Monday, December 31, 2012

Smallest Brewery In The World

I've spent the last 4 days trying to brew beer with the most debilitating influenza I've experienced in a long, long time. I feel delirious as I write this post from my infirmary bed at home with a pile of ineffective remedies strewn across my bedside table. Getting sick in Mexico is the worst feeling for me because of the unfamiliarity of the environment while suffering the painful agony inflicted by viruses that seem to be super strains of the most lethal kind. I do not exaggerate. The distress of this illness reminds me of the scene in the movie 'The grifters" where Anjelica Huston is threatened with being beaten with a pillowcase full of oranges. But in my scenerio, it's no threat. I feel like I am being beaten with a pillowcase full of oranges relentlessly until I'm begging in the middle of the night for it to end, to be allowed to slip from the world of the living but it doesn't end and just when I think it might, a smoldering cigar is extinguished on my fevered skin.

The Grifters

But I digress, and being the eternal optimist along with having no option to fail here in Mexico with this endeavour to create a brewing school/nano brewery, I carry on and will tell you that I have been successful in brewing some decent beer and making discoveries about what needs to be done in the future to make it even better.

My number one challenge at this juncture is understanding and modifying my brewing water in order to overcome the insanely high alkalinity. Some of the drawbacks of water with a high ph is pour hop flavor and aroma, harsh hop astringency, low clarity, minimal hot break development and an overall muddy and chalky quality to the finished beer. I can attest to these defects in my own beers here. The hops do not sing like I want them to and the malt comes across as dull.

One tap at a time

I took a ph reading a few days ago using a chemical analysis kit that was purchased at a pet store in California. This kit is used for checking water ph in fish tanks and includes small bottles of acids and caustics that can be added to alter the tank water ph. I knew in advance that the water we are using is alkaline and so asked my brewing partner to also purchase and bring down with him from The States, a substantial amount of phosphoric acid to be used to lower the ph. After checking the water I discovered that the reading was between 7.7 and 8. We brewed our first beer (a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale clone posted in BYO magazine this month) with the altered water. I don't have a  meter yet to check the mash ph so we settled on simply creating a neutral ph of 7 in the mash water and the sparge water. This experiment will give us some more information about how to move forward with our brews in the future. This means we need to wait until this beer is fermented and tasted before brewing again. I don't expect that to be very long since we re-pitched a huge sample of salvaged us-05 yeast from a previous batch of American hefeweizen. The other thing we need to wait on is the results from water samples that we will be mailing off to Ward Labs at the end of next week. This water report is crucial in understanding what we're working with and how we can make the proper changes based on the styles of beer we will be brewing in the future. Sadly, the local water company her in San Miguel does not provide any information to the consumer and even made it difficult for me to get the most basic questions answered. The bottom line though is that the water here in San Miguel is alkaline and hard enough to scratch glass.

In the mean time our artist in residence is working hard to develop our brewery logo and it's coming along nicely based on figures from ancient Mexican glyphs. We will have a short run of labels printed, hopefully next week, to use in marketing our bottled beers to a few local restaurants. We'll also get some temporary business cards.

A bottling line
Three's a crowd

As a side note we sold our first case of root beer. It would be funny if root beer sales were to be what keeps this enterprise afloat during its start up. We use bottled water that is ph balanced and tastes good for the root beer and also because the majority of the water is not boiled.Oh, we also got a table and some chairs for the brewery along with some donated chairs. I'm enjoying not having to make table tops out of garbage bins and it's good to be able to sit down every once in a while. The small pleasures that come when you're starting the smallest nano-brewery in the world.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Nano Brewery Equipment

I'm making some brewing progress down here in San Miguel despite our limited budget and I have to tell you that it feels good to have some beer kegged and bottled with more in the fermentors as we speak.

First I want to follow up on the Trappist Ale that I brewed using a kit that I got from Midwest Homebrewing Supply. Turns out that my impatience got the better of me regarding this beer. Even though I pitched 2 vials of the Whitelabs WLP500 Trappist yeast (one that was supplied with the kit and another that I brought down with me) in a 5 gallon batch, there was no sign of activity after 24 and still after 36 hours. Of course I jumped to the conclusion that the yeast was no good and so I pitched a packet of dry US-05 yeast. Soon after, I began to see signs of life from the Trappist yeast and then along with the help of the dry yeast there was plenty of fermentation happening within another 12 hours.

Trappist ale with honey
Unable to leave things well enough alone I decided it would be a good idea to add a kilo of honey directly to the primary (and only) fermentor after several days of activity. My desire was to include the honey flavor to the beer thinking it would be tasty and also to increase the amount of alcohol in the final product. This I was successful at and the beer has all of the phenolic characteristics that come with this beer style but with the added flavor and a decent amount of aroma from the honey. I tasted it for this review but will allow the beer to age in the bottle for a few months before I would consider it ready to drink. This beer is a beautiful yellow/gold color with a creamy white head. The aroma is bold with honey, malt and tropical fruit. The flavor is spicy with pear, honey, alcohol and it has a mouth feel that is full despite the dry 1.010 final gravity (after the honey the o.g. was 1.067).  I want to thank Midwest for providing me with the ingredients for what turned out to be a great beer.

Bottle filler at rest
Bottle filling station
In the mean time, I thought you like to see a couple pictures of the make-shift bottling procedure. I bottled the above Trappist ale, a German hefeweizen and believe it or not homemade root beer which was a challenge because of the high volume of CO2 in solution. I used a spring loaded bottling wand that I stabbed into a cobra tap that was attached to 8' of 3/16" beverage line. You can see this counter-pressure bottling device here for a better description.

At this point I'm still fermenting small (10 gallon) batches in order to have a selection of beer styles to take around and market to a few possible outlets here in town. Other good news is that a major distributor here is interested in having our beers as part of their inventory and we'll be sitting down to taste beers in the next few weeks. Tomorrow I brew a Dry Stout followed by an Imperial IPA.

 Next on the agenda: Creating a brand logo and getting some labels printed for our bottles. I don't think our possible clients will be too impressed pouring from a bottle with masking tape across the front that says 'beer' written in magic marker.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Beer School San Miguel

The first brewing class scheduled since my return to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico is for January 6th. from 11am until 4 or 5 pm depending on how the brew session goes and how much homebrew we drink while learning. If you are in this area or want to fly down from the states for this specific class send me an email so I can get you registered. This will be a limited class size since we will be brewing at the new brewery which is tortuously small.

Beer School Mexico

The class format is designed around learning the basics of brewing will all-grain. The fundamentals of mashing, sparging, hop bittering and the related math. Future classes will delve deep into the science and include packaging and strategies for brewing in Mexico. Hope to see you in class. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Nano Brewery Update

Today was test batch number 2 at the smallest brewery in the world. I'm still waiting on grain and hop deliveries but I had some pre-milled grain for a 10 gallon batch of hefeweizen. That along with enough bittering hops to get the job done.

This hefeweizen is the first brew to go into the rotoplaz fermentor as a test to see if there will be any plastic flavors or smells carried over into the beer.

For those interesed:
German Hefeweizen (all-grain) Kit
Batch size 10gal.
Eff. 81%
o.g. 1.052
Ibu's 22

Grain Bill:
Mash at 152f. for 60 min. add candi sugar 15min. prior to end of boil
10 lbs. malted wheat
6 lbs. 2-row
1 lb. light Munich malt
1 lb. oats

Boil for 60 mins. with:
.75 oz. Warrior (pellet) for 60 min. 15.5% aa (The only hops I have at the moment)

Chill to 68f. and pitch salvaged wlp500/ US-05 ale yeast blend.
In any case, I'm not married to the outcome from this recipe, again, we're mainly concerned with confirming that we won't get any plastic tastes before committing to loading the rotoplas up with 40 gallons of pale ale. I installed an additional valve several inches above the yeast dump valve and tilted the tank to about a 40 degree angle in an attempt to cause the yeast to settle down near that lower valve. With any luck, we'll be able to salvage yeast in this way for re-use.

I also installed casters on the metal platform that the fermentor sits on so that once the wort is transferred into it and oxygenated it can then be rolled back towards the cooler area of the brewery.
Along with these modifications, I installed a faucet on the new refrigerator, so that a couple of kegs can be tapped along with storing hops and salvaged yeast.

In the mean time, I'm scheduling Beer School classes for January to be held in the brewery. This will be necessary in order to earn a little money since I'm burning through my savings on the brewery project pretty quick. If you're thinking of visiting San Miguel, plan to fit a brewing class in as part of your activities. See you soon with more updates and beer reviews as the batches come to fruition. Cheer!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Midwest Homebrewing Supply - Trappist Ale

I'm in the process of making some mental adjustments since relocating to Mexico, and I was glad to finally get a chance to brew my first batch of homebrew as a way of grounding myself in my new environment. Because it's difficult to get good homebrewing ingredients here, I highly anticipated the shipment of an All-grain kit from Midwest Homebrewing Supply.

Midwest is a huge homebrewing retailer located in Minnesota and they had already shipped my kit even before I arrived in San Miguel. Shortly after getting my equipment set up I received Midwest's Noble Trappist Ale kit in my local post box. The box contained all I needed including a nice mix of pre-crushed grain, Belgian candi sugar, hops and yeast. The grains and hops were already measured out, and because I don't have a scale yet, made it easy for me to jump right in and brew.

A box of goodness from Midwest Supply

The grain tasted good and the noble hops had a clean fresh aroma. The kit also included Whitelabs WLP500 Trappist ale yeast (one of my favorites for it's large phenolic character) and I hope it's still viable having spend some warm lag time in customs at the Mexican border. We'll see in a day or so. The brew session turned out to be an enjoyable day. The equipment performed without a hitch and brewing with the kit was a no-brainer. I glanced over the instructions that came in the box and they were in-line with the way I brew, although they didn't specify when to add the candi sugar to the boil. I chose to wait until the last 15 minutes in an attempt to keep the beer light in color.

Brew tree set up for first batch
Using the large Duda Diesel plate chiller and a post chiller coil in ice water I was able to quickly get the wort down to pitching temperatures. I want a cool ferment so I decided on 64f. to begin with. I may ramp up the temperature to 72f. a few days into the ferment if the yeast doesn't do it on it own. I took some samples for a refractometer reading to confirm I got the gravity I wanted and that it matched what Midwest Supply said I should expect as an original gravity. It was spot on. I also did a quick calculation to determine the 20 IBU hop bitterness as you can see from my notes below.

By the way, here is a quick formula to figure ibu's. (Qty of hops in grams x AA% x Util.%  x .1 / Qty in liters) In this case: 56grams x 2.4aa x 27util. x .1 / 20ltrs = 18ibu's

Sweet wort ready for the pitch

Midwest's Noble Trappist Ale (all-grain) Kit

Batch size 5gal.
Eff. 80%
o.g. 1.054
Ibu's 20

Grain Bill:
Mash at 152f. for 60 min. add candi sugar 15min. prior to end of boil
9lbs. domestic 2-row
8oz. carapils
8oz. light crystal malt
1 lb. light Belgian candi sugar

Boil for 60 mins. with:
2 oz. hallertau (pellet)at for 60 min.
1 oz. styrian.goldings (pellet) for 3 min.

chill to 65f. and pitch 1 tube wlp500 trappist ale yeast.

After spending a few hours in the brewery, I felt rejuvenated and inspired to get busy brewing and filling some kegs and the experience was made all the more enjoyable by the ease of brewing a kit.
I would highly recommend Midwest Homebrewing Supply for their quality brewing kits and the friendly service I received from their sales staff and an easy to navigate website. You can contact Midwest by clicking the link above. If you get a Midwest kit to brew please leave a comment here letting us know how it went for you. Cheers!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cerveza Patricia

Here I write about a beer that I care nothing about. I didn't enjoy the flavor and am suspect of the character of the beer for the fact that they use artificial coloring as a listed ingredient on their label.
I tasted Cerveza Patricia and found it to be heavy, cloying and with a lingering chemical quality that I could attribute to the artificial coloring and flavoring that is adding during the brew. This is a dense black beer with a quickly dissipating tan head.

Cerveza Patricia

I investigated further on the interweb after sampling this beer and found that they don't have a website except for their facebook page. From that site and with the help of my Google translation button, I was able to garner some information about the brewery. I was amused to find that although Patricia was established in 1936 they started shipping two 'flavors' of beer, clear and black (clara y negra) in the 1950's but the site doesn't define those types of beer any further. The label on the beer I tasted claimed to be a porter. The beer is produced by the FNC or Factories National Beer located in Uruguay and part of the ABInbev group and I found a couple bottles of it at The Beer Company.

I will say in their favor, the packaging very cool. A large embossed P on one side of this thick glassed, weighty bottle and a large dent on the opposite side that makes it easy to handle. I was sorry to rate this beer "No me gusta".

In the mean time, I've located a Beer School/nano-brewery site in the San Antonio neighborhood of San Miguel de Allende and am about to make a deal with the leasing agent for a month to month contract. Hopefully, there will be no glitches and my socio and I can start moving our equipment into place and making the modifications needed to start brewing some beer. I've got six pounds of this years hops coming down via a courier shuttle from Loredo and plans to order the grain very soon. I'm getting so exited I can't stop my brain from running through all of the possible scenarios of success. I'll post a few pics once we're moved in. Cheers to that!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Beer Company San Miguel

Each night since I arrived in San Miguel I've laid in bed before going to sleep thinking of names to call the brewery I want to create. Ranging from historical references like Allende to the quirkiness of Roof Dog I continue to be eluded as I chase ideas that will lead to the perfect title. Maybe cardenal?Eventually I fall into a fitful sleep only to wake in the morning with a blank slate for a brain. Nada. My solution to this vacuum of inspiration? Go sample some beers with friends.

Cardenal image by

  We're living within walking distance of the 'Ancha', the main road that leads into San Miguel and the street where The Beer Company, a specialty beer bar, is located. Across from the Instituto and a couple doors down from a car repair place where a dog sleeps in the greasy doorway The Beer Company is easy to miss. It occupies a small niche in the ancient adobe that lines the cobbled street and because San Miguel is a world heritage site the sign above the door is cut out of discrete metal as not to detract from the Spanish colonial architecture. Inside its dark and cool, a pleasant spot to take some time out of searching for the future beer school/nano-brewery site and thinking of names, to have a few beers with the owner of The Beer Co., Antonio.

Antonio with his wife Liz

I brought down a couple beers from the States to share, beers that Antonio can't get here including a Knee Deep IIIPA, and a DogFishHead Punkin ale. He offered up a Canadian import called La Stout from Ghosttown Brewing out of Montreal that was brewed with absinthe. An unusual but very delicious beer. We followed that with a Mexican beer called Medusa brewed by 7mares which was anything but delicious. I'm not sure how to describe the odd flavors of this beer other than distasteful like old vegetables, nice label though. I finished this session with a Golden ale brewed by Belgoo and was very pleased with it's crisp, refined Belgian qualities. This is a 7.5% amber ale brewed with spelt. While enjoying the beers I helped Antonio get the co2 hooked up to his new single tap kegerator and we discussed bringing in a larger cooler in order to provide additional taps for the beers Francisco and I will be brewing in the future.
Stout with absinthe
Belgoo amber with spelt

The Beer Company would be a great venue to launch some new craft beer on draft. You don't see a lot of draft beer in Mexico, just bottles so this unique delivery system may lead to increased sales. At least that's the idea that Antonio and I agreed on. Naturally the beer would have to be pretty good too. Aside from Antonio's place I've got leads to a couple other restaurants that want to serve homebrewed/craft beers. So it begins. If you have an idea of an awsome name for a nano-brewery in the state of Guanajuato, leave a comment and we'll add it to the mix. Cheers!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Brewing Beer In Mexico 2013

So, where was I?
Oh yeah, I'm heading back to San Miguel on Monday and with the help of friend and fellow homebrewer/business partner Francisco, I have managed to relocate most of my brewing equipment for use this year. Naturally some of the larger equipment I'll get manufactured locally but the hard to get parts like plate chillers, food grade tubing, high temperature pumps and such I've packed to bring with me. Most of this has fit into two large 70 lbs. suitcases. This is the beginning of a project that hopefully will develop into a means of earning a living so that I can stay longer this time around.

I feel as empty as a stripped keezer
I'm experiencing a certain amount of kegerator separation anxiety as I dismantle the well worn keezer. Stripping off some of the parts I may need in Mexico and arranging for a friend to utilize the rest while I'm gone. As I pack my bags I keep going back and forth in my mind about what this year's journey will look like. Since I didn't reach my Kickstarter money goal to start the Beer School I'm working with a very limited amount of funds which makes every purchasing decision critical. I'm also conflicted about choosing the best course of action. I want to continue trying to realize the idea of the Beer School and I also want to produce beer for sale. I'm struggling to prioritize these options in order to focus my direction, whether it be towards the school, a brewery or both simultaneously.
I did come up with a list of tasks to move me further along in the process and all of the tasks are essential for both projects but the emphasis is on brewing beer for sale.

1. Lease space
2. Set up brewery (purchase additional equipment)
3. Homebrew some beer to dial in the system using grain purchased from retail source
4. Create brewery name and logo and develop website and copyright name and logo
5. Brew, bottle and label sample beers while continuing to use grain purchased from retail source
6. Apply for my FM3
7. Apply for beer school bus. lic. (beer school is not necessarily located at brewery)
8. Establish account with wholesale ingredient supplier using beer school lic.
9. Purchase initial ingredients
10. Apply for Mfg. and retail sales lic. for 6% or less beer
11. Create space at brewery or rent space for direct sales to the public
11. Establish local accounts and help set up draft systems
12. Apply for over 6% beer lic.

All that remains

Kegs say good bye

In the mean time I've used Google's awesome language tool to translate all of the Beer School teaching material to Spanish and after glancing over the results I can see I'll be spending a bit of time correcting grammar errors and a lot of the math that got scrambled in the transition. But, over-all I've saved myself a huge amount of time if I tried to do this translation by hand.

As I consider my future in Mexico I experience a multitude of mixed feelings. Excited at the possibility of succeeding at creating a new life doing what I love to do in a place that I've come to think of as a second home. Energized by the thought of re-connecting with the local homebrewers and being involved in developing a larger and more active brewing community. At the same time I feel uncertain about the steps I'll need to take to make my vision a reality and compounding that, the fear of complete failure that taps endlessly in the back of my mine like some kind of Chinese water torture. Cautious and fearless equals crazy.

I plan to post updates as I go along about how I'll make this happen and give some insight into what goes into making a beer school and/or a nano-brewery a success (or failure) in San Miguel. Also, I'm open to and would appreciate any suggestions, information or experiences by those in Mexico who've gone down this path before. Cheers and we'll see you South of the border. Salud!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Escuela de Cerveza Casera

I've been very busy the last couple of weeks getting ready to return to San Miguel de Allende. This year I'm feeling enthusiastic about my new mission to create a homebrewing school and hopefully brew a lot of tasty beer. I am not discouraged by my recently unsuccessful Kickstarter promotion but recognize my financial limitations. Consequently, I'm attempting to bring down a lot more brewing equipment than I'd planned before but will still have to find the needed larger pieces of brewing equipment in or near San Miguel. I'll return to the same welder I used last year to fabricate my brew sculpture and I've located a resourse in SMA for gas, a place called Oxigenos San Miguel. I'll need to lease or buy co2 and o2 tanks from them.

Brewing gear for the trip

Another step is applying for residence status or an FM3 and then a business license to open the school and I will relay the process here for any that want to try this same thing in the future. The legalities in Mexico are similar to those in The States regarding starting a business and brewing beer but I think I have a better chance in Mexico of bending the rules a little in terms of quantities of beer brewed and under-the-table sales. (Let's keep this to ourselves o.k.?) Another task is finding an affordable place to rent that will make it possible to teach classes with a dozen or so students at a time and enough additional room to ferment, store and bottle beer.

The space will need to have smaller rooms equipped with air conditioners to keep temperatures down for fermentation and another room with lower temps. for storage. Of course I'll also have to purchase some kind of freezer and convert it in order to dispense and bottle. A large kegerator of sorts.
Friend and fellow homebrewer Francisco who lives part time in San Miguel brought down with him on a previous trip 8 corney kegs for me and will take an additional 8 in the next couple of weeks not to mention a bunch of miscellaneous brewery pieces. This amount of kegs should allow me to condition my ales for several weeks before bottling at which point the kegs can them be rotated back to receive freshly fermented beer to age.

Packing for SMA again

In the mean time while I search for this perfect or not so perfect space, the brew sculpture will be fabricated and I'll either find stock pots large enough to use as brew kettles or have some made. You don't see to many kegs laying around so converting some of those are out of the question besides I may decide to brew 20 gallon batches (80 ltrs.)

Finally, I'm looking into using the Rotoplas water tanks as fermentors and will investigate that possibility when I get down there.

Anyway, as you can tell there is much to do and I'm chomping at the bit to get started. If anyone reading this has suggestions for saving money or getting this done in Mexico please leave a comment and like I said before, I'll keep you posted on my progress and how I achieve my goal of brewing beer in Mexico. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Beer Competition In Mexico

The homebrewing hobby is really taking off in Mexico and naturally, along with that popularity comes the competitive spirit. A national homebrewer and professional brewers competition took place in Mexico City last week and a record breaking 172 homebrew entries were submitted.

Record breaking 172! What? Yeah, for those involved in homebrewing in 'the States' this number seems pretty insignificant. The number of entries for the recent American Homebrew Association competition had a staggering 7,823 entries submitted by 1,733 homebrewers so the Mexican event appears to pale in comparison but the hobby is growing rapidly in Mexico and this seemingly small number represents what will surely be the beginnings of a craft beer movement that compares with the early days of craft beer in the U.S. These low numbers compare to the number of attendees that participated in Boulder and Denver in the early 1980's. And like looking into a crystal ball, I can see the future of homebrewing in Mexico growing quickly in the same way it did (and is) in the U.S.

Spicy Irish Ale takes gold

There were 114 registered participants, judges and stewards according to the Competencia Amateur - Cerveza Mexico 2012 with 13 categories of beers. If you're a gringo you should go to the above link and check out how the beers are broken into styles, very interesting. And even more interesting to me is that the best of show winner was from the spiced/veg./herb category. Emilio Andrés Saldana Hernández took the ribbon for his spicy Irish ale called Tlaxco Lacandona (a loose reference to an indian tribe in Chiapas?). One of the prizes awarded was a scholarship to the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago.

Other exciting news to hear was that my friend and fellow homebrewer Francisco Kameko took the bronze for his Dunkelweizen in the wheat beer (Cervezas de Trigo) category. As a new brewer, Francisco participated in my homebrewing classes at Cabrillo College several years ago and now brews all-grain batches in San Miguel De Allende, Mexico (my home away from home) as well at at his home in S.F. Congratulations Francisco.!"The student becomes the teacher". Francisco was happy to receive the recognition for a beer that he had previously won an award for in California, a validating accomplishment. But, he said that submitting the beer in Mexico was a little difficult in that it needed to be sent by courier to Mexico city and the entry fee was an unusually high $70 usd.

Francisco takes the bronze

It feels good to know that the culture of brewing is becoming popular in Mexico. I'm looking forward to the expansion of the craft beer movement and a growing homebrewing movement. Maybe if more people start homebrewing in Mexico the prices for homebrewing equipment and ingredients will go down. As it stands, I can hardly afford it. We'll see. Cheers!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Brewing For Students

Today I'm getting ready for next weeks beginner's homebrewing class. This means doing a little advanced brewing. I want to give the students all of the information they will need to brew an easy extract batch of beer at home and an important part of that lesson is the bottling process. So, in order to have beer to bottle next week, today I'm brewing 11 gallons of a simple German hefeweizen.

In class we'll brew a dry malt extract hefeweizen recipe which consists of 4 lbs. of More Beer's Bavarian Wheat (DME 40C, 60% malted wheat and 40% malted barley) along with 1 lb. of cane sugar to help dry it out and a single addition of bittering hops for a 5 gallon batch. Then we'll bottle 5 gallons of the beer that I'm brewing today and each student will get to take home several bottles of the beer to condition at home and then after a couple weeks enjoy the fruits of their labors from class.

yeast starter

The recipe I'm brewing today is very straight forward and since one of my favorite styles of beer is the German hefe I brew it often with good results. The secret is pitching a large starter and fermenting in the low 60's.F. This time of year it's difficult for me to keep the temperature consistently low during the high krausen period of fermentation but with my wort chiller and post chiller set-up I'm able to begin with a pitching temperature of 60-62f. which gives me a good starting point while still allowing for a few degrees of temperature rise.

brewer's journal

The following is what I'm brewing today:

Beginner Class Hefeweizen
Eff: 85%
Attn: 75-80%%
Abv. 5.5%
Srm 6
Ibu's 15
O.g. 1.051
F.g. 1.011

9lbs. 2-row barley
9lbs. malted wheat

Mash in 5 gallons of h2o at 150f. for 60  min.
Sparge with 10 gallons of h2o at 170f. for 30 min.

Boil for 60 mins with:
1.5 oz. Gr. Hallertau 5.5% a.a. (1.5 x 5.5aa x 27% util. x .75)/ 11 gallons for 15 IBu's

Chill to 62f. and pitch Whitelabs WLP300 starter
Ferment in low 60'sf. for 7 days.

Wish me luck. This beer needs to be racked to a secondary by Sat. 9/22 in order to be ready to take to class on the 23rd.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Brewpub Crawl In Colorado - Part 2

This is part two of a two part guest post by Brady Umfleet.

Stop #7 Eddyline Brewing

Author Brady Umfleet
This brewery is located in Buena Vista a town north of Salida. This is a difficult to find place. It is in a faux area of downtown, you know one of those that developers build to make it look like it is part of some other development. There is a main street in Buena Vista. But then there is South Main Street where the brewery is located. Walking in you get the out door sports vibe. A very small bar of about 4 stools is opposite the door. My wife and I tried the CPA (Colorado Pale Ale) and the Chili Porter. The bartender who was unaware I was sitting at the bar, even after she helped two guys next to me, and she didn’t know what Chilies were in the beer. None the less it was good. May be worth a stop if you are actually in Buena Vista, otherwise head town to the cool town of Salida.

Stop #8 Amicas Pizza and Microbrewery

Following a long soaking in the Salida Municipal Hot Springs we rolled into Amicas located in downtown Salida on a rainy Wednesday night. This place was very busy with tourists and locals. Walking in you must get a table then you can order food. However, there is a bar next to the register area that had 7 house brews on tap; Bomber Blonde Ale, Headwaters IPA, Big S Brown, Rex’s Amber Ale, Ute Trail Pale Ale, and a very interesting and good Black beard’s Delight German style Black Lager, and an interesting Honey Bourbon Brown 10 year Anniversary Ale. I have to say the black lager, IPA, and 10th Anniversary Ale were very very good and were imbibed by several in our party. What was interesting is that we were able to order beers and then when we ordered our food we would tell the person how many we had, a real honor system. We really enjoyed this brewery.

Stop #9 Breckenridge BBQ Brewpub

Our first brewery visit in Denver was to BBB. This location is located in the south side of Denver, near the Santa Fe arts district. My wife and I had a large sampler that included; Lucky U IPA, Small Batch 471, 72 Imperial, Well Built (barrel aged) ESB (our favorite), and a few more that I can’t recall. The Well Built was a beer that memories are made of; unfortunately we couldn’t score a bottle or two to bring home with us. The atmosphere was laid back on a Thursday afternoon. A few beer geeks and I assume a few workers from other breweries were there since they all wore the same brewery gear. We had the Carolina BBQ and some kind of crazy good chicken and sausage sandwich.

Stop #10 Renegade Brewing

The Renegade brewing logo
The brewery is located in a small building with two rolling garage doors that are opened in nice weather. The atmosphere is slightly industrial and the clientele young professionals, you know the type-those who ride bikes to work and are likely in the tech industry, a pretty chill place. We had a sampler that included; Ryeteous (Rye IPA), Descendant (Pale Ale), Elevation (DIPA), and a few more including a Russian Imperial Stout. We really enjoyed the Elevation and the Russian Imperial Stout. The service was very good and though they didn’t have food there was a Cuban/Vietnamese sandwich truck parked outside. We could have lingered longer but we wanted to head to our hotel.

Stop #11 Great Divide Brewing

Great Divide beer line-up

This is a must visit when in Denver, but try to avoid Rockies game days and 4-5pm ish.

Located a short walk to Coors Field Great Divide was a brewery we were really looking forward to visiting. Walking in to the tap room you almost literally run into the bar. There were about 15 beers on tap and since it was firkin Friday there was another bonus beer. My wife and I tried; Hercules Double IPA, and an oaked version, Titan IPA, Claymore Scotch Ale, and Wolfgang Dopplebock. We would have liked to try samplers of several more, but because it was packed and we were going to the game we settled on the above brews. With the exception of the oaked Hercules, which my wife didn’t care for as much because of the strong oak flavor, we really enjoyed the beer. We didn’t buy any food from the pizza truck outside, but we did see the pies and they looked great.

The service was bad, yeah it was busy, but it was bad. For example, three bar tenders were working, but all three were helping the half a bar nearest to the door (which wasn’t even as busy as the other side). So if you were on the other side of the bar you might as well been in Colorado Springs. We would love to go back but during a less crushed time.

Stop # 12 Sandlot Brewing at Coors Field

Behind the scenes at Sandlot
OK, this is a first for us, a brewery in a baseball park. I will add this to the brewery in a casino in Connecticut I visited many years ago. This place as a steep cover charge and thankfully it does because you shouldn’t be tempted to visit otherwise. A large bar, seating area located at the north entrance to Coors Field. On tap were Coors, Coors light, Sandlot Red Ale, and a couple of the Blue Moon beers. So, having never drank a Coors in my life I ordered one of those and ordered the Red Ale (brewed on site). I somewhat enjoyed the Coors but the Red Ale was neither malty nor hoppy, and frankly it was watery and thin. My wife and I left half of each and departed. In the ball park we found a stand with CO beers such as Oskar Blues’ Dale’s Pale Ale, Left Hand, and Odells. We enjoyed a bottle of Odells IPA.

Stop #13 Strange Brewing

Gluten free beer must be 
in plastic cup, it's the law.
Our final beer stop in CO, and frankly even I was beered out by this time. Strange Brewing located in an industrial strip mall not far from the Mile High Stadium just west of downtown Denver. When we arrived we spotted the food vendor and the smell of something good. Walking into Strange the bar is located directly opposite of the bar. There is also a rail with stools near the bar. There were about 6-7 beers on tap, but to be honest we were tired and went for a Cherry Kriek, and a Gluten Free Lemon Pale Ale. I hereby swear to never drink another gluten free beer again. The Cherry Kriek was very good but it was $8 a pint. We liked this place and would have enjoyed it more if it weren’t the last stop on our beercation. Thursday nights are $1 ounce steak night-they (the food vendor) grill them on the patio to order.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Blanche De Chambly

Unibroue is a brewery in Quebec, Canada that has it's beginnings as a 1990 buy-out of the already existing Brasserie Massawippi located in North Hatley, which produced the first craft beer meant for commercial distribution. After becoming one of the most successful microbreweries in Canada, Unibroue was soon acquired by Sleeman Breweries, which itself was merged with Sapporo brewery in 2006.

Blanche de Chambly is Uniboue's flavorful, relatively low alcoholic Belgian ale with plenty of phenolic spice and fruity esters. There's coriander in the nose and sweet orange peel comes on strong in the taste. With all that going on, I was surprised how un-impressive I was with this beer. Sure, it's quaffable but what detracts from the possibilities offered by those initial flavor components is the overly sweet bready flavors with a heavy handed candy sugar presence that feels cloying and burdensome. It impressed me as that of an under attenuated tripel. As if it didn't quite reach it's potential before being bottled. Consequently it lacks the crisp dry mouthfeel that I want from a witbier.

According to Wiki "Chambly is the very first ale brewed by Unibroue and as Belgian tradition dictates for white ales, it is named after the city in which it is brewed. In 1996, Chicago's Beverage Testing Institute declared Blanche de Chambly 'The World’s Best White Ale.'"

My feeling is that this beer is brewed to appeal to the masses rather then to adhere to the ideals of the Belgian Witbier style. But that's just me.

    Tuesday, August 14, 2012

    Yeast Inventory

    While cleaning out my brewing area I set aside all of the empty yeast vials that I accumulated over the years. Although I've thrown away many more vials than I've saved and as a standard practice I use a lot of US-05 dry yeast, never the less, the remaining collection revealed some telling statistics about my brewing habits.

    The first and obvious is how often I brew wheat beers and my preference for Whitelabs hefeweizen yeast WLP300. As you can tell from the picture below, I have far more empty vials of that yeast then any other. I use it for my standard German hefe and also a dunkelweizen recipe that I brew without changes at this point. Besides the great flavor I get from this yeast, I've discovered over time that fermenting with it at low ale temperatures (low 60's f. in this case) has a considerably influence in increasing the amount of phenols in the finished beer, a flavor component that I really enjoy.

    Empty vials of Whitelabs yeast
    The other clear indicator from my stack of vials is how often I attempt to brew classic English style ales. I've gone through a number of those type of yeast on multiple occasions trying to find that perfect combination of fruity ester by products, malt dominance and great flocculation. Some I like better than others but they all contribute an unacceptable level of diacetyl for my tastes. But all those trials led me to try the WLP013 London ale yeast on the last couple of beers I brewed. An ESB and most recently an Irish red ale. The WLP013 came through with the esters, malt presence and excellent clarity and with the added reward of being a very low diacetyl contributor. Finally, I've discovered my 'go-to' English ale yeast.

    As I spent some time peeling the labels off of these vials to send in to Whitelabs to redeem for some free yeast I remembered back to when I first started brewing. My brewing buddy and I would try to save some money on yeast by salvaging from previous batches.  The funny thing was that we tried to put the salvaged yeast back in those tiny tubes to re-pitch! I don't know what we were thinking. Now, I save yeast in wide mouth mason jars or juice jars and dump the entire content into the fresh wort for the new batch.

    Easy to pitch, salvaged English ale yeast

    Also revealing but not surprising is how few lager yeasts I've gone through. With high temperatures here where I live in California and the fact that I'm gone to Mexico in the Winter prevents me from fermenting too many lagers at proper lager temperatures. But, I still try to get a few lagers brewed in November before we head south for the Winter. I reluctantly leave them to lay up for several months in the kegs waiting for my return.

    Another favorite beer of mine is the classic Belgian tripel and I use the WLP500 for that purpose but for the most part I'm brewing American pale ales, IPA's and Imperial IPA's and for those I pitch dry yeast, Safale US-05 which is like the work horse of ale yeasts. It gets the job done with good attenuation, moderate flocculation and a clean finish.

    As the Fall approaches, I'm gathering what I need to brew in Mexico this year and I'll be taking a couple different types of liquid yeast. Chances are I'll stow away some of my favorites and hope they don't get to warm on the trip south. I'm also planning to culture some Belgian yeast from bottles of imports that I can get pretty easily in San Miguel and of course I'll bring a fist full of US-05 to get the job done.

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

    Brewpub Crawl In Colorado

    This is part one of a two part guest post by Brady Umfleet.

    My wife and I planned a trip to Boulder and Denver in conjunction with our friend’s birthday celebration in Salida. Since we are craft beer lovers we decided to hit as many breweries as possible because we wanted to make sure my wife visited her 100th brewery during our trip. We were also interested in exploring the happening craft beer scene is CO. We also love baseball and have always wanted to visit Coors Field for a ball game. We were two weeks or so too early to watch our Cardinals play at Coors Field however we did watch the Phillies and the Rockies. As a result of my pre trip research and our visit I believe the CO is the craft beer epicenter. Sorry San Diego, this is not only because of the constant opening of breweries, but also because of the extent of craft beer penetration in the state.
    Brady enjoys a pint
    Stop #1
    Twisted Pine
    TP is located off one of the main drags of Boulder. Walking in on a rainy Saturday night it was buzzing with a full crowd of locals. There were about 12 beers on tap and my wife and I tried the Hoppy Girl (released that night, Hoppy Boy with jasmine and hibiscus added), Hoppy Boy IPA, Ghost Face Killah (the Billy’s Chilies beer with Ghost Pepper added), Big Easy Off Beat Brown Ale (with wasabi, horseradish and honey), and a cream stout. The stand outs were the Hoppy Girl, Hoppy Boy, and the Big Easy. Overall the beer was solid and if we lived in Boulder this could be our local. The atmosphere is nice and basic and is mos’ def a locals place filled with bicyclists and townies.

    Stop #2
    Avery Brewing

    Even though our GPS sent us on a long roundabout path to Avery Brewing it is actually located on a road that cuts through Boulder. Needless to say this beer destination was busy on a rainy Saturday night. My wife and I were able to score one of the few tables in the barrel room which was a wonderful, intimate, and sedate area of the brewery.
    Our server was great and helped us to pick out a mega sampler. I recall we tasted the following brews; 19 Anniversary Ale (Belgian Triple), IPA, Buddha’s Hand (a stand out Belgian Pale Ale), Collaboration not Litigation Ale (Belgian String Dark, again a stand out), Ellie’s Brown Ale, Hog Heaven Barley Wine (a solid sedate BW), Maharaja (Double IPA, had another pint of this), Salvation, The Reverend, and a sour beer along the line of Rodenbach (of which we had the last glass, ever). Being able to sit among the barrels with my wife was a very good experience as we were able to carry on a great conversation away from the hustle and bustle of the main bar area. If you are in Boulder you really do need to make this a destination.

    This brewery is located about 12 miles north of Boulder on the Diagonal Highway in Longmont. About 10 years ago I visited the original location in Lyons and was looking forward to checking out another Oskar Blues location with my wife, especially since they began to can and widely distribute their beers. Frankly, I haven’t cared for their canned beer because they have often been flat, but I do recall enjoying their beers during my visit to Lyons. As you drive to this location, don’t be tempted to stop at the large free standing building with Oskar Blues logo plastered on giant faux grain silos this is, I am not kidding, two blocks from the actual brewery. This is their restaurant, pass this location and hang a left and you will find the production brewery and tap room. Walking up the steps you will find a large tap room with tables and long bar. We had a sampler paddle that included; Dale’s Pale Ale, Old Chub (Scottish Ale), G’Knight Imperial Red, Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Ten Fidy (Imperial Stout), Gubna (Imperial Red), Deviant Dales’ (IPA). The stand outs were the Dale’s Pale ale, Deviant Dales’, and the Ten Fidy. There were other additional seasonals and one offs but we had pints of the Deviant and the Dales’. I must say that the cans do not do this beer justice, as the freshness and drinkability of the beer was amazing. The vibe is laid back with dogs on the patio, cyclists hanging out, beer travelers, and locals. Thankfully I don’t live close to OB because it is an excellent place to hang out over a couple of pints and I might never leave.

    Stop #4
     Upslope Brewing
    The final stop on the Boulder/Longmont brewery tour was Upslope brewing which is located just outside downtown Boulder. Walking into the tap room the first thing you notice is that this is a small place. We ordered a sampler and grabbed a stool. The sampler included; Pale Ale, IPA, Craft Lager, Brown Ale, Maibock, Dopplebock, Belgian style Pale Ale, and one I can’t remember. The real treats here were the IPA, Craft Lager, and the Dopplebock. The tap room is very basic; a few tables, stools, and some games. There was nothing like having a beer and playing Connect Four. This is a good place to have a few brews, all of which were solid, and highly drinkable. This was a pleasant beer farewell to Boulder. Newsflash from the Fermentedly Challenged blog:
    "Upslope will be building new brew house in Boulder to expand production. The new location will also have a tap room while the old location will be for experimental brews and they will keep the tasting room."

    Driving from Boulder to the Salida area my wife suggested a more scenic route than our GPS planned out. Thankfully, I also had my copy of Mountain Brew: A Guide to Colorado's Breweries by Ed Sealover and a map. We decided to hit up Tommyknocker in Idaho Springs. This brewpub is located in the old mining town of Idaho Springs. This is a quaint small mining town that is located off of Interstate 70. Tommyknocker is a term used by Cornish miners for small troll like beings that live in mines. The bar is a magnificent wooden work of art and the draft handles are mounted in an old mining car. On tap were 12 different brews and we had a sampler of all of them, but didn’t finish them as is our practice when confronted with a massive selection and a long drive ahead. The standouts were the Maple Nut Porter, Imperial Nut Brown Ale, and Black IPA. These were three excellent brews that we really enjoyed. We purchased 6 packs of the Maple Nut and the Black IPA to share with our friends. Interesting note for you brewers out there, when you visit the restrooms you will notice that the brewery is completely open-no glass, walls, nothing between the brewery and the rest of the pub/restaurant.
    As you head west on Interstate 70 you will eventually run into the ski areas such as Dillon, Frisco, etc. Located in Dillon not far off of I-70 is Dillon Dam Brewing. You can’t miss the extra large green grain silo that marks the brewpub. Let’s face it this is a ski town, though it doesn’t do much for me, the aesthetic is nice. We opted to sit on the patio. We didn’t try a sampler but did have a pint of the ESB and the Pils (German). We enjoyed both beers as we thought they were on style. If you do visit this brewery take the very short self-guided tour of the brewery. Walk up the stairs near the entrance and follow the signage. It is a nice change of pace to get an eagle eye view of a brewery.

    Wednesday, August 1, 2012

    California Beer Fest 2012

    Have I suddenly become old? Hardened by years of beer related activities? Am I now a jaded homebrew geek too caught up in his own pretension to have fun anymore? These are the questions that flooded my mind as I attended a recent beer festival.

    This year I again played a minor role in supporting the California Beer Festival held at Aptos park on Saturday. In the midst of the spectacle (height of pandemonium?) I had a life altering revelation. Out of the blue it became crystal clear to me that I don't care too much for beer festivals anymore. God help me, I think I may have outgrown them.

    When I first fell in love with beer festivals I was just beginning my homebrewing journey and like a heat seeking missile, I sought out anything beer. I remember fondly my first festival. It was at Booneville and as I think back about my experience, I recall that the beers were all exceptional, the crowds were small, enthusiastic and excited to try the new beers available for tasting. Occasionally, a groundswell of a cheers would rise up each time someone accidentally dropped and shattered their tasting glass. The contagious waves of shouts and groans quickly spread from the epicenter before reaching a crescendo and then just as fast die out. Everyone had a smile on their face, the weather was mild and beautiful and the day ended before you could say "a wee deek on boont harpin's" and we headed off to our campsites to continue the drinking, raising a toast with our newly befriended comrades.

    That was a lot of festivals and many years ago now and it's sad to say that I've come to a point where I frankly just don't care anymore. Now the crowds seem huge and aggressive pushing forward in unending lines to sample the most generic of beers. My enthusiasm has been drained and it makes me see people as less friendly. Sad reproach passes over my face as I receive my taster glass that's now made of plastic. In the old days, before I lost my enthusiasm, the people that dressed in costumes to celebrate the day, amused and delighted me, now I look at the spectacle through critical eyes and try to staunch the flow of cynicism as I watch grown men dressed as giant hop flowers sweat through green face paint while caricatures of 'Duff' beer cans stagger sideways leering through their beer mug shaped sun glasses.

    The festivals haven't changed but I have and as much as I want to believe my loss of interest is due to a sophistication that comes from exposure, the truth is that my tolerance for much of the experience has grown thin. It reminds me of the late 70's when I reveled in the solid walls of sound during the arena rock concerts I attended. Mile High stadium, surrounded by thirty thousand people, clambering toward the front of the stage for a view of Peter Frampton singing "Do you feel like we do?" (chances are I'm one of those screamers in the audience on the 'Comes Alive' album) or Steve Miller or Fleetwood Mac. I lost myself in the glory that was not only musical bliss but a group experience that included mind altering drugs. Then, as time went by and I grew older I found that the crowds became a detractor and that I could enjoy the music more through a good home music system. It wasn't about the group experience anymore but about the quality of the product. Does this make me old? Simply put, yes.

    My discovery, my revelation was that now at this point in my life and with the experiences that I've had I prefer focusing on the end product, the beer. I'm discovering that a smaller venue where I can experience rare or unusual and unique or just plain well crafted beers shared with close personal friends is my preference.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not here to disrespect. Naturally, the beer festival still serves it's purpose and I'm all for continuing the practice.  It's a great place to gather as a community and be exposed to a wide variety of beers and enjoy some that may not be available locally. If it wasn't for the many festivals that I've attended in the past I would not have had the opportunity to meet some great people and to have access to dozens of beers in one convenient location. Another inherent value that kept me returning year after year is the chance to discover new breweries. During this last festival I came across a small start-up called Riley's Brewing located in Madera, California. The owner Dan Riley was on hand to talk about his line up of beers and it was great to be able to talk one on one with a brewery owner. Another benefit to attending beer festivals is the occasional special beer that shows up. Karl Strauss Brewing Company had some bottles of their Russian Imperial Stout that I've never seen in the stores here and it is an excellent beer. Finally, another rare opportunity was Lagunitas's 'Little Sumpin Wild' that was being served by Santa Cruz's own Red Restaurant and Bar. Very good beer. At the end of the day, these are excellent benefits for beer enthusiast like myself and they often only happen at beer festivals.

    But for me, I'm moving on to the next venue. I'm not sure what that will look like but it probably has a pretty short line to the taps.

    Saturday, July 21, 2012

    Bronco Pump Modified

    Some of my best brewing equipment I've found either at garage sales or the flea market. Two of my keggles I saw while wandering the isles of the flea market here in Santa Cruz and another at the scrap metal yard on Whidbey Island in Washington. I also found a cool thermometer at a boat salvage place and the item I'm about to talk about here, I got at a neighborhood rummage sale.

    Mixed in with a collection of household items I came across an old Bronco Pump. These are the pumps that you see at every kegger party you've ever attended. Off to one side, a keg rests in a garbage can of ice where invariably you'll see someone holding a cobra tap over their red plastic beer cup while their friend frantically pumps down on the Bronco to get the beer flowing. Practically speaking the Bronco pump is used to force air down onto the head space above the beer in the keg creating the pressure that forces the beer out to the tap. The upside is that this is an easy tool for the typical person to use, the downside is that exposing the beer to air causes it to spoil and so must be consumed by the end of the party (maybe that's an upside too). In any case, I decided to take my new found treasure and make a minor modification in order to use it with a co2 system.

    The first step was removing the plastic housing, items 1 through 5 (the part that the user would press down on) which proved to be the hardest part of this project. I had to literally break the thing apart to remove it. Once that was off I could get to the one-way valve and o-ring which sets below the housing and held in place under a metal plate. Looking at the attached images you can see four Phillip screws that originally held the plate in place. I removed and discarded both the plate and the valve and o-ring (refer to items 17 & 18 on the parts list). The hole in the body of the pump that held the now missing valve was slightly smaller than 1/4" and allowed me to use a 1/4" tap to create threads. I could now screw in a 1/4" barbed fitting to accept the co2 line. The other barbed fitting coming out the side of the body would still be used as designed, with a beverage line out attached and a cobra tap at the end of that just like is shown on the picture above. As an added bonus the Bronco pump that I found is of a slightly different design than the one shown in the diagram here because it has a co2 release valve on the opposite side of the body as the beverage out line.

    This is a convenient tool to have considering I've got a 15.5 gallon Sanke keg along with a couple 5 gallon Corny kegs that have been adapted as Sanke's.

    I hope to put this equipment into use soon by kegging my next batch of beer into the modified Corney/Sanke kegs. I'll keep you posted on how well that works.

    Do you have any equipment or tool modifications you'd like to share. Leave a comment. Cheers!
    Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

    About Beer Diary...