Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cerveza Potro

As promised in an earlier post I will give a quick review of Potro. This is another Cervecera Mexicana Ex-hacienda Corralejo product that is brewed in Penjamo, in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico Although Corralejo is primarily a tequilaria, they brew three different beers. Potro, Caballero Aguila and Horus which is a blend of tequila and beer and is 14% abv. Potro (colt) is a dark porter style beer with very little head and low carbonation. The first thing I tasted when taking my first mouthful is the smoked character of the grain. Subtle but upfront, the smoke took me by surprise because I didn't expect it in a porter. There was also a paper and metallic flavor that distracts from the minimal maltiness. My friend who tasted with me thought that there was something wrong with it, like it had gone bad. I don't think so, I remember having this beer last year and it is the same. I believe that it is brewed to taste as it is, but I suspect that it may have some oxydized or staling elements to the flavor. The style of the bottle is unique and from what I can gather from the internet it is designed specifically to be held by the long neck when drinking to prevent the beer from warming by the drinkers hand. There are some dried fruit and caramel flavors as you get past the smoke.

The Potro brewery with beer on the line.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Beer Fear

I woke up last night to the sound of cats screaming from the neighbors roof. They sounded like a maternity ward full of colic babies. I listened for awhile, my mind drifting aimlessly. It was two in the morning and I lay staring at the ceiling as a familiar fear came over me, a dread that can only be described as a sense of brewers anxiety. This was not a new sensation to me and normally when this happens I try to ignore the source and start to count down backwards from one thousand until sleep comes again. But this time I decided to confront my demons by observing and naming each one in an attempt to eliminate their hold over me. A cathartic exercise in bravery. I began with what I thought were the least of my fears:

Beer, Beer, Beer Fear
  1. my bottled beer doesn't carbonate.
  2. fermenter gets to warm.
  3. mash is too hot or not hot enough.
  4. hot liquor tank starts massive leak just as I begin to sparge.
  5. hairy fungus grows inside my refractometer, ruining it.

In my mine, I filled in every minute detail of the fear.

I open a bottle of beer after anxiously waiting the prescribed two weeks for carbonation to develop. There is no sound of pressure relief as the cap is slowly pryed off. I tilt the bottle and a warm gelatinous goo dribbles out and fills a glass with an army green pile of thread sized worms. etc, etc,. I continued this detailing for each fearful item. And the seriousness of the fear increases as I delve deeper into my brewing related psyche. I continued on with:

  1. beer is contaminated and kills my family and friends.
  2. broken carboy slashes wrists and jugular and then ruins carpet.
  3. propane tanks explode in transit, vaporizing my car with me in it.
  4. corny keg splits during forced carbonation and beer foam dislodges my left eye.

and the most horrifying thought:

  1. neighbor kids break into garage and drink all the beer in the kegerator.

Finally, believe it or not, as this final nightmare scenerio unfolded in my mind I felt the darkness envelope me in a warm blanket of stillness and I fell fast asleep. Cathartic? Maybe, but did I cover enough beer fear?

What are your worst beer fears? Comment below.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Brewing A Dry Stout

I thought that I would post a recipe of an ale that I make regularly and like to have on tap at all times. What follows is the formulation and steps that I use in preparing a Dry Stout. This beer gets high marks when entered in brewing contests but more importantly is a beer that I really enjoy drinking. It is low enough in alcohol to quaff and the abundance of flavors make it very satisfying. It is black with ruby highlights if the light is strong enough to penetrate and it has a solid mouth feel. The head is tan and resolved. Bitter chocolate and espresso up front with a nice balance bitternes and some dry fruit flavors and mild earthyness from the First Gold hops.

HLT with sight tube and thermometer
My grain bill is:
  • 15lbs 2-row @37 = 555
  • 8 oz. cry#60 @34 = 17
  • 14oz. chocolate @25 = 22
  • 2 lbs. flaked barley @37 = 74
  • 11oz. black patent @25 = 17
  • 4 oz. carafa @25 = 6
  • 8 oz. roasted barley @25 = 12

The grain sugar potential here is a total of 703 and I estimated (based on experience with my system) that I would get about an 80% efficiency from my mash which comes to 562. I then divide by my projected final boil volumn of 11.5 gallons which gives me an original gravity of 1.049.

I mashed the grain for 60 minutes in 6 gallons of 154f. degree water. My strike water temperature was 168f. and I added 2 tsp. of gypsum to the mash. I sparged for 45 minutes to a beginning boil volumn of 13.5 gallons.

I boiled the wort for 60 minutes with hop additions as follows:

  • 1 oz. N.Z. pacific gem (16aa) for 60 minutes 30 ibu's
  • 1 oz. U.K. first gold (7aa) for 15 minutes 6 ibu's
  • 1 oz. U.K. first gold (7aa) for 8 minutes 4 ibu's

I cooled wort to 70f. and transfered to fermenter. I pitched 2 pkgs. of Safale US05 dry yeast.Fermented for 6 days at 65F.-70f. and racked to kegs, carbonated and stored for 2 weeks and then tapped.Normally I use Kent Goldings in this beer but had to substitute because of the recent hop shortage.

The actual numbers for this beer came out as follows:

  • Efficiency 84%
  • Attenuation 73% (interestingly low)
  • ABV. 5.25%
  • SRM Black
  • IBU's 40
  • O.G. 1.052
  • F.G. 1.014

Of course this is a basic overall process discription. If you have any comments or questions, click below and I will be glad to respond.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Beer Record Keeping

My record keeping is an important tool to me. It makes the difference between repeating the same mistakes in my brewing formulation/regimen and crafting beers that I really enjoy and can consistently repeat. I design my recipes based partly on the thorough notes and formulations that I keep and update in my journal. Some elements of my brewing process that I find valuable to keep track of are:

  • water to grain ratio in the mash
  • strike temperature and resulting mash temp
  • mash efficiency
  • recipe
  • time tables
  • pre-boil gravity
  • post-boil (O.G.)original gravity
  • attenuation
  • general process notes
  • and more....

I have posted a random image of a page from my logs to show a typical recipe and brewing session.

As you can see from the image, I use both sides of the open journal. On the right are recipe formulation and specifics dealing with the brewing process. I use the left side for more generalized notes including problems and successes from the beginning of the brew day until the beer is tapped and tasted. I find it very important to document the beer tastes when all is done in order to best make choices about modifying the recipe in the future. Having said this, sometimes I'm not as thorough in my note taking as I would like to be, simply because, at times, I can be quite lazy.This example can be used as is or modified to suit your needs and or level of detail that you want. I will usually write out as much of the details as I can prior to the brewing session taking place to pave the way to an enjoyable brewing experience. I can relax and enjoy myself with a beer, having the grains already weight and milled and hops weight and bagged and detailed notes to easily guide me through the day. I simply fill in the blanks on the page as I go along. I don't have no much desire to use the computer programs like ProMash to keep track of my brewing sessions, but know that many brewers like and utilize them towards great success. I prefer the hands-on approach using calculator and pen and paper. I make note of the fermentation temps as the days go by and note the dates that the beer is racked to secondary or keg along with the elements of tastes, aromas, visuals from samples held back during transfers. I have been keeping track of my progress in brewing with journals since about the third batch of beer I ever made and when I consider the importance of record keeping I wish that I had included the first two.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pulque Not Beer

I met up with Mauricio at the Mezcal Botique Calle Umaran and sampled a shot or two of the wares when he handed me a can of Pulque !la Lucha! For those that don't know, pulque is naturally fermented maguey or agave juice. It's non-distilled and is 6% abv. This is a traditional drink in Mexico that dates back to the 'Classic' period in Mexican history or 150 years B.C. to 700 A.D.
Bacteria, not yeast is used in fermentation. I'm not exactly sure what type of bacteria is used to ferment the juice of the maguey but, in traditional pulque, a muñeca ("doll") was used - a rag or sock filled with human feces dipped in to start the fermentation process.
On a higher note, pulque became a very important element in Mexican society such that it has elevated the maguey to mythical heights. In fact, some believe that the starburst pattern behind the Virgin of Guadalupe is the leaf pattern of the maguey. The fermented and distilled agave juice is mezcal, and if it is strictly the 'blue agave', distilled in the Tequilla region, and at government appointed distilleries, then it is considered 'Tequila'. Kinda like champagne is made in Champagne France and when produced elsewhere would be considered simply 'sparking wine'.
Pulquerias were, and still are in some small rural communities a popular 'men only' drinking establishment with quirky names like "the celebrating monkeys", and "why do I laugh". Often blended with fruit to make it more palatable, it is called 'curado' or curing.
Pulque La Lucha is made in Hidalgo, Mexico by Distrubuidora International de Pulque and imported by Boulder Imports boulder Imports Pulque is meant to be drunk very fresh and doesn't keep well beyond a few days of fermentation, and I noticed on the can of Pulque La Lucha that the product has been pasturized, no doubt this is necessary for a fresh tasting pulque. (Go here for a look at fresh Pulque for sale at the Tianguis).
I shook the can well as instructed and poured a portion into my glass. The appearance is milky and obscure with almost no carbonation and no head. It had an unusual aroma that can only be discribed as halitosis and the flavor I would describe as a blend of tooth decay and burning hair. Not pleasant.
I've heard that you can get the agave juice down at the open air market for cheap. I thought that I would try boiling some up with some centennial hops and ferment with Safale us05 yeast (instead of the questionable wild yeasts and bacteria) to see if it is possible to make this traditionally awful tasting bebida into something I'd enjoy. It's hard to say if something that tastes so bad to begin with can be salvaged simply with hops. I suspect it will take much more.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Caballero Aguila

A friend of mine across the street (Calle Vergel) from us who is down from Detroit, Michigan for the winter, invited me over for a couple games of cribbage and he offered me a beer. Of course I couldn't refuse and so he set before me a bottle of Caballero Aguila (Aztec warrior). An embossed symbol of the warrior stands out on the neck of the heavy blue bottle.
This is a beer produced at the Corralejo Tequila distillery which is located at in an 18th century Ex-Hacienda Corralejo in Penjamo, Guanajuato, Mexico. . This is an interesting beer in that it looks and tastes similar to a porter but it seems clear from the overall character (body, mouthfeel, aroma) that a lager yeast is being used to ferment (Mexican beers are exclusively lagers). The label states '100% malta' which is unique for mexican beers, it also has a substantial 5% abv. It pours obscure black with a thin head that dissapeared almost immediately. Roasted coffee and chocolate flavors dominate and a heavy dose of dark crystal malt put it on the sweet side. Very little if any hop aroma or flavor. Thin mouthfeel. Low carbonation. I'm not sure how to classify this beer other than as a dark lager even though others have suggested that it is a stout?
This same brewery does produce an ale that has a distinctive Belgian Double quality to it called 'Potro' although again they claim it as a stout, and naturally it stands out amoung the usuals down here. Also, I have heard that they brew a beer called 'Horus' which is a beer and tequila blend that sounds interesting at 12% abv. I will review Potro and Horus in future posts as soon as I can find them. The liquour store that carried Potro last year does not have it now for some reason that they can not explain.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Skin a cat

A quick note about my homebrewing.

There are a lot of different techniques for brewing beer. Tons of equipment that run the gamut from the most elementary to the extreme. Thousands of homebrewers bringing to the process their own methods based on experience, knowledge, economy, equipment, level of interest, and so on. But when it comes right down to it, we are all simply fermenting malted grain to make beer.
In this blog, I am sharing my take on how I approach this very personal hobby.
I have made some pretty good beer using an aluminum pot and a five gallon fermenting bucket loosly covered with a piece of cardboard, and some pretty good beer using more elaborate equipment, but what is most important to me is the enjoyment I get out the process, improving my brewing skills and knowledge, and working towards an even better beer (however that is defined) that I can enjoy and share with others.
Choosing how you want to approach this hobby is as limitless as there are personalities in the world. Non are the right way or wrong way, here I write about some of my ways.
Having said all that, there is no good reason to ignore the lessons from brewers that have come before and their experience should be utilized in your personal efforts. I spend a lot of time reading the homebrewing blogs, periodicals and published works to gain more insight and knowledge, to improve myself. But, it is important to take that experience and those lessons and mold them to fit your needs for your circumstances.
Ultimately, no matter what your practices are, if you can create a beer that satisfies your tastes, than your technique is as good as any.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Viewers top interests

Looking over the traffic moving through the Beer Diary... site I noticed that a significant number of guests have shown an interest in two particular postings. Because of the this, I thought that I would elaborate on them and hopefully provide more depth to the subject. The first is regarding the Duvel Clone. I brewed this beer based on a couple of sources of information. The Jamil Show at the Brewing Network
which is a great podcast resource for a huge number of beer style recipes, including the Belgian Golden Ale a.k.a. Duvel, and I also mined the opinions and experiences of the many homebrewers that frequent the Home Brew Digest forum . In the end I ended up designing my own version using this information, and my materials on hand, and came up with what I consider to be a very similar beer. The following is from my notes on brew day:

DUVEL CLONE- 10 gals. brewed using my gravity feed brew sculpture.
O.G. 1.069 F.G. 1.011

17lbs. am. 2-row mashed at 148f. for 60min. in 6gals. h2O
6 lbs. beet sugar added during boil
Boiled for 60mins. with :1oz. N.Z.Saaz @8aa
and 1oz. Styrian Goldings @ 5aa for 60 mins.
1oz. N.Z.Saaz @8aa for 15mins.
1oz. N.Z.Saaz @8aa for 3mins.
Fermented at 65f. with stepped up WhiteLabs WLP570 yeast culture.
Kegged at 4.0volumes C02

Secondly, there is a lot of interest in beer evaluation forms and formats for tasting beer. The best resource I found for these is the Beer Judge Certification Program and you can click here to see their evaluation sheet.

Using their examples and my own feel for what would be comfortable for the average beer appreciator, I created my own simplified form using a numbering system. This format is great for quick, objective evaluations especially for the novice beer drinker. I use it in my Beer Appreciation and Tasting classes at Cabrillo College and it's very helpful when your tasting eight or ten beers in one sitting.

I have one more evaluation form on my desktop that is more elaborate than the one above and I will send anyone a copy of it if interested. Just comment or e-mail me.
I hope that this information is valuable. If so, or not, let me know in comments. Cheers!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Minimum Equipment List

I am often asked by people who don't brew but may want to give it a try,
"what's the minimum amount of brewing equipment that I can get by with to start, just to see If I like it?"
I can understand the concern, it's the same one I had when I watched my first brewing demonstration. I thought, 'No way', as I looked on at a system that Incorporated recirculating heating systems and magnetic pumps and huge burners and kettles. It makes sense to test your interest in the hobby before making a relatively large investment in time and money. Brewing equipment can get very expensive, even at the homebrewer level, depending on how 'high tech' or professional you decide to get. Although I have to say here that the typical homebrewer accumulates the majority of his equipment a little at a time (over a period of years), and that's how he affords it all. But when I began brewing I purchased what they call a 'starter kit' that contained all of the miscellaneous buckets and hoses and basic what-nots to get me on the path to my first batch, along with an ingredient kit that included the malt extract and hops and yeast to make a pale ale. I used my electric range at home to boil it all up and soon had my first fermentation happening in a glass carboy in the basement shower. Over the last ten years I have advanced in terms of the quantity and quality of the equipment and materials that I use but when I travel to Mexico I'm required to return to my roots in brewing.
I have learned through my efforts in Mexico that you can get by with very little equipment (even less than my initial investment of the 'starter kit') when it comes right down to the necessities. I bring very little brewing equipment to Mexico, not wanting to try and lug large boil pots and fermenters. I do bring certain things that I know would be difficult to get here, for instance my hydrometer and bottle filling wand. For the most part I can get everything else I need here, but I don't want to make a huge investment in equipment that I will eventually have to leave behind when I return to the states. Having said all this, I have compiled a list of the items that, with a little effort and expense, anyone can get and use to make their first batch of beer. This is a tried and true list for a five gallon batch. Even though it seems very crude and unsophisticated, I have made some very drinkable beer using it to brew with.
Here it is.
1 ea. propane burner w/gas tank (this is not needed if you can get your stove to boil 6 gal. liquid) 1 ea. 7 gal. aluminum boil pot w/lid
1 ea. large spoon for stirring
3 ea. hop bags
1 ea. plastic tub big enough to set boil pot to chill
1 ea. thermometer
1. ea. hydrometer (even this is optional)
2 ea. 5 or 6 gal. plastic (food grade) buckets w/lids
2 ea. spigots for buckets
1 ea. bottling wand
4 ft. transfer hose
1 ea. bottle cleaning brush
48 ea. beer bottles and caps
1 ea. bottle capper

That's it! You'll end up needing some miscellaneous items that can be found around the house, like a calculator for your basic brewing math, a small spray bottle and a sauce pan to boil your bottling sugar, etc. but I have used just the equipment above to make beer. If you know something about brewing you may be asking why I didn't put an airlock on the list to use in the fermenting bucket? Well, don't tell anyone but I normally just loosely cover my fermenter to keep dust (vectors) out and pitch plenty of yeast. I've never had a problem with any spoiling bacteria.
If you've got any questions about how to begin using these basics, click on comment below.
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