In the past, US05 has been successful in getting a couple more points out of the gravity and I've read of others using Champane yeast with good results. The other part of this equation is patience. It may take an extra week or even two for the yeast to slowly do their job. I have to remind myself of this regularly as I tend to want the beer done quickly and into a keg or bottle to prevent any additional exposure to the elements since I basically 'open ferment'.

Finally, if the beer doesn't ferment any further after all these efforts then I will reduce the amount of bottling sugar I use. Additionally, I will plan to increase the amount of hibiscus flower that I add because it causes a distinct sense of dryness to the mouthfeel in this recipe.

If you've got more solutions to this common problem, please leave a comment.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Malting Barley In Mexico IV (the mash)

I have to begin by saying that malting barley is hard work. I have to give a lot of credit to the professional maltster out there, and in the future will find it easier to pay what now seems like a very reasonable price for a bag.

From the original five kilos (11 lbs.) of raw grain that I purchased at the beginning of this project, I ended up with 9 lbs of malt. Once my malt was ready to mash, I set about milling it severely in the hope of exposing as much of the interior of the grain as I could in an attempt at extracting as much sugar as possible. I found this mill at the hardware store for $25usd and it did a great job but I wouldn't want to use it to mill more than a few pound as it was difficult to crank and there is no easy way to motorize it. On the other hand if you need a starter mill for cheap, this is one way to go.

I used a plastic bucket with a braided hose attached to a spigot as my mash tun and (don't tell my wife) insulated it by securing a couple pillows off our bed, held in place with a piece of rope I found on the roof. This worked suprisingly well at maintaining a temperature of 150f. I let the grain mash for and hour and a half before performing a batch sparge. Normally, I mash for an hour but in this case I did an iodine test after an hour and found that there was still a lot of unconverted starches. Then I sparged by draining the mash tun completely once, filled it again with 170f. water, stirred, let rest for ten minutes and drained again.

The results? In a beginning boil volume of six gallons my specific gravity was 7 brix or 1.028. At this point I have to make some assumptions in order to figure how well I did in the malting process and how efficient I was at extracting the sugars from the mash. I am going to use my personal historical records of previous brewing sessions as a data point to make comparisons. Unfortunately, I am unable to determine exactly how effective I was at malting the grain but if I make another assumption that my mashing procedure was 71% efficient then I can also assume that in my malting process I created a potential of 1.0265 instead of the commercial malt that typically is 1.037

Here's the numbers as I figure but tell me if I'm off base here:

6gal. x 1.028 (6 x 28 = 168)

9lbs. x 1.026 (9 x 26 = 234) (168/234 = 71%) or 10% less potential sugar than commercial malt.
In conclusion, this was a great way to learn about the malting process and I can see that with practice one could increase the yield of sugars, but in the end, with the amount of time and energy that I put into this effort I think it's a small price that we pay as homebrewers for consistent quality and yield that the professionals can provide.

Mash Tun

P.S. I went ahead and brewed a batch of beer with some additional ingredients. If you're interested in that recipe, leave a comment and I'll include it there. Cheers!
For the previous steps in malting barley go to here for step I and here for step II and here for step III.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Malting Barley In Mexico III

Just a quick update on my malting progress. The barley has grown as much as I want it to and so now it's time to stop the growth. One interesting note is the growth is very inconsistent. Much of it is over modified and just as much is undermodified. Does anyone have an idea why that would be?

The weather has been partly cloudy but I was able to get enough sun to spread the grain out on the terrace with a temperature of 90f. I collected the grain to keep inside over night and then put them back the following day of additional drying. Here are a few pictures. I layed the chicken wire over the top in a half ass attempt to keep the ginormous grackles and other birds out which seemed to work.

After several hot days of drying, I placed the grains on some aluminum pans to be lightly roasted in the oven at a temperature of around 180f. for a few hours. After that, I pushed the grain around the inside of a colinder to remove the rootlets.

Then next step is the mashing process and I will take some readings on the sugar extractions. I plan to do a batch sparge using a five gallon bucket with a braided hose in the bottom to filter. I've never done a batch sparge as my normal system uses the fly sparging technique. If you have words of wisdom regarding batch sparging, please leave a comment.

For the previous steps in malting barley go to here for step I and here for step II.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Brewing At Antigua Capilla

When Susan and I first arrived in San Miguel de Allende this year, we stayed at the Antigua Capilla bed and breakfast for a couple days. What a treat. Francisco and his wife Antonieta own this gorgeous Spanish colonial style hotel that is built around a 17th century chapel nestled on the side of the hill east of town. Within walking distance of the central plaza, Antigua Capilla is the perfect retreat from the bustle of town but an easy walk to enjoy the sights, sounds, food and shopping that the city has to offer. I highly advise it for those thinking of visiting SMA. Francisco lives part time in California and more frequently in San Miguel as he gets his new hotel up and running.

I met Francisco through a brewing course that I was teaching in Soquel, California. He would make the drive down from the Bay area each weekend to attend. He arrived here in San Miguel a few days after us and I joined him at Antigua Capilla as he brewed up the first batch of beer to be made at his new hotel. Later, I was left in charge of bottling the beer because he had to return to the states before the beer was ready. Fortunately for me, I was able to squeeze a 49th bottle of beer out of his five gallon batch and kept it for myself.

Well, today was the day the beer was ready for tasting and so I cracked it open and poured the gold colored German hefe weizen into my mug. This beer is slightly hazy which is normal for this style with crisp carbonation and off white head. Great aroma of clove, banana and a big spicy flavor that comes across with defined clove and some flower essense. A great example of the style and a success for the first brew on premise for Antigua Capilla.
Francisco, if your reading this- Great Job! I look forward to seeing you back down here and of course breaking into the rest of those beers.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Malting Barley In Mexico II

Here are some updated pictures of the sprouting barley after several days of growth. There are a significant amount of grains that do not show any rootlets or even chit and this has me concerned. I will be giving this growth period another two days before starting the drying process but I will dissect a couple of the grains to confirm the acrospire growth before that step. As I turn the germinating grain by hand, I keep finding a variety of beans.

No me gusta frijoles!

Grains with rootlets .

Keeping the grains moist and cool.
The weather here has been cloudy with intermittent showers and I'm hoping that the clear warm weather returns for the drying step because my plan was to spread the grain out on the floor of the upper deck rather than trust the inconsistent temperature that my oven provides. More of the drying step in a later post.

In the mean time I returned to Cerveza de San Miguel last night to sample some ales and get in touch with the owner Matthew Carrol. He was giving a short lecture on brewing along with a beer tasting, to a small group of us and will meet with me on Monday to talk about a possible small scale brewing collaboration. He may also be a good source for malted barley.

Aside from these projects I'm anxious to get started brewing but have had some setbacks as far as getting the equipment together. I have everything I need except the large boil pot and the gas burner to use on the deck, but I'm expecting to brew within a few days. My first beer will be a repeat of a well received recipe from last year, "Hibiscus wheat".

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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rogue Shakespeare Stout

My buddy Chris Mc. generously brought over a Rogue Ale's Shakespeare Stout for sampling. The sad part of the story is that Chris had to leave for Washington before we had a chance to share. The happy part of the story is that I didn't have to share. A bitter sweet story kind of like the beer.

Stout gone Rogue

This is a serious American stout with a claimed 77 ibu's to balance the thick malty flavors packed into the 22 oz. bottle. Words that come to mind while drinking this stout are thick and full with flavors of molasses, coffee, tobacco and oak, dry fruits like prune and raisin that linger leaving a sweetness on the palate that is lightly cloying with a bitter sweetness of toffee. It's an imperial like beer in that the flavors are large and bold.

The alcohol content is not stated on the label but the original gravity is 15 plato
(1.060), and seems to have finished with some residual sugar or in other words it's not dry at all. So I would make the assumption that the abv is around 6%.

A very enjoyable beer and it's easy to drink a bomber in one sitting.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Brew Fest At The Rio Cafe

Some brave California souls ventured out into the intimidating Aptos fog today to attend the 2nd annual Oktoberfest at the Rio Cafe. On hand to serve beer were a couple of the local Santa Cruz favorites, Uncommon Brewers and Ale Works.

Uncommon Brewers pleases with pints.

The Ale Works pouring the love.

Uncommon Brewers was serving up their Siamese Twin, Golden State Ale and Baltic Porter to an appreciative crowd while the Ale Works had on tap their classic examples of an American hefeweizen, pale ale, stout and a great IPA.
A few yards down the street were the new kids on the block, Corralitos Brewing Company who was serving no less than 10 different beer on tap including a hefeweizen, Belgian golden, stout, helles, oktoberfest, IPA, IIPA, kolsch, smoked porter and a red ale. I was particularly
impressed with the IIPA with its ample hop flavor and bitterness supported by a big malty backbone. A couple of the brewers, Luke Taylor (no relation) and Michael Smith were on hand to explain to the crowd the differences in the beers as they poured samples from a massive wall of taps. This is a new start up brewery for our area and from the examples on tap today, are showing great promise for the future. I'm looking forward to quaffing a few pints of their ales when they get their operation up to full production early next year. Head brewer Luke Taylor expects to supply his artisans brews to the locals sometime early spring of next year. 2010 is shaping up to be a great year for craft beer in Santa Cruz county. I hope to do a more in depth review of Corralitos Brewing Company in the future with an interview with head brewer Luke Taylor. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Homebrew Emotions

Moving is making me sad. Packing up all my stuff again to put into storage means I have to repeat the experience of nostalgia that always comes as I go through some of my more personal items. We'll be heading off to Mexico again for the winter and I can't shake the regret of leaving behind my lovely things not to mention my precious brewing equipment. It gets packed and stored with everything else into the diminishing care and accumulating dust of the 10x12 storage unit.

As I get ready to put my electric guitar in a box I can't help but sling it over my shoulder and start playing off key lead parts to the Coldplay song that pitches out of my stereo. I only stop when I discover it's out of tune and I'm too depressed to fix it. I place it gently in the box and tape the opening closed, all the while getting that 'Christmas is coming to California' sensation as the warm rain falls gently outside the window. Now Norah Jones is singing 'Come away with me' but I don't want to go, not now. I want my selfish desires to come to me, gift wrapped and without atonement.

But this sense of loss is an acceptable if not disagreeable part of the process for the life I have chosen, because there is not enough Mexico here in this quiet, neatly trimmed and well stocked California suburb. Yes, below the current of my present melancholy is the memory of the dry and noisy air of San Miguel and the prospects for brewing like a renegade again. Creating beer related events based on cerveza made with the local ingredients. And this year I'm encouraged with the benefit of knowing the locations in Mexico that provide the essential ingredient, malt. No need to fill most of my luggage with dry malt extract, I can use that space for other brewing ingredients and equipment.

My personal possessions will be packed relatively quickly because some of it hasn't been unpack after my return trip from Mexico last year. I won't pack up my brewing stuff until just before we leave because I have a class to teach next week for one and also, I want to brew twenty gallons of strong Belgian ales to put in the kegerator to lager while I'm gone. Now, as I consider the task ahead of me and the feelings it invokes, I realize that they will pass as quickly as they came followed by the newness of the freedom and possibility of life in Mexico, two things that challenge my sense of safety and comfort found here in the familiar. I'm beginning to recognize this pattern as I begin my third year of heading south for the winter. But recognition does not displace the emotion as much as reinforce, and I am left to let it run its course through me.

If I recall correctly from the last couple years, this current state of mind is coupled with the dread and fascination that comes with what seems like unlimited possibilities, and exhilaration that can only exist alongside a sense of danger. It reminds me of the time when I was a young boy living in rural California. I was perched on the top strand of a barbed wire fence. One hand grasping a split rail fence post while extending the other out into a thicket of blackberry bushes just beyond my reach, trying to pick the dark full fruit. The wire began to sway under my feet and I tried to save myself from the fall by grabbing the wire and jumping back. My hand snagged on one of the barbs on the way down and ripped the flesh from the joint at my index finger and began to bleed profusely. I looked at the wound confused before panic set in. As I desperately ran home along the path that followed the fence I stopped dead in my tracks when I came across a stripped snake sunning itself on the dirt directly in front of me. I was captivated by the beauty of the creature, its scaled skin gleaming, reflecting the late summer sun and I felt the warm earthy breeze. I immediately forgot about my bloody wound dripping into my shirt.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Storing Hops

In my preparation for returning to San Miguel De Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico I am gathering some special brewing equipment and materials to take with me. These are items that are difficult or expensive to get down there.

One item that is particularly difficult to get are hops. You can buy them from a couple of homebrew stores like Homebrewing Mexico and Fermentando but their prices are ridiculously high. So, today I spent some time packaging hop pellets for the trip. I have a FoodSaver V2040 food packaging system that is perfect for my task. I buy my hop pellets by the pound from Hops Direct so first I needed to break those down into manageable 4oz. increments, (Hops Direct ships in a foil package that would probably be picked up on the airport scanner as my suitcase is going through so I don't want to use the original packaging). In any case, 4oz. should fit in a legal sized envelope for mailing and lay flat in my baggage without attracting too much attention.

Weighing out the hops

Cut the bags to size and seal one end

Fill the bag with hops and lay open end across the vacuum sealer

The FoodSaver draws the air out of the bag and then seals the other end

Compact packaging

I'm concerned about taking plant material like hops into the country and getting through customs. The last time down I got the red light. Standing in the line watching the people ahead of me I calculated my odds of having my bag searched. I figured a high probability of having to open my case, exposing all my contraband in the form of a variety of different degrees of roasted malted barley.

As it happened I was searched and the grains appeared highly suspect (not to mention bundles of dry malt extract). I pleaded that I be allowed to enter the country with them and soon a supervisor was brought into the equation. He smelled and tasted the grains and concluded that since they were 'toastado' that I could keep them. Well, they may not be as generous if they see vacuum sealed packs of what looks like illegal vegetable matter. So I have a back-up plan, I will place half of the hops in legal sized manila envelopes and mail them down to my p.o. box before I leave the States, thus avoiding the high surcharge or duty on packages entering Mexico and hopefully bypassing any serious inspections. I will plan to mail six envelopes each containing four ounces of hop pellets and take as much in my luggage. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Until then, I'll keep them in the freezer.

Hops ready for the trip

Monday, October 12, 2009

Class Finals At Brew School

This last Sunday, I ended another great series of homebrewing classes for the Brew School conducted at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California. We had a potluck and homebrew pairing to celebrate. We enjoyed the Hefeweizen, American pale ale and the Dry stout that we brewed during the early classes in this intensive course on homebrewing. And the consensus was that the quality of the beers were in the 6 or 7 range on a scale of 1-10. The judges may have been biased. Additionally, the students brought in food that they thought would go well with the beers and most of the dishes were home made and delicious. One student brought in an exceptional plate of brownies that were made with Guinness stout.

Class of Fall 2009

Most of the students are trying out the lessons learned at school in their own homes and several already have beer in the fermenters or bottles. I look forward to sampling some of these new beers.

In the mean time, I will take the lessons that I learned in teaching this class and put them to use in future classes. I have some revisions to make to the program and also some minor changes to the recipes since we modified them (for the better) in the field as we brewed them. I'm also looking forward to teaching in Mexico and am making preparations to fly down in mid November. Can't wait to get started. If you live in Mexico near San Miguel De Allende, or you're in the state of Guanajuato, contact me to share a homebrew and find out what my Brew School schedule will be while I'm there.
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