Saturday, December 28, 2013

Brewing Without A Net

I've been using pellet hops in hop bags in the boil since the beginning of my brewing habit. I first purchased the medium sized nylon type from MoreBeer and soon discovered how limiting the size was. After the boil, the hops had expanded into a fist tight ball that pressed against the constraints of the bag. No me gusta! So, I started using 5gal. paint strainer bags a couple years ago to give the hops some more room to be exposed to the hot wort. My thinking and hope was that I could achieve a higher degree of flavor and aroma. You can go here to see other ideas or here to see my 'hop spider' solution. But there were problems with using these techniques, mainly that even with the larger bags the expanding vegetative mass appeared to seal off the flow of wort through the hops. I haven't done any studies to prove this so don't hold me to this theory but just from the looks of it I'd say I'm not getting my fair share of the available goodness from the hops.

Hops, hops, hops
Last week, I brewed my typical Belgian tripel and did away with the hop bags entirely and instead simply threw the pellet hops in loose. I wasn't real concerned with getting the most aroma from these hops for this recipe but used the brew day as a way of testing the 'loose hops' waters so to speak. Overcoming my main concern was my agenda here, that the hop material running through my chiller would gum up the works. I was really afraid of this. Yes, afraid. But, I witnessed the whirlpool technique that I've heard about so often while I was at Sante Adarius Rustic Ales a couple weeks ago and saw that a pile of hop debris will collect in the center of the boil kettle if a vigorous stirring in a clockwise direction (must be clockwise and not counter-clockwise, just kidding) was performed to create a whirlpool at the end of the boil and the wort left to settle and come to a rest after ten minutes or so.

I did this at the end of the boil for my tripel. Then I purged the kettle pick-up tube of any dregs by opening the valve for about a second. Some debris came out followed immediately by clear wort. I then closed the valve and hooked up my quick disconnect line and transferred the wort though my chiller to discover that the wort was nice and clear as it entered the fermentor. At the end of the transfer there was a nice clump of hop debris left behind in the center of my kettle. Oooh.

Of course I knew this would be the case but naturally I had to prove it to myself and I still worried the entire time I transferred that I would clog up my chiller. Really.

But today was different, and so the fear returned. The tripel recipe was only slightly more than 2oz. of hops for an 11 gallon batch and consequently a relatively small amount of debris was left behind as a cone. Today's pale ale recipe was over ½ a pound, significantly more.

What to do if this clogs my chiller in mid stream so to speak? I had no answers but boldly went ahead with only my weak faith to comfort me. Fortunately, I didn't have to come up with a back-up plan because the cone formed nicely albeit largely and the wort flowed clear. As I got down to the last couple of quarts the pickup tube wanted to draw off the hops so just before this happened I quit the transfer and called it good.

Ending transfer as the hops started to be drawn

The big benefits of changing my approach to hop additions is that I will hopefully introduce more aroma and flavor and just as importantly I won't have to use the bags anymore, which are a pain to mess with and I especially won't miss the cleaning. This pale ale will be ready in a month and I'm looking forward to tasting the difference. I may end up with a higher ibu count brewing this way and so may have to back off on the first wort hop and bittering hop additions. I'll let you know how it tastes when I get there. Cheers!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Round Trip For Beer

Sometimes I find myself suffering from high anxiety.

I woke up late the other night from a dream in which I was flying around the countryside sitting on a pillow that was strapped to some sort of small wooden bench. As I blissfully moved through the air I followed the line of the street far below. It suddenly occurred to me that I didn't need to follow the road, that I was free to cut across the country side on my flying bench to get to my destination and save time. This I did and my new route took me over a large grassy playing field where some older kids were throwing a ball back and forth. The ball ended up landing in my lap and before I could return it the kids started chasing me from below, yelling at me as if I intended to fly off with their beloved toy. Soon I began losing elevation and was floating dangerously close to the angry kids who were jumping up to catch me. As much as I willed myself to fly higher and faster I kept dropping like a leaky hot air balloon. Just as I dropped low enough to be captured, I woke up.

I don't know what this means but it stuck with me.


Got my round trip ticket to Santa Cruz. I'll be heading there for a short 10 days stay starting December 7th. I'm excited to return and catch up with my S.C. friends and share a few beers but mostly I have to renew my tourist visa and will be busy selling my van and handyman tools. I need another injection of cash to keep me fed and housed while I continue my efforts to make the brewery a success. At this point in time it is paying for itself and small upgrades along with a small stipend for my personal expenses.

It's scary though. I have to admit that I live with a mixture of fear and optimism that battle each other for primacy. Some days the fear wins and other days the optimism holds strong. My commitment for success is tempered by the sense that there is no turning back. I carry around a bit of worry. O.k., a lot. Concerns that I literally won't survive if I turned back at this point and I won't survive if I stay the course. Irrational? Yes, but that I've gone beyond the point of no return feels oh too real.

Fortunately I have strategies to deal with the anxiety. One coping mechanism that I use and am quite proud of is to just not think about it, I excel at this. Or I zone out by watching multiple episodes of Orange is the new Black. I also spend a lot of time developing (or is it taking refuge in) the trust that this will work out. I refer to this technique as 'blind optimism'.

There is an upside. Something to be optimistic about is the fact that we are now selling Dos Aves in a dozen restaurants in San Miguel, one in Queretero and two more in Baja. I'm proud of that and encouraged that people are enjoying and asking for our beer. We are near the point of surpassing our ability to produce enough beer for the demand with our current equipment and will need to expand very soon to keep up. We finally have in place relationships with the vendors we need here in Mexico to keep the brewery operating including a recently discovered supplier of cartons with our logo printed on the sides. A wholesaler of malted grain, bulk bottle company and a label printer right here in San Miguel. We just received two new conical fermentors (thanks to my indiogogo supporters) which will help increase production considerably not to mention facilitate the ease of yeast harvesting.

I'm learning a lot about myself during this journey. Some things I don't like but many more that I do. My tenacity and drive continue to surprise me. My ability to produce a quality product with consistency and how easily I'm able to communicate with clients who seem to appreciate my efforts. The sense of humor that I can conjure up from the depths when my optimism wanes, and my feelings of gratitude towards the people in my life that continue to support my efforts and believe in what I'm doing.

By the way, if you'd care to contribute to this effort, donations are always welcomed. There's a donate button on the side bar of this blog.

Anyway, enough about me, how are you doing these days? Cheers!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Beer/Food Pairing 2013

I'm at it again. This time as a professional brewer. We at Cerveceria Dos Aves are teaming up with the La Frontera restaurant here in San Miguel de Allende to present to the locals a three course meal featuring three seasonal Dos Aves ales.

You may remember that our first joint venture was in 2009 and then again in 2010. I worked with Noren at La Frontera to create a beer/food pairing with some of my homebrewed beer. Those beers were brewed with a slant towards utilizing Mexican ingredients. Utilizing local agave in an American pale ale and brewing with hibiscus and tamarindo in a Belgian wheat to name a couple.

This time around we are going with three of Dos Aves seasonal offerings. One, a pumpkin ale which most Mexicans have no idea about since they don't celebrate thanksgiving and subsequently are unfamiliar with the traditional pumpkin pie that north Americans are accustomed to. The other two are classics styles that we only have room at the new brewery to brew once a year for the winter season. One is a 9% Russian imperial stout and the other a 8.5% Belgian golden strong. The yeast I used in this strong ale is pretty interesting as it imparts almost chardonnay wine like flavors and is very dry. Actually, now that I think of it most Mexicans are unfamiliar with these other two beers also. But, I expect this will soon change as the desire for craft beer is quickly becoming popular here in Mexico and craft and import beers are growing beyond the homogeneous but deadly grip of Modelo.

Noren has come up with a unique menu for this selection of beers and it's sound pretty delicious. For starters we'll be having a creamed ginger-squash soup with the pumpkin ale. Following this, for the main course, a choice of either a beer braised brisket or jumbo shrimp in a sun-dried tomato pesto served with garlic mashed potatoes and baby carrots and Brussels sprouts along with Russian imperial stout. To finish, our Belgian golden strong will be featured with a brie and goat cheese platter with grapes and apples as dessert.

If you're local to San Miguel or soon to be visiting, please make your reservation now as seating is limited. Contact Noren at: 152-4265


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Pumpkin Beer

Since this is the season for brewing pumpkin type beers I thought I'd chime in on my opinion about brewing these types of ales along with the process I use for my own version.

First off, I don't particularly like the taste of pumpkin beers but I know a lot of people do like them or at least like the idea of them as a way to celebrate the Halloween/thanksgiving season. And so, since I am gleefully wanton of the income that comes from the sale of pumpkin type beers I’m all aboard the Ichabod Crane pumpkin train. Yes, I'd sell my soul for the resulting pesos that come from exploiting peoples desire for nostalgia and the taste of the season. But my soul doesn't come cheap and I have one rule as I exchange it for the mighty peso and that is that if I brew a pumpkin ale, it better be damn good beer!

Most people associate the flavor of pumpkin pie with the spices that are used to make what is for the most part a pretty unexceptionally flavored squash. Cinnamon, all-spice, clove, nutmeg and ginger provide the very essence of a delicious pie. Take that away and I doubt anyone would be begging for another slice of squash pie. So, let's be real, the pumpkin is really the minor player here. In fact, if you could make a pumpkin pie without actually using any pumpkin, I expect even more people would like it.

Pumpkin Beer in San Miguel de Allende

This leads me to an important decision when making my pumpkin beer, leave out the pumpkin. Yeah, I'm like a lot of men who don't really care for vegetables so why would I want them in my beer. In fact, that's the last place I want 'em. Sacrilege.

So my primary and in fact only interest when brewing is to have the best beer when all is said and done and this applies when I approach a recipe for a pumpkin beer. I want a good beer first and foremost, one that can stand on it's own. and I want to follow that with the flavors that I associate with pumpkin pie. Not overbearing but subtle, flavors that will enhance the experience of the base beer. To achieve this I came up with a selection of malted barley that produces a beer along the lines of an American brown but with a lower bitterness from one hop addition. I didn't use any late hop additions because I didn't want that flavor to compete with the malt and spice balance. I use a combination of 2-row, crystal 20, crystal 60, Munich malt and chocolate malt. For this beer I wanted the slight fruity qualities you get from White labs English yeast along with the excellent flocculation to achieve a nice clarity.

I add pumpkin pie spices in the last minute of the boil and again later in the keg when I racked from the primary fermentation. I found it necessary to add the spices in the kegs to reach the level of flavor that I wanted and the advantage to doing it this way is that I could even add more later if the flavor was wasn't up to the level I was trying to reach. In this particular case it wasn't necessary to add any more than the initial dose.

This beer ended up being quite nice. A full bodied, super clear brown ale with a semi-sweet malt backbone that is enhanced with a mild but clearly evident pumpkin spice profile that even I am enjoying.

I only produced eight cases of this beer so it will be gone quickly but there may be a few out there in some of the restaurants that stock Dos Aves. You can also get a chance to taste this beer at the beer/food pairing on November 17th. At La Frontera in San Miguel. Seating is limited so call Noren for a reservation soon. Cheers!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Beer And Food

So, where was I?... Oh yeah, thinking about how hard it is to brew when it's not a hobby. I'm writing this after cleaning up several gallons of IPA that overflowed a keg that I was racking while trying to mash in for another beer.

Being pre-occupied with one project while trying to perform multiple tasks gets me into trouble often here at the new cerveceria. But who has time to focus on only one thing, this isn't a hobby any more. Oh how I long for the days of simply watching the kettle boil while enjoying a few homebrews. Now it's brewing double batches twice a week to achieve the needed 40 gallons of beer. Keeping my fingers crossed that the supplier will show up with the bottles I ordered so that I can transfer beer from kegs to bottles to be able to rack the fermented beer into the recently emptied kegs so that the fermentor is available for the next batch of beer. Rinse and repeat.

Ah, hang on. I see that the R.O. water tank is overflowing.

But I'm not complaining, I'm excited about this project and honestly the times I'm brewing is when I enjoy it the most. It's just difficult to keep the momentum going while simply selling beer to purchase more ingredients to brew more beer to sell. Rinse and repeat again.

Reverse osmosis producing 50 gallons of water a day
On a positive note, the beers are coming out awesome (no, really, they are awesome) and the people are asking for Dos Aves. We're expanding on the number of retail outlets every week and it's simply a matter of time before we'll find ourselves needing to expand to a larger facility with bigger equipment. In the mean time, I used some of the recent IndioGogo campaign money (thank you all and you know who you are) to purchase a new Reverse Osmosis water filter system that can put out 50 gallons of pure water a day compared to our old filter that produced 5 gallons a day. It has an internal pump to process our gravity fed water system. No more waiting on accumulated water. Of course I also needed to purchase a holding tank for the water. From there I pump the R.O. water into my mash tun and hot liquor tank. A lot easier than lifting 5 gallon water bottles over my head.

Meanwhile.... I just got off the phone with the bottle supplier and from what I can gather with my limited Spanish he's out of boxes so can't ship bottles but promises he'll get them tomorrow and will ship my order then. Oh, and one of my CO2 tanks hasn't been returned by the gas guy as promised this morning but he's in town and I can at least hunt him down.

Did I say I'm not complaining? Well it's true. I'm working within a culture that has a different sense of time than what I'm used to but I'm slowly adapting. For instance I've learned that if a vendor doesn't return your call or answer your email it's because they don't have an answer or don't have what you ordered. They hate giving you bad news. Fact.

Having a beer everyday helps and it doesn't hurt if your beer is pretty tasty. Gotta go, my wort is boiling over.

By the way, for those that regularly follow this blog, if you're asking yourself what the 'Beer and Food' title is all about on a very beer only site, it's simply to try and get more hits which could lead to some additional Adsense revenue. My thinking is that maybe some foodies will be drawn in by the 'Food' part of the title and start following Beer Diary. Desperate times call for desperate measure. Cheers all! 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Cerveceria Dos Aves Wins Gold!

As a professional brewery, Dos Aves entered five classic styles of beer in the 2013 Mexican brewers competition held in Mexico City. Out of the five we didn't place in any except for our English barley wine. That one brought home the gold.

Entering this competition was a little expensive for me but at least we got something out of it. A plaque representing a superior product and some accolades from the brewing community. If this business continues to be successful, next year I could see us with a booth at the event and rubbing elbows with Mexico's better craft brewers. We'll see.

P.S. Thanks to all of those people that recently contributed financially.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fermented Traditional Mexican Ponche

During the festivities of Christmas in Mexico, when you are invited into the family homes you'll soon be offered a sweet fruit punch that is traditionally made for this season. The proportions of ingredients that create the flavors of this warm (yes, it's served warm off the stove top) concoction are as individual as the family that prepares it but all have in common the fruit available at this time of year along with piloncillo (sugar) and spices. This tart and sweet drink is served to family members, guests and traveling strangers that may stop by the house during one of the neighborhood Christmas posadas.

Preparation begins by bringing water to a boil in a large olla and then introducing all of the ingredients one by one for as long as it takes to adjust the flavors to the cook's taste as the boil continues.

As I was curious about this drink and I just happen to know a Mexican family I asked them if they would share the process of making punche'. Liz, a friend and a Mexican with some experience making ponche' offered to help me out with this project. Of course I had ulterior motives. That's right, I can't imagine a delicious beverage not being improved with a little fermentation and so I was on a quest to take the traditional and morph it into the slightly non-traditional with the introduction of Belgian ale yeast. Liz was game and so our mission began.

Here's the fruit we used to prepare what I'm calling the 'Lizmark' (dare I say "Sinking of the Lizmark"?) ponche'. Keep in mind that you can add pretty much any fruit you want and there are several that we didn't include in our recipe.

We started with I would guess to be about 12 liters of water and brought it to a boil. I'm guessing 12 liters because Liz doesn't measure anything. It seemed that intuition was more her guide. While the water was heating, she assigned me the task of preparing the fruit by cutting it into bite sized chunks. This included a dozen guavas, several yellow/green apples (not granny smith), a few mango's and a handful of pitted prunes. I tossed all these in as the water began to boil along with two dark colored piloncillo. Piloncillo is a raw sugar that is compacted into the shape of a cone about 5" tall and comes in light brown and dark brown. I then peeled about twenty tamarindo and threw them in without pitting or cutting them up and then I added a fistful of jamica (what gringos would refer to as dried hibiscus flower). Finally I added five or six long cinnamon sticks and let the whole thing boil vigorously. 
naked tamarindo

Liz tasted my effort and suggested I add more jamica and a few more tamarindo to the mix. Because we did this in July we were not able to use any tejocotes which are only ripe and available during the winter. The tejocote fruit are small speckled things about the size of a blemished golfball that grow on a scraggy, spindled shrub-like tree that appears to scream "I'm going to survive in this harsh environment no matter what!" They are a required ingredient for the real traditionalists imparting another dimension of tartness to the ponche'. The first person to eat one of these scary looking things was a brave sole indeed. Some say it has a pear/apple flavor. Personally I don't think they're necessary since the punche' has enough other acidic ingredients in it. My guess is that the importance of including tejocotes comes from a 'waste-not, want-not' attitude and is more nostalgia than anything else. Plus, what else are you going to do with this weird, unattractive fruit?

The other missing ingredients in our version are pieces of raw sugar cane and maybe some raisins but who's counting?
After Liz was satisfied with the flavor we achieved I turned off the heat and we sat back with a cold Victoria and watched the pot cool. Then we got tired of watching the pot so I took it back to the brewery and transferred the entire content into a sanitized fermentor. I left it to chill naturally over night and returned in the morning and pitched the Belgian yeast. If I recall correctly it was a jar of salvage Whitelabs WLP500. I figured that the phenolic qualities that this yeast brings to the equation would be a good match with all of the fruity tartness of the punch.

cinnamon and prune
I left it to ferment for a week (for those interested, it went from and o.g. of 1.055 down to 1.008 % or about 6% abv.) and then racked it into a 2 liter plastic bottle and forced carbonated. When I transfer the punch out of the fermentor I did this gently as I wanted to leave behind the large quantity of fruit pulp and debris that had settled to the bottom. I set the fairly clear and fully carbonated ponche' in the coolness of the kegerator to age for a bit.

finished product on ice

One month later, I brought our new baby home wrapped in swaddling ice packs to share with Liz, Antonio and their staff at The Beer Company. This carbonated, alcoholic version of the traditional ponche' was a hit. Everyone liked it including me as I enjoyed mine poured over ice. A very nice balance of tart fruit, spice and a sweet but dry finish. I don't care too much for the traditional ponche' because of the high level of cloying sweetness but after fermenting out some of the sugar this drink is quite satisfying.

My plan is to make a larger batch of this again, but at the brewery come this Winter and have it available on one of the taps at The Beer Company. If you're down here for X-mas stop by for a glass. Salud!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Dos Por Uno Cerveza

I brewed the Dos Aves barley wine and just like the high gravity Russian imperial stout this barley wine required enough grain to completely fill my keggle mash tun. Once mashed in I had about half an inch of space at the top to run my sparge water. I have found that the more grain I pack into my mash the lower my efficiency comes in after a 45 minute sparge. In the case of this particular barley wine my efficiency was somewhere near 73% which is about 10 to 15% less than my average strength beers like my pale ale and dry stout. At the end of the sparge I was still drawing enough sugar from the grain to warrant salvaging some for a small beer.
So, while the wort for my barley wine was coming to a boil I heated up some additional sparge water and rinsed another 4 gallons of wort from the grain. Believe it or not I ended up with a gravity reading of 1.035 from this effort and knew I had the potential for some additional beer.

I set this aside while I finished brewing the barley wine as per normal and got it chilled and in the fermentor.

I then set to work on my small brown ale. I wanted the gravity to be a bit bigger so I add some cane sugar to the boil and add some hops sparingly hoping for a mild bitterness. I chilled and left it up to a packet of dry US-05 yeast to ferment.

After fermentation was complete I tasted the beer and found it to be slightly astringent (from the extra sparging I suppose) and lacking in the malt character that I was looking for and since I had come this far with it I figured I'd double down on my effort and decided to see what would happen if I added some local fruit. My thinking was to possibly temper the astringency and additionally create some added dimensions to the beer. In this case I guessed that 3 over ripe papayas and a mango would do the job.

I washed and sanitized the fruit first and then my hands because after peeling and scooping out the fruit I used my bare hands to squish the fruit into a lumpy puree. The odds of my contaminating this beer were high but since I also enjoy a good sour beer I wasn't afraid and some deep part of me actually smiled at the idea of a sour, brown, tropical fruit beer. I poured the fruit directly onto the fermented beer and covered with a lid and airlock. I stepped back and rubbed my hands together in anticipation.

Brown ale with fruit
The following day the fruit pulp had risen to the top of the fermentor along with some foamy krausen as the fruit fermented actively and gave off a large fruity aroma with the rising co2. After about a week and a half the fruit was starting to fall from the surface and I racked to a clean keg and force carbonated. I placed this keg in the kegerator to let it rest for a few days before bottling.

The final results? A mild brown ale with easy drinkability. The papaya aroma come through with the dark fruitiness of the crystal malts but is only slightly detectable in the flavor which is predominantly stone fruit and caramel. The astringency is mostly gone and the bitterness is just a bit higher than I would like but not offensive.

This low alcohol (session brown?) will be a great beer for quaffing on the roof top as the lazy days of summer wind down. If you are here in San Miguel, come by for a pint and give me some honest feed back on this secondary beer you might even get a taste of my traditional Mexican ponche that I fermented for an untraditional alcohol kick. Cheers!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dos Aves In This Mag.

Finally, we're somebody. The current issue of 'This' magazine is out and they've featured some information on the craft beer movement in Mexico and included a mention of Cerveceria Dos Aves in the effort. This could be it, this could be the 15 minutes of fame that Dos Aves has been looking for, or maybe our 15 minutes will come later and this is just and indicator that it's on its way. In any case the brief article includes Dos Aves as one of the up and comers in the craft beer scene here.

Quoted next to pictures of the big boys of craft beer Tempus and Josefa I was excited to read:

"The passion for craft beer at Dos Aves took its owner and master beer maker Mark Taylor to establish the Beer School in San Miguel de Allende. This beer-making firm is another great promise for the national market."

Are we becoming mainstream? Maybe not quite yet but this is definately a sign that we're moving in the right direction. I could go so far as to say that Cerveceria Dos Aves is the number one locally brewed craft beer in San Miguel de allende based on our sales, and I will.

Yes our competition is scarce here but even so, our beer is by far superior in every way. Case in point, a recent side by side comparison of Dos Aves pale ale with a popular national brand and another brewed in near by Queretero and the panel of non-biased tasters concluded that 'hands down' Dos Aves was by far a much better product.

If you're near San Miguel and you want to have a great craft beer experience, order Dos Aves, you won't be dissapointed. In fact, I would suggest that you compare our beers with any other locally brewed beer and if you find theirs better, I'll pay for it. That's how confident I am in Dos Aves. And, if you want to learn to brew great beer, email me, I'd love to show you how it's done.

To read the full article from This magazine go Here.



Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cerveceria Agua Mala Beer Review

Sometimes I taste a beer and just can't seem to find the words or phrases that best describe my experience. I get bogged down because I just can't quite put my finger on what it is I'm tasting or smelling or feeling. This often happens with beers that have more bad qualities than good and I don't want to come across like a bad guy for not liking the beer. I ran into this dilemma with a recent tasting of a Mexican beer brewed by Agua Mala.

Agua Mala's IPA

Astillero IPA is brewed in Baja at Cerveceria Agua Mala (bad water) by Nathaniel Schmidt and his business partner Thomas Fernandez. Only in business for a couple years they are already producing 10 different styles of beers.

But to my point, this is one of those cases where I'm having a hard time pinpointing a specific quality to this late hopped beer that just doesn't land well with me. As an attempt at a solution I decided to take a different approach. To name what this beer isn't may be a better way to convey my thoughts.
  • it doesn't have a clean specific malt or hop profile
  • the mouthfeel isn't crisp or sharp
  • it lacks the roundness of a mature beer
  • it isn't clear but hazy and opaque
  • there's no balance between the malt and hop flavor
  • the hop bitterness is high and doesn't support but hides the caramel qualities of the crystal malts
  • it isn't a smooth bitterness
  • it isn't easy to drink
Despite what is evidently a sincere attempt by Agua Mala to produce a hoppy pale ale, I believe that they came up short. Additionally, I will say that I'm not sure if it's the results of dry hopping or high levels of bicarbonate in the water or both but unfortunately this beer has what I can only describe as a minerally ladened mouthfeel that feels heavy or weighty, muddled and harsh.

I think Agua Mala is on the right track and I look forward to trying some of the other beers they have to offer but I think that they need to put some years of experience behind there humble beginnings to reach the level of quality IPA's that are available these days.

Drinking an Agua Mala at The Beer Co. San Miguel.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Two Beers For The Price Of One

In January I had this great idea to brew a strong beer to release as an anniversary special for Cerveceria Dos Aves during the Xmas season at the end of the year. I created a recipe for a barley wine. Using 60% R.O. water, a ton of grain, sugar and molasses I brewed for optimum fermentation and pitched my new favorite English ale yeast Whitelabs WLP013. Two weeks later I racked to two kegs and let settle for a couple more weeks before bottling. After several months of conditioning in the bottles I tried a sample, it was delicious and would be a great beer to celebrate with when the breweries anniversary came around.
However, last week I tried another sample from a different case to confirm that the beer was aging nicely only to discover that this particular beer had the flavor of what can only be described as Flemish'ish. The flavor represents the addition of acetobactor, a bacteria that provides the distinctive taste of vinegar that you typically find in Flemish reds/browns. There may be a little brettanomyces in there too. Actually quite delicious but not what I planned.

Acetobacter cells are pretty

I went through the four cases of beer inspecting the bottles one at a time looking for signs of spoilage. What I soon discovered was that two cases were spoiled while two cases were still the excellent beer that I initially tasted. This led me to conclude the the contamination occurred in the keg. Evidently, one of the kegs was sanitary and one keg not so sanitary, hence the spoilage leading to two cases of what I'm now labeling 'Ned Flanders oud bruin' and two cases of English barley wine.

This is what 41 lbs. of grain look like in a 15 gallon keggle.

What is this all leading to you ask? Well, to make up for the loss of two cases of beer I decided to brew that same beer over again. I figured I still had six months left in the year which should be plenty of time for this second batch to mature before the celebration. But that's not all. I also decided to try a little technique that I've never done before which is to run a second sparge and collect a smaller beer from the grain.

Second runnings
collected for a

Because of the large quantity of malt used in making my 1.100sg barley wine my efficiency is pretty low. The first time around it ran at 75% and this time it was only 72%. A normal gravity beer for me comes in at about 90%. Well, I wanted to try and salvage some of that sugar and so ran some more hot water through the grain and pulled another 6 gallons of 1.035sg. for what I think will be a very nice English brown. I checked the gravity of the runnings as I went confirming that the sugar reading never dropped below 1.010 which assured me that I wasn't extracting any husk tannins. The grain bill is right for a brown ale and I had some English S-04 yeast laying around.
After boiling for 60 minutes my English brown went into the fermentor at 1.042 and I bittered to 22 ibu's. I'll keep you posted on the outcome of this beer.

I also brew a pretty big Russian imperial stout that I believe I can use this same technique on but wonder what style beer these second runnings would be best for? Any suggestions? Cheers!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Leaving The Land Of Great Beer

After two fantastic beer filled months in Santa Cruz I'm back in Mexico carrying on where I left off with the Cerveceria Dos Aves project. I hated to leave Santa Cruz, my good friends and homebrewing compadres, the beautiful weather and beach scene, the vibe and of course the awesome craft beers that make the Mexican craft beer scene pale in comparison. I spent more than I should have of my personal budget on beer but I was so starved for the quality craft beer that the States has to offer that I couldn't help myself. From the hoppy malty deliciousness of Drakes Denogginizer and Knee Deep's Hoptologist to the local sour scene at Sante Adairius Rustic Ales I immersed myself deeply knowing that soon I would return to a country that has a lot of ground to cover to reach the level of quality and creativity that seems to be a standard in the brewing industry in California. Of course my mission here in San Miguel is to do my part to help propel the craft beer movement in Mexico in the right direction.

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales

The morning I flew into Leon and shuttled to my new apartment I slept for a few hours before anxiously running down to the brewery to confirm that it was still intact, there weren't any floods and that it still had power. I felt good as I lifted the lid to my kegerator to see full kegs chilled and ready to be bottled or put on tap at The Beer Company. I looked inside my refers checking on more kegs, frozen pounds of hops and chilled mason jars of salvaged yeast that seemed to call out to be released into a fresh batch or receptive wort. I looked over the stacked cases of bottled beer in inventory and pulled a bottled from each batch to refrigerate for sampling later in order to see how they held up over the last two months of warm storage.
The space was a in a little bit of disarray and I could see my first task was to clean and organize including running some hot caustic cleaner through the brewing system. This I planned to follow with a soaking of acid sanitizer making sure my next batch of beer would be free of any spoiling contaminates that may have grown in the murky depths of my plate chiller while I was gone. My second task was to re-establish my contacts with the restaurants and bars that purchased Dos Aves for resale. These business owners are key to moving our product and exposing our brand to the locals and having a good relationship with them is a priority for me. I want to make sure they know that Dos Aves is not a flash in the pan like so many start-up businesses in San Miguel end up being. They need to be re-assured that they will continue to get a well made and fresh product that they will be proud to serve to their loyal customers. My strategy here is to visit each one of them taking a sample of what is currently available and hopefully solicit some sales in the near future.

Cerveceria Dos Aves

Finally, I want to brew! I badly need to satisfy my brewing fix and get my creative juices flowing. Right now the town of San Miguel is slow but in another month things will be picking up and I want to be ahead of the curve this year. Last year I found myself playing catch-up as the demand for my pale ale and Belgian tripel was unexpectedly huge. I reluctantly had to provide beers that could have benefited from another week of cold storage. I don't want to replay that regret and so getting some inventory in stock, especially the tripel would take some of the pressure off of me and the brewery capacity as the season picks up in September/October. I also want to have some specialty beers on hand as a way of getting people excited about what's new coming out of the brewery and also have on hand unique beers that could be used in beer/food pairings which are becoming very popular here.
These beer/food pairings and other events are great for exposing Dos Aves to the town of San Miguel.

So, I'm off and running and the future seems bright with possibilities for great beer and brewing experiences in Mexico.

P.S. Remember to help with my Indiogogo campaign to raise money for the brewery. Go here to see how you can support and possibly get free beer!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Campaign For Dos Aves

Please check out my new platform for raising money for the new brewery project Cerveceria Dos Aves. If I can make my goal I know this project will be successful. Thanks for all your support in the past.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Standard Lager In Mexico

It's hard to ferment a lager at the proper temperatures here in San Miguel. Although I'm able to chill the wort down into the low to mid 50's f. with a plate chiller and post (ice bath) chiller, without a cold room or jacketed fermentor I'm helpless against the impact of the ambient temperature during the fermentation period.

I considered this problem and decided to go ahead anyway and brew a version of my previously successful Pabst Blue Ribbon clone. My original recipe that I brewed while back in California is made up of 75% 2-row, 3% Munich malt and 22% Minute Rice and I generally followed the same recipe and lager yeast with one fairly large exception. In this case I used short grain white rice that I pre-cooked and then mixed in with the mash rather than going the easy course by using Minute rice. I also substituted a small percentage of crystal #20 for the Munich malt I used in the original.

I decided that my best approach for brewing this beer down here was to brew in the middle of January when the daytime temperature was in the low 80's f. but the nighttime temperatures got down into the 40's and 50's and the fermentation chamber was a constant 60f. Secondly, by starting with a low pitching temperature to begin with I could at least minimize the active fermentation temperature rise. I allowed for a full two week fermentation and during the height of active fermentation the temperature rose to 65f. before settling back down to the ambient 60f.

Unfortunately, a negative result from this warm ferment was an abundance of acetaldehyde. The positive result was an attenuation of close to 80% allowing for a very dry beer which is what I wanted but I was still concerned that all was lost because of the taste.

Long story short, this beer was initially undrinkable because of the high level of green apple flavor from the acetaldehyde by-product of the high fermentation temperature. I set the four cases of beer aside hoping that time would heal this wound. These beers sat at room temperature (65f.) for the last three months. I cracked one open the other day to see what was happening with them and was happily surprised to find that the green apple was gone. I was shocked when I tasted a seemingly new beer that is crisp, dry, clean and very enjoyable.

It's nice to know that brewing a lager with non-standard procedures along with a little time and patience can result is a beer that makes you question the conventional wisdom and strict rules that suggest lager brewing isn't for everyone.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Russian Imperial Stout Comparison

I like North Coast's 'Old Rasputin' Russian imperial stout. It's a good representation of the style that isn't crazy alcoholic and allows for easy consumption. So, when I developed the recipe for my RIS I kept Old Rasputin in mind and focused on big roastiness with balanced drinkability.

I use 85% domestic 2-row and a mix of roasted and Munich malt for the remainder of the grist. I don't use any caramel malt in this brew but shoot for straight forward roasted flavor. The bittering is about a 1 to .75 ratio with a 60, 15 and 1 minute additions that imparts a small amount of citrus/pine from a charge of centennial hops.

Russian Imperial Stouts
Although this beer is extremely young (8 weeks) I couldn't wait to sit down with friend and The Beer Company owner Antonio to do a taste comparison with Old Rasputin. Our focus was to evaluate the differences between the two beers and come to a consensus on improvements needed for future batches.

In the pictures attached, my stout is in the plain glass and Rasputin is in the Delirium glass. As you can see the beers are remarkably similar in head color and retention as both dropped down to a dense and viscous layer that remained that way until the end of the sample.
The mouthfeel was slightly different in that my beer was full and round and the Rasputin felt more resinous and thin but with more carbonation.

My beer has a predominant chocolate presence along with the typical roastiness and some earthy qualities compared to Rasputins up front coffee, caramel and even though both beers come in at 9% abv the Rasputin's alcohol presence is evident, very different from mine in this way. It is also more bitter by I would guess 6-8 ibu's.

Overall I'm pleased with my RIS with it's robust chocolate and coffee qualities but there are a couple small changes I will make on the next batch beginning with higher ibu's and just a touch of crystal #60 for some caramel taste as a minor player.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Two Factors For Better Attenuation

I enjoy my beers on the dry side and regularly use well attenuating yeast to ferment with for the most part. My go-to's are Safale US05, and Whitelabs Wlp001 and Wlp500, but on occasion I will still end up with beer that is under-attenuated as the yeast leaves behind unfermented sugars when it drops out of solution and goes dormant.

I scratch my head confused and frustrated by these results after feeling like I made sure I did everything right. My fermentation temperatures were within the optimum range and consistent and the wort was well aerated. I'm convinced that all of my brewing practices were perfect for a complete conversion only to be disappointed when the yeast wasn't able to complete its task. But there were a couple lessons that I had not learned yet and they needed to be addressed.

Two main reasons that under attenuation occurs that I wasn't considering with the seriousness that it deserved was the accuracy of my mash temperature and the level of my mash ph.

The importance of strike temperature
I often took a careless approach to the important effects of mashing at either too high or too low a temperature which can either limit the effectiveness of one of the essential enzymes and or denature and stop other enzymes from effectively breaking down starches into simple sugar molecule chains, something the yeast is relying on us as brewers to execute well, for their ease of metabolism.

I am now very careful about getting my mash temperature to within a degree or two at the beginning of the mashing time. My strike water temperature for the grain to water ratio that I use is 166-168f. which leaves me with a consistent rest temperature of 149-151f. Knowing this, I can achieve a slightly more fermentable wort by lowering my strike temperature by a couple degrees or raising the temp. for a slightly less fermentable wort. But I still regularly confirm a proper mash temperature after thoroughly mixing in the grist. I do this by comparing my mash tun thermometer for accuracy on occasion to make sure I'm getting proper readings. This is achieved by taking the temperature of the mash with another thermometer, one that I know is accurate. I stab down into the mash from above, moving around to different areas of the grist, I then compare this reading with the built in thermometer, essentially getting a consensus from the two readings.

The importance of mash ph.
The other factor that effects yeast and one in which I paid little attention is mash ph. A mash ph. that is alkaline or above the optimum 5.2 to 5.7 range will again effectively leave you with long chains of sugar in the wort as the beta amylase enzymes work best is an acidic environment. An alkaline environment limits this enzyme activity thus leaving the yeast with a difficult time of metabolizing.
When brewing with hard water, relying on the grain bill to lower the mash ph. may not be enough and so other steps must be taken. A couple simple solutions would be to dilute the brewing liquor with distilled or reverse osmosis filtered water essentially softening the water, adding calcium in the form of gypsum and/or adding acid to the mash.

A dry beer ready to be drunk
The importance of these two influences in starch conversion should not be overlooked and if you are finding that your beers are coming in with low attenuation, should be considered as primary factors to investigate.

Now that I carefully manage these two areas during my brewing session I have been able to consistently achieve proper attenuation from my yeast and effectively manage the outcome of the remaining sugars depending on the style of beer I want. Cheers!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Cerveza Cortezana Review

I'm spending a lot of time brewing beer and trying to keep up with the growing demand for Dos Aves here in San Miguel but on occasion I have time to sit back and enjoy some of the other Mexican beers that are available.
Two of my most recent samplings were from a brewery in Toluca, Mexico called Cortezana and I tasted them both at The Beer Company.
I started with the lighter one, a beer that I guessed at regarding the style since the label gave no indication of what I was about to drink. It is light gold or yellow and murky with a white thin head and low carbonation. The beer has a large phenolic taste of clove and all-spice and unfortunately a little vinegar at the end. Although this beer is light and crisp the acetobactor element detracts from my fully enjoying it. The body is light along with a low 4.4% abv. I could only guess that this beer is an attempt at a German style hefeweizen but has some elements of a hybrid yeast. Maybe a combination or blend of Whitelabs wlp300 and the Belgian wlp500 yeast. I was unable to get any more information about this beer from their facebook page. (Interesting side note: Most businesses in Mexico use a facebook page instead of  a website. Most likely because of the cost and ease of use.)
The second beer that I sampled by this company was a stout and the style is clearly stated on the bottle label. Actually, it's not printed on the front, but is clearly noted on the back label. In any case, this is a dark and again murky beer with bits of sediment and yeast clumps floating about even after a careful pour. This beer also had a quickly diminishing head and low carbonation. A light aroma of coffee and roasted grain.
The flavor was clean aside from the flavor of yeast and a moderate taste of coffee and cocoa with a slight lingering roast bite. On the bland side but fairly drinkable if you're looking for a single serving.
To conclude, I haven't found an artisenal beer that I really like, that is, a micro brewery here in Mexico. Minerva, Tempus and T.J.'s provide some consistently enjoyable middle of the road styles that I'll often resort. I recently had a Cerveceria Primus' Tempus alt that was very good and a good representation of the style. The one small brewery that I really like and that as it turns out has their beers contract brewed at Minerva is La Chingoneria . Each beer I've tried by them have been excellent and naturally, there are non to be found anywhere in San Miguel.

If you know where I can get a bottle, let me know cause I'm dying of thirst for a great Mexican micro brew. Besides Cerveceria Dos Aves of course.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Hotbreak At Last

One of the more popular beers we're brewing here in San Miguel is a Belgian tripel with honey. Belgian tripels are one of my favorite styles and the reason I brew it to begin with but it's nice to see that it's being received well here. It could be the people are drawn in by the rarity of a higher alcohol beer but I believe it's the high quality and unique character that is the selling feature.

Nice chunks of hot break material
After the boil
As you know, I've been working to modify my challenging brewing water in order to brew better beer and for this recipe I've tried to mimic the water used from the region that Chimay is brewed. By diluting my tap water with a percentage of reverse osmosis water and adding back in some essential minerals that the filtration stripped out I am finally able to see the positive results from these efforts.

One clear sign that I'm on the right track is the great 'hot break' material I'm seeing in the boil kettle. In the past when using the local tap water I would see very small, dusty evidence of protein formations. Now, the break material is large and dense. The perfect indicator that the mash and sparge ph are in the right acidic zone. This is also suggestive of the beer being clear and bright after fermentation and some aging in the kegs and bottles.

This tripel recipe is naturally simple composed of 22 lbs. of 2-row, and a pound of crystal #20 for a 11 gallon batch. I add cane sugar late in the boil to raise the gravity to the level I want. After a couple days, when I see a serious amount of krausen forming on the beer, I pour raw honey directly into the fermentor.

I've included the spread sheets that show the water modifications I use for this recipe and you can see that I'm using 3/4 of my brewing water as reverse osmosis filter water. Along with that I'm adding back in calcium sulphate in the form of gypsum and some calcium chloride. R.O. water combined with my grain bill lower my mash ph down to 5.6 in this case.

In the sparge water I'm including a few oz. of phosphoric acid to lower the ph. In the future I may leave the sparge water adjusted with the mineral addition only and see if the resulting break material is just as good without the lower ph achieved with the acid addition. Truth be told, I doing this because I'm running out of the acid.

With these water adjustments I expect to reap the benefits in terms of better mash efficiency because of the lower ph, better attenuation in the fermentor from the more efficient starch conversion, a clearer finished product along with a defined malt flavor and hop utilization and flavor.

I will be reviewing future beers I'm brewing that have the adjusted water and talk about whether the qualities I'm hoping for are evident as a result of using the new water. Let me know if you have any questions about my brewing practices down here in Mexico. Cheers!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Homebrewing Club In SMA

I met with the local homebrewers here in San Miguel de Allende and tasted a mix of Mexican homebrew. Although the group was small (only 7 of us at this meeting) all were enthusiastic about brewing beer here in SMA and sharing information about their processes.

Mexican Homebrewers
Caguama field
Behind these walls are brewers
The club doesn't have a name yet and this meeting was really the first in a series of efforts to solidify the group. A unanimous decision was made to elect Mike Baumgartner (possibly against his will) as president or at least the official organizer responsible for bringing this band of renegade brewers together for regular meetings and brew related activities.

Mike brought out several caguamas of ales that he has designated by batch number. I think we sampled #'s 9, 16 and 26? Each one tasting different than the other but all with a malt forward quality. Barry brought a good example of an English ale similar to 'Old Peculiar' and I almost guessed the secret ingredient. Fernando brought a sample of the beer he's perfecting in order to sell at his restaurant La Mesa Grande called 'La Bruja' and I brought in a few styles from the selection I'm promoting through the smallest brewery in the world 'Dos Aves' including a German hefe, pale ale and dry stout. I making good progress with the water I'm using for these beers and learning a lot about which minerals impact the aspects of beer flavor, clarity, bitterness and maltiness.

La Mesa Grande's Pale Ale

This was a very enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Sampling homebrew and getting to know each other and discussing the topic of brewing.

All the while I'm still sampling the Mexican craft beers that are available here and although Calavera in all it's versions is readily available in a number of locations here I never got a chance until recently to review their version of the American pale ale. This is what I thought of this beer:

Calavera's American Pale Ale

The aroma is sweet, perfumy and flowery or floral with very mild citrus notes. It is slightly cloudy with a thin white head that dissipates quickly. The flavor is immediately sweet light caramel maltiness, honey and alcohol even though the abv. is low at 5.4%. There is a tropical fruit quality of papaya and pineapple. This beer has a moderate to low carbonation that leaves a thin watery feel in the mouth.

They've got a great and easily recognizable logo featuring a skull in a crescent moon and it makes me consider whether the Dos Aves logo will have this same attraction to the public.
I couldn't get to their website at although this is printed on the label.

Anyway, I'll be reviewing other Mexican beers in the near future here as I continue to update you with the progress of the brewery. Cheers!

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