Monday, June 29, 2009

Summer Brewing Class Finals

We finished the summer five week brewing classes here in sunny California with a fantastic day of homebrew/food pairings and tastings using the beer we brewed in class.

Bottles of Hefeweizen, along with a keg of Pale ale and a keg of Stout were on tap. as we spent the early part of the day going over the mechanics of building a kegerator from a chest freezer and forced carbonation techniques. My co-instructor Dave brought in his computer and spent some time reviewing brewing software like beersmith and promash.

Soon we were evaluating the beers that were brewed in class and finally matched those beers up with food that the students brought. Assorted cheeses, sushi, pizza, chocolate, tri-tip steak and bread pudding were some of the fare that we enjoyed. All was washed down with the beer, the results of our labors in class over the past five weeks.

I believe the classes were a success and that the students took away all the information that they would need to start brewing at home and I was sad to end the day as we said our goodbyes. Now I will spend some time fine tuning the curriculum for the upcoming fall classes. There is some recipe changes I need to make based on the finished beers we sampled and I will need to upload the new material onto the website for the next batch of students to access.

I am finding it very satisfying to teach a subject that I love but it's a hell of a lot of work to prepare and stay focused for those weeks. It is also a great reward when I find some of the students go on to brew their own beer and continue down the path of the worlds greatest hobby.

See you in the fall.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Duchesse De Bourgogne

I'm not a big fan of the Belgian sour beers. Although I have, over the years gained an appreciation for the unique qualities that they offer, I still find that it is a rare occasion that I imbibe in the funky offerings of that region of the world.

As a new brewer I was perplexed at the pure joy that would appear on the faces of fellow brewers that considered these beers to be among the best the world had to offer. I would turn up my nose in disgust at the thought of sampling a bottle and beg them for a simple explanation for their odd preference. At the time, they couldn't provide me with a satisfactory answer. Mostly because I wouldn't listen. Now, I think I understand. Over time I have sampled an odd assortment and what I like about the sour beers is the complexity of the flavors, the unique dimensions that the bacteria brings to the blend and how these beers surprisingly satisfy and quench my thirst.

In the case of the subject of this post, the Duchesse De Bourgogne, I look beyond the initial "in your face" apple vinegar, acidic flavor. I can enjoy the way my glands release a dose of saliva with that initial tart cidery sip and the dark dried fruit and caramel sweetness comes to the forefront. My mouth soon dries out and asks for another sip to repeat the experience. The barnyardy, wet horse blanket flavors of gueuse are not present in this beer but for some inexplicable reason my tastebud search it out like flashlights in the darkness of the sour.

This is a good beer to offer the uninitiated, although my wife's face puckered up with aversion when I asked her "taste this and tell me what you think!".

In the beer tastings that I conduct, I like to begin with a beer like the Duchesses when sampling the Belgians before advancing into the depths of something like a gueuse. It has just the right amount of the unusual balanced with the familiar, that can introduce someone into an entirely new region of the beer kingdom. A door opener into the realm of funky.

For more on this beer and the brewery it comes from go

Are you a sour beer fan? Leave a comment.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

How To Make A Yeast Starter

Besides fermenting ales at cool temperatures, I would rank pitching a large yeast colony near the top of my 'most important steps' list in brewing good beer.

Making a yeast starter is a pretty uncomplicated procedure with the great advantages of quick fermentation starts and the added benefit of good attenuation. The quicker you can get a dominant colony of your chosen yeast in the wort the better your odds of preventing unwanted wild yeast and bacteria from getting a foot hold in the environment. Here are the steps to amp up your yeast culture and get you the results you want.

  1. bring to a boil, 900 ml. of water on your stove top
  2. turn off the heat and add 1/2 cup of dry malt extract

  3. stir extract into solution

  4. turn the heat back on and boil solution for 15 minutes

  5. remove from heat, cover and cool to 70f. (I place the boil pot in a ice bath in the sink)

  6. aerate

  7. add yeast

The yeast colony will grow in the new sugar environment and is ready to pitch in about three days. You could also, step this culture up again growing the colony to an even greater population. To do this, repeat the process above and add to the yeast colony that you already started. First, pour off the excess liquid from the original starter, then add the fresh batch of boiled and cooled malt extract. The yeast will go through the same process as before, growing and consuming the new sugars. After several more days you will have an even larger yeast colony that will go to work quickly to ferment your next batch of beer. If you're not ready to pitch when the starter is complete then place it in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Some brewers will pitch the entire content of the starter but I usually decant the liquid off the top of the yeast leaving enough liquid to swirl the yeast into solution so that all of the yeast pours out easily.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Brewing School Pale Ale

The homebrewing classes I'm conducting at Cabrillo College are off to a good start. On the first day of class we brewed two, five gallon batches of beer to get things rolling.

Since the classes are only five weeks long, it is important to get beer brewing early so that the students can taste, analyze and appreciate their brewing efforts during the remainder of the course.

We start out with a couple of batches of beer. A German hefeweizen using only malt extract and one addition of bittering hops,

  • 6 lbs. DME 60/40 wheat and barley
  • 1 oz. Saaz (AA 8%) for 60 min. for 33 IBU's
  • Original gravity at 1.052 and Final gravity at 1.012
  • Attenuation 77% and ABV 5.5%

and along side that we brewed a pale ale using 1/2 lb. of steeping grains and dry malt extract with three additions of hops.

  • 6 lbs. DME and 12 oz. Crystal #60
  • 1 oz. Amarillo for 60mins., 1 oz. Sorachi for 15mins., 1 oz. cascade for 1 min.
  • Original gravity 1.054 and Final gravity at 1.012
  • Attenuation 78% and ABV 5.6%

As I write this, I am sampling the pale ale and am very pleased with the results. The hefeweizen turned out good also and I tasted it along with the students last week.

We brewed a partial mash stout recipe the second week of class and that is conditioning in the keg. This coming week we will be brewing ten gallons of an all-grain english ale.

In the mean time, Cabrillo gave me approval to conduct another brewing class for the fall. Those classes begin in September and I will provide a link to the registration page as soon as Cabrillo posts their fall schedule.

I am considering making all of my class material available for a modest fee. If you are a brewing instructor or want to duplicate what I am doing here in Aptos, write me or leave a comment regarding your interests.

Friday, June 12, 2009

3 Basic Homebrewing Formula's

I like to keep accurate notes on the batches of beer I brew. Primarily to use as a reference to repeat recipes I really enjoy and also to modify those recipes that I think need a little tweeking to get just right.

To help me do this, it is important for me to know a couple of things that occurred during the brewing and fermentation of the beer. The following are 3 calculations I use in my process.

1. Efficiency - how effective I was at extracting the grain sugars

2. Attenuation - how well the yeast fermented those sugars in the wort

3. Alcohol by Volume - percentage of alcohol in the beer by its volume

The efficiency is important to know because it tells me the sugar extractions that I normally get from my mash and then I can use that information when making ingredient quantity changes. The following formula will tell me how much of, or what percentage of available sugars from the grains that I should expect to get from my system.

For instance, 1 lb. of 2-row has the potential for a gravity of 1.037 in a gal. of water. By then dividing the actual measured gravity of the wort by the potential, it will equal the efficiency or percentage of extracted sugar I attained.

That is, if the measured gravity of the wort is 1.029 or 29 divided by the potential sugar of the grain, let's say it's 1.037 or 37 I get 78%.

(29 divided by 37 = 78%)

To take it a step further,if I am brewing a 5.5 gallon batch of beer and collected 6.5 gallons at the start of the boil, I will measure a sample of the wort and multiply by 6.5 to get my gravity reading. I will then divide that gravity reading by the accumulated potential sugars from the grains that I mashed. For example:

10 lbs. 2-row @ 1.037 = 370

1 lbs. cry#60 @ 1.034 = 34

2 lbs. aromatic @ 1.035 = 70


for a total potential extraction of 474

We'll make an assumption that the gravity measures 1.058 or 58
multiply that by 6.5 get 377 then divide by 474 to get 79% efficiency.
After using this calculation on numerous batches I now can develop recipes based on the knowledge of the extractions I normally get from my brewing regime and system.

Attenuation percentages are the result of the difference of the gravity of the beer at the beginning and end of the fermentation process. I will also use these numbers to find the alcohol percentage. This is done by subtracting the final gravity (f.g.) reading from the original gravity (o.g.) and then dividing the final reading by the original reading. For example:

If the O.G. is 1.058 and the F.G. is 1.012 you will subtract 1.012 from 1.058 to get .046 then divide .046 by the O.G. of .058 to get 79% attenuation.

Alcohol is finally, figured by taking the .046 that I got from subtracting the F.G. from the O.G. and multiply it by 105 to get 4.83 and add 1.25 to get the alcohol by volume of 6%.

Hopefully this has helped more then confused. Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Monterey Beer Festival Brewing Demo

I have to say it was a totally different and exciting experience attending a beer festival from behind the booth rather than lining up to be served a sample. Having said that, I want to also say that I won't include here the down side of attending a beer festival from behind the booth. It would be to ugly.

Along with fellow Zymurgeeks, I rolled out the brew sculpture to brew up 10 gallons of Rye IPA to demonstrate our homebrewing skills and field questions about the art of homebrewing beer to the curious observers. What better a place to exhibit the process than at a beer festival in our own back yard, the Monterey Beer Festival. On hand to serve up samplings of their finest beverages were many west coast breweries. Right next to us was Santa Cruz's own , Uncommon Brewers serving a delicious Baltic Porter and Belgian ale. Conveniently located right next door to our booth, we could simply hand our glass over for refills, avoiding the extensive line.
The fairgrounds filled quickly with thirsty 20 somethings looking for quality beer and the longest line formed at the Deschutes beer barrel dispensing wagon with several beers on tap including one of my favorites 'Mirror Pond Pale Ale'.

On the opposite side of the grassy field, Jason, the head brewer from Seabright Brewing of Santa Cruz, was on site personally handing out samples of his IPA. With our brewing fully underway, Dave, my brewing partner for the day, and I headed over to be interviewed by The Brewing Network as they broadcast a live feed of the event. They talked to us about our local homebrew club and about how we were getting along with our demonstration. I was a little nervous but don't feel like I came across too weird. Creepy maybe, but not weird. I got the chance to plug my homebrewing classes at Cabrillo College. Thanks guys. You can listen to the entire postcast. here

As we proceeded with the demonstration, people kept coming over to get beer samples.

"We don't have beer." we would tell them, "We're making beer".

Of course their next question was..

"when will it be done?, should I come back later?"

"Yeah, much later."

Naturally, the frequency of this request increased as the day progressed. I started to lose my sense of humor and found myself hiding behind the brew sculpture sipping quietly on my beer. At one point, I set my 'special' beer glass down for a second,(a coveted glass I got at a Bay Area Mashers event several years ago)to soon realize that someone had walked off with it. Fortunately, I caught a glimpse of it clutched in someones sticky hands and rushed to snatch it back. The culprit feigned ignorance and I couldn't argue with that.

As the day drew to a close, we chilled our freshly brewed beer into fermenters for the ride home. It was a good day, we hit our gravity and look forward to enjoying our Monterey Beer Festival Rye India Pale Ale.

Did you attend the Monterey Beer fest? Leave a comment about your experience.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Man's Best Friend...Yeast!

When it comes to creatures great and small, I consciously avoid the tendency to anthropomorphise. But I have to admit that the lowly brewers yeast has a special place in my heart that makes me change my reference from 'that' to 'them'.

Sometimes I include myself in their ranks and refer to a colony of yeast as 'us'. Weird, I know. But we are a team right? Doing a job side by side like shipmates, me the Skipper and them, little Gilligans.

As I consider the workings of the yeast that ferment my beer, I have to give them a lot of credit as co-creators. For possesing what appears to be a collective intelligence that directs the part they play in my quest for good beer. The behavior that I refer to is that which seemingly recognizes and responds to its environment by taking into account the volume and sugar gravity of the wort. This ability would seem to require a thinking brain to formulate the needed calculations for projected colony growth. But with an intellegence not like ours the yeast exhibit a unique knowledge of the microscopic world that they occupy. It is outside my understanding and I am impressed with it's perfection.

When I introduce a colony of yeast to my freshly brewed wort, a syncronistic pattern of co-existent partnership falls into place. I play my part on the macro level as a brewer creating a source of sugar and the yeast carry on the process doing their part to transform the sugars ending with a final product that is our combined artistry. The mutually beneficial development of this collusion of man and yeast is ancient and symbiotic. This relationship is one that can only be described as 'divine'.

I feel I owe yeast a dept of gratitude because they are my partners and because they were here first. They deserve my respect at least, if not reverence. But how do I repay my dept to them? I use them and then pour them down the driveway and hose them off into the gutter, or worst still, simply dump them down the drain of the kitchen sink.

Do I feel shame for these acts? Sometimes, along with regret for not being a better partner, not living up to the bargain I struck with them to work together, forever. Unfortunately, the ugly cycle is repeated almost every week and the abuse continues. I know, I could avoid this disservice by salvaging them or washing clean and storing them for future work together, but they grow so quickly. I am only one man, they are billions of souls multiplying exponentially with only one mission, to ferment my beer. Do they love me? I don't think so, I think they selfishly yearn to be fed without regard for my feelings and maybe in spite of them, so I tell myself. I rinse them down the drain, partly out of laziness and also because I don't think they care that much, maybe not at all.
But they are smart and yes, a little bit cute. They know enough to propagate their colony to just the right size to match the volume of sugar in a batch of wort. They know how long to multiply and how long to ferment and when to relax and settle to the bottom of my fermenter. They know these things.

Sometimes I imagine them looking up from the bottom of my fermenter into my face as I stare down at them after racking the beer off. A beer that they so obediently fermented. They have no eyes but I believe they see me and whisper amongst themselves "will he feed us or will he kill us!". It saddens me that they can read my mind when I decide to kill them. Kill, it sounds so horrible, I'd rather say 'throw them away' but even that doesn't quell my guilt. Normally I don't anthropomorphise, this is true, but with my good friends the yeast, I have to be honest, they are like brothers. Brothers I end up killing.
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