Pints for Prostates

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holiday Beers

Happy holidays! I've been drinking some great beers to celebrate. Here's a picture:
Holiday Brews
From left to right:

Union Jack (Beeradvocate Review)
I scored a six pack of Firestone Walker's Union Jack IPA, which is a rare find in Central New York. Union Jack is a good example of a west coast IPA.
A friend posted a picture and brief review of Brooklyn Brewery's Black Chocolate Stout on facebook. He recommended it. I have had a growing interest in dark beers such as porters and stouts. This beer is an example of a Russian Imperial Stout. Yummy, thick, bitter-sweet chocolate beer.

White IPA (Beeradvocate Review)
This beer surprised me. Saranac may be the local favorite around here, but I am no fanboi. But this beer really impressed me, enough to email Saranac and express my appreciation. There does seem to be a buzz about this beer. The appearance is yellow and cloudy. The taste and aroma is grapefruit and orange citrus, with very little bitter. Saranac/Matt's Brewing Company describes the beer as such:
Saranac White IPA is a tasty innovative twist on a traditional IPA. We've taken a delicious American IPA bursting with Citra hops, and given it a whole new direction by adding the refreshing fruitiness of orange peel & coriander and the softening characters of wheat malt and oats. You'll notice the complex hop flavor you've come to expect in an IPA, balanced with the extraordinary bright flavor of a wheat beer. Cheers to twisting tradition! (source)
I had a chance to have it on draft at Nail Creek Pub and at The Green Onion Pub. I was happy to find the beer in bottles at Marcy Beverage.

Oat (Beeradvocate Review)
The Oat from Southern Tier was a nice surprise that I found under the tree from Kim. She is fostering my interest in dark beers. This is an example of an American Imperial (Oatmeal) Stout. I drank it on Christmas eve. I thought it was great.

Double Jack (Beeradvocate Review)
Firestone Walker's Double Jack is the Imperial version of the Union Jack; it's their Double IPA. This was also a gift from Kim. I drank it on Christmas day (evening). I've had the Double Jack before and it's fantastic.

Adoration (Beeradvocate Review)
Ommegang's Adoration is a Belgian Strong Dark Ale. It has 10% ABV, which makes it a sipper. I've tried this once at The Green Onion Pub and was simply enamored by it. The beer is dark, rich, and complex. The beer is considerably more pricey than Ommegang's other beers. This one is an extra special gift from Kim. She chose well. I'm going to open it on New Years Eve.

Happy New Year! 
Drink responsibly and be safe!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Making a SCOBY Mother

Last night I brewed some tea so that we can make a SCOBY mother. That SCOBY mother will allow us to brew kombucha.
Kombucha is a tea-based beverage that has various health benefits. It's a fermented drink that tastes good and is good for you. Kombucha contains active cultures. SCOBY stands for, "Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast." (source)

The process involved boiling 2 cups of water and adding 2 tea bags to steep (i.e., I made tea). I then poured the tea into the jar, and poured the (baby) SCOBY--found floating in bottles of kombucha--into the jar. I covered the jar with mesh cloth and put the jar into a dark closet. The jar will sit in the closet for about 4 weeks until we have a SCOBY that covers the surface of the liquid.

Here's a video that explains the process:

Here's a second video on how to make the SCOBY mother:

Here's a video of how to make kombucha once you have the SCOBY:

Happy holidays, btw. Ring in the Solstice Bells!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dry Hopping

Tonight I dry hopped the Chinook IPA. It was the first time I've dry hopped. It's not all that special; I just opened the fermenter and poured in 1 oz of Chinook hop pellets, then put the lid back on. Adding the hops during the late portion of the fermentation period will impart that citrusy, hop aroma to the beer.
Dry Hopped

Friday, December 9, 2011

Making Mead

I made my first batch of mead the other night (2011-12-06)! Mead is a honey wine.
For a 1 gallon batch:
  • 1 quart of Orange Blossom Honey (3 lbs)
  • 1 packet of Lalvin 71B-1122 yeast
  • Juice from 2 organic oranges
  • 1 cup of strong, organic Darjeeling tea
  • 1 teaspoon of Diammonium Phosphate (a yeast nutrient)
Lalvin 71B-1122

  1. Clean and sanitize everything (thermometer, bowl, spoon, stopper, bung, gallon jug, etc.)
  2. Heat 1.25 gallons of water in brew pot, to around 150 degrees.
  3. Take brew pot off burner and stir in honey.
  4. Heat 1 cup of water to 100 degrees and pour in sterilized bowl and add dry yeast (to rehydrate).
  5. Boil 1 cup of water and add two tea bags. When dark and strong, stir into brew pot.
  6. Squeeze two oranges and add to brew pot.
  7. Pour honey and water mixture (called “must”) into gallon jug.
  8. Pour yeast into jug.
  9. Add 1 teaspoon of Diammonium Phosphate.
  10. Plug jug and shake vigorously to aerate.
  11. Pour sanitized water into stopper and insert into bung.


The process I used was a little haphazard and certainly not efficient. I was hurrying some and not being patient and calm. I made several mistakes:

  • I heated more than 1 gallon of water becuase I figured I might lose some in the initial boil. However, I didn't actually bring the water to a boil (maybe 150 degrees). Coupled with the 1 cup of tea I added, there was more liquid than could be put in my gallon jug. Therefore, the honey is dissolved in more water (read: not as concentrated), and not all in my fermenter.
  • I poured the must too close to the top, so when I poured in my yeast starter, it wouldn't all fit. I had to move my funnel over a sanitized bowl to catch what was in the funnel. I then had to empty some of the must and yeast into the sink to make room. Ah! Then I put the captured yeast into the jug. This means that I don't have as high a yeast count as I would have.
  • I don't know where my head was, but I put the must and yeast in the jug with the must still quite warm. As I was aerating I was thinking that the jug was hot. I measured the temperature and found that it was 120 degrees! That was too hot for the yeast. I should have targeted between 80 to 86 degrees.
  • When I poured the teaspoon of Diammonium Phosphate into the jug, I did so using damp funnel. The granules stuck to the funnel. I poured a small bit of left over must in to wash it down.

Revised Process
Here is my revised process, based on the experience gained from my mishaps, and from the input from knowledgeable mead makers on the HomeBrewTalk mead forum (Thank you again!):
  1. Clean and sanitize everything (thermometer, bowls, spoon, stopper, bung, gallon jug, etc.)
  2. Boil half gallon of water in brew pot.
  3. Remove water from burner and stir in honey.
  4. Heat 2 cups of water in sauce pan. When water hits 100 degrees, pour 1 cup into sanitized bowl and add dry yeast.
  5. Bring remaining cup of water to boil.
  6. Turn off heat and add tea bags to steep.
  7. Squeeze two oranges into sanitized bowl. Pour the resulting juice, without any seeds, into the tea.
  8. Stir the tea and orange juice mixture into the brew pot.
  9. Stir and cool the must to 100 degrees.
  10. Pour must into jug using a funnel.
  11. Add cool water to jug to “top it off.” This will cool the wort even more. Remember to leave room for another cup of water for the yeast. The must should be just up to where the jug starts to get smaller; there needs to be some oxygen space in the jug. 
  12. When the temperature is 85 degrees, pitch yeast into jug using a funnel.
  13. Add 1 teaspoon of Diammonium Phosphate directly into jug (without funnel).
  14. Plug jug and shake vigorously to aerate.
  15. Pour sanitized water into stopper and insert into bung.

The mead will ferment for at least three months. I’ll save some wine bottles and corks so that I can bottle the mead and let it clear up and condition. Alternatively, if it tastes decent at three months, Kim and I will just refrigerate the jug and drink it, and eschew any bottling efforts. If the mead does not taste good, or obviously appears to need more time to ferment, I’ll just leave for another month or two. Like wine, mead can hang around for years and tend to get better over time.

If I like the mead, I‘ll want to make more. Then I’ll have to decide whether to get more jugs from wine drinkers, or to buy a larger fermentation bucket so that I can make a 5 gallon batch.

Adding More Yeast
As of Thursday evening (2011-12-08), there were no visual signs of yeast activity in the mead. I know that mead has a longer lag time than beer, but I thought that after 48 hours I ought to see something. I decided to re-hydrate a packet of Red Star Montrachet yeast.
Red Star Montrachet
While I let the yeast sit in the bowl, I measured the gravity of the must: OG 1.080. I'll have to do some research to determine how typical that number is. I pitched the new yeast and put the jug back in the closet.

Update: The mead started to ferment more vigorously this morning (2011-12-10). There is foam coming out of the top of the stopper. I put a pan beneath the jug in case the foaming overflows. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Eremita Wine Tasting

Last night we finally had a chance to taste the wines from Eremita Winery. Our friend Josh owns the winery and we had meant to get out to visit the winery in Lodi, NY over the summer...but we didn't. Lucky for us, he traveled out our way. Josh and his girlfriend, Abbie, were at the Nail Creek Pub last night to do a tasting.
Eremita Goddess and Chardonnay
As we stepped into the Nail Creek Pub I was reminded that we are indeed in the holiday season. The pub was quite warm and cozy with a festive, lighted tree in the front window. There were people in winter sweaters sniffing and sipping from stemmed wine glasses. Kim and I removed our coats and were greeted with wine glasses and our first pour of the evening: the un-oaked Chardonney.

Josh and Abbie were sure that we had a chance to taste all of the wines. Josh provided a brief description of the flavors and the relative sweetness for each.

I am not a big wine drinker. I prefer Rieslings and I like a good table wine. I'm not even going to attempt to provide a full, bottle by bottle review of the wines. My under-developed palate would provide few helpful adjectives. That being said, I liked all of the wines. Because I don't care for oak-aging, the Chardonnay was just right for me. The Riesling starts with a subtle, fruity note (the website says apricot, green apple, and peach), which I found to be a pleasant surprise. The Goddess is a great, red table wine that isn't too sweet and has a dry finish. And, although I don't typically care for oak-aging, the Pinot Noir may have been my favorite with the richest and most varied of flavors.

Each of the wines are described on the website. I encourage you to seek out some Eremita wine and have your own tasting. Josh mentioned that Eremita will be available at City Liquors in Utica, NY. You can also visit the tasting room in Lodi, NY (they have new winter hours).

Thank you Josh and Abbie! We love your wines.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tasting the Hefeweizen

We decided to try our Bavarian Hefeweizen this weekend. It is our second homebrew and it has bottle conditioned for two weeks. 
Bavarian Hefeweizen in Pilsner Glass
Appearance: Orange and cloudy. Not as yellow as we thought it might be. Not much head. Some carbonation below surface. The carbonation might increase over the next couple weeks in the bottle.

Smell: Banana and clove. Bubblegum. This beer had a strong banana and clove smell throughout fermentation. That smell is entirely attributed to the yeast.

Mouthfeel: Light body. Smooth. Creamy head around the edges of the glass (again, the yeast).

Taste: Smooth wheat. Mellow. Some yeasty earthiness. Very drinkable, as they say. The banana, clove and bubblegum flavors bookend the experience.

Overall: It's awesome! Drinkable. I'm sure another week or two in the bottles will make this beer even better. I can't wait though; I already put some more bottles in the refrigerator. This is one to share with family members over the holidays.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Chinook IPA

Beer: Chinook IPA (extract kit from Northern Brewer)/ B3
Brew Day: Sunday, November 27, 2011
Music: Umphrey's Mcgee - Hall of Fame Class of 2010

Our third beer (Beer #3) is a Chinook IPA. I'm a bit of a hophead and I like IPAs. I also like the idea of brewing a single hop beer to better understand the flavor and aroma of a hop. This extract kit practically leaped into my digital shopping cart.

Chinook hops are a high alpha bittering hop. They were developed in Yakima, Washington in the 1980s from a mix of the Petham Golding hop and a USDA-63012 male. Their use has gone beyond bittering and have grown in popularity due to their spicy, grapefruit/citrus flavor and aroma. (source 1, source 2, source 3, source 4
Chinook Hops
This recipe included specialty grains that we steeped as the water heated toward a boil. The mixture was dark and rich. I dumped the grain in our compost pile after we were done. I imagine deer grazing in the moonlight.

Kim helped me pour and stir in the malt syrup and dry malt extract. Warming the malt syrup in hot water helped speed up the pour. I'm happy to report that we did not end up with a round, burned area in the bottom of our brew kettle this time.

The boiling wort and the hop additions had a strong aroma. I loved it. Kim noted that my daughter said it smelled like peas and tea. That strikes me as a fairly creative and valid description, and that's coming from an eight year old that is also a super picky eater. Maybe there is a reason why she is so picky and we have an up-and-coming cicerone in the family. Though the fact that she could live on processed chicken nuggets/fingers/tenders causes me to have my doubts.
Chinook Wort

Chinook IPA recipe:
  • 0.75 lbs Belgian Caramil Pils (specialty grain)
  • 0.25 lbs Briess Caramel 120 (specialty grain)
  • 6 lbs Pilsen malt syrup
  • 1 lb Pilsen dry malt extract
  • 1 oz Chinook hops (60 min)
  • .05 oz Chinook hops (10 min)
  • .05 oz Chinook hops (1 min)
  • 1 oz Chinook hops (dry hop)
  • Wyeast 1056 American Ale
The OG was 1.052. The kit states an OG of 1.050.

I made a yeast starter for this beer. I wanted to make sure the yeast was viable and I also wanted to have the experience of making a yeast starter. I'll provide details in a different post.

The stopper on the fermenter was bubbling like mad the next morning.

Rather than use a secondary fermenter, I plan to have the beer in a single, primary fermenter for a total of four weeks at 65 degrees. I'll dry hop at the beginning of the third week (my first dry hop!).

How to Make a Yeast Starter

The night before brewing our third beer, a Chinook IPA, I got a chance to make a yeast starter for the first time. I wanted to make sure that the liquid Wyeast I purchased nearly a month earlier was still viable. The yeast pack was puffed-up already and was in the refrigerator. Making a yeast starter gave me a chance to learn about and practice the process.

For many brewers, making a yeast starter before brew day is a typical part of the process. A yeast starter can 1) increase the yeast count and 2) ensure viability of the yeast. I have read forum posts by homebrewers that are concerned that the fermentation does not appear active, which necessitates a drive to the local homebrew shop to buy more yeast. Making a yeast starter will reduce the lag time between when the yeast is pitched and vigorous fermentation.
Yeast Starter
A yeast starter is a basic beer without flavor. You use water, dry malt extract (DME), and yeast. The steps are as follows:
  1. Mix 2 cups of water and a 1/2 cup of DME in a sauce pan. (This measurement will differ depending on the size of beer batch and the beer style. For a typical 5 gallon batch of beer, this amount is fine--about 192 billion cells. Strong beers require more of everything.)
  2. Boil the wort for 10 minutes.
  3. Cool the wort in a cold water/ice bath to 70 degrees.
  4. Pour wort into sanitized glass container, using a sanitized funnel.
  5. Add yeast.
  6. Cover container with sanitized tin foil (which allows some oxygen in for the yeast).
  7. Swirl mixture to aerate.
  8. Place in warm, dark/dim area for 24 hours or so.
Carbonation on top, Yeast cake on bottom
I thought there would be a thick slurry of yeast. Instead, what I had the next morning is carbonation on top and a small yeast cake on the bottom. This is normal. It smelled like bread yeast and had a slight vinegar or wine smell (though I used a wine bottle so that may be the cause).

I pitched the whole yeast starter, as opposed to decanting the liquid and adding just the yeast cake. I pitched when the Chinook IPA was cooled to 100 degrees (maybe less with the refrigerated spring water I added). It is important to "pitch up," which means that the wort should be warmer than the yeast. My yeast was at room temperature (65 degrees) and the wort was between 70 and 100 degrees.

The stopper on the fermenter was starting to bubble when I woke up the following day, which suggests that the yeast is healthy and doing its work.

Extra Pale Ale Revisited

Our first home-brewed beer was the Extra Pale Ale. In another post I provided a review of the beer after it was in the bottle for three weeks. Below is a picture of the same beer after four weeks in the bottle; I was drinking it while brewing our third beer, a Chinook IPA.
Extra Pale Ale after 4 weeks in bottle
The beer has a a full finger-width of head after pouring. There is carbonation visible for a couple inches beneath the surface. I think the taste is a bit smoother and less "green" than before. That is, it has improved, which is not a surprise. Many homebrewers say that their beers just get better over time and that the last bottle is the best.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Gueuze Lambic Beer

I've been listening to some beer podcasts over the last month, most notably, The Brewing Network's Sunday Session. A regular interest and discussed topic among the podcast hosts is sour beer. Also, the writer of the Mad Fermentationist blog is a brewer of sour beers. That got me to wondering what sour beers are like.

Sour beers use wild yeasts (i.e., spontaneous fermentation), with such yeast strains as Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and Brettanomyces. Due to the unpredictable nature of the brewing technique, the beers are often mixed to get a desirable flavor.

The style comes from Belgium. Here in the States, there are sour beers being made in the West coast (e.g., Russian River Brewing Company). Supposedly there are even gastro-pubs with sour beers on tap. Here on the East coast, there are not as many options. 

One company that does have an example of a sour beer is Lindemans, a Belgian company. They are known for their sweet, fruit-flavored lambics. Their Cuvee Rene, however, is quite different...and sour.
Lindemans Cuvee Rene
It tasted of sour, green apple and a bit metallic. It had some funk. I'll let the BeerAdvocate review provide additional adjectives. I'm afraid I didn't care for it. That doesn't mean I dislike sour beers altogether. There is also the Flanders Oud Bruin and Oud Red Ale sour styles. I would still be eager to try other examples of sour beers.

BeerAdvocate review of the Cuvee Rene.

With all the discussion of sour beers and new breweries here in the States making sour beer, I would not be surprised if we see more prevalence of sour beers in the craft beer market.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tasting Beer #1 !!

We tasted our first homebrew today!! Four bottles of the Extra Pale Ale were in the refrigerator overnight and it did not take much encouragement today to wield the bottle opener and pour a glass.
Extra Pale Ale
Appearance: Light golden color. Thin foamy head when pouring, which dissipates and leaves a small ring of foam along the glass edge and foam lacing in the middle. Carbonation visible beneath the surface.
Foam Lacing
Smell: Orange. Grapefruit. Hops. Good aroma for not doing any dry-hopping.

Taste: Tastes like an American Pale Ale (e.g., Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale). Strong hop flavor with some bitterness. Citrus flavors. As it warms I can taste a hint of a vinegar taste. When it was colder I wasn't sure if it was an off-taste or not. As it is, it just makes it tastes like it was poured in pub.

Mouthfeel: Good amount of carbonation. 

Overall: I think it's great! Smells like a pale ale and tastes like a pale ale. Bold hop flavor and good carbonation. Flavors change as it warms. 

I think the extract kit delivered on its promise. And, as far I can determine, our brewing process was good enough to not to screw it up. In the end, we have a beer that is just as good as what can be bought at the store or beverage center.

Bottling Beer #2

Today (Saturday, November 19) was bottling day for Beer #2, the Bavarian Hefeweizen. The beer was in the fermenter bucket for almost three weeks. The recipe calls for two weeks, but the yeast seemed so active for so long, I thought it might be prudent to let the yeast settle more. I also noticed that comments regarding the ingredient kit on Northern Brewer's website stated that three weeks were used on some occasions.

When the lid was opened, Kim and I thought the beer looked dark--an amber color. But once I took a sample and held it up, the beer looked much lighter, cloudy, and certainly resembled a hefeweizen. The beer smelled like banana and cloves. Tasted good.  
Bavarian Hefeweizen Sample

Bottling went fairly smooth. The following are some notes:
  • I could not take the final gravity reading because I didn't quite have a big enough sample, the hydrometer touched the bottom.
  • I forgot to put the priming sugar solution into the bottling bucket first, so I poured it in last and stirred gently with a sanitized spoon.
  • Because I started with a little more than 5 gallons and the hefeweizen produced less trub, I ended up with two extra 12 ounce bottles and a 22 ounce bottle of beer. Because those bottles were sanitized a little half-hazardously, I marked their bottle caps (2x) so that I would know if off flavors, etc. resulted from deviations from the process. I suspect the beer will be fine, we'll see. In the future, I should have some extra bottles cleaned and sanitized in case I have the same issue.
  • Because this is the second beer, and the first beer is in similar looking bottles and caps, I did mark the bottle caps with a number "2," using a fine-point Sharpie.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

This last week I got a chance to try Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA; a special occasion indeed. The beer is rarely brewed and is therefore hard to find. It is also expensive. 

The beer has a high ABV of 15-20% (!). As Kim reminded me, Sam says, "it's a sipper." 
Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA
It's like hop liquor, with a strong alcohol smell and taste. Despite the high 120 IBU rating, I didn't find it to be bitter. It tasted great.

The beer looked like it had small particles of hops suspended in it. I don't *think* it was carbonation.
Suspended Particles of Hops?
Here's the BeerAdvocate review

Here's a video of Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione talking about the beer:

Saturday, November 12, 2011

More Fermentation Projects

I visited my parents last night. I, of course, shared my beer making enthusiasm, and general DIY/homesteading fervor. While talking, I must have said something about wanting to get one gallon jugs because my mother offered the two wine bottles that she had. I was happy to take them off her hands. Within minutes I had stoppers and air locks from the local homebrew shop. Ta da!
One Gallon Bottles with Stoppers and Airlocks
We plan to do the following projects with these little fermentation vessels:
  • Brew mead. Mead is a honey wine. I'll be doing more research on making mead over the next week. Here are some instructions on YouTube. Here is a link to suitable yeast on Amazon.
  • Brew kombucha. Kombucha is a tea-based beverage. It has active cultures and many health benefits. Here are some instructions on YouTube.
I'll post updates as we go. Should be neat. : )

Monday, November 7, 2011

Brew Masters, Season 1

I just found out that Season 1 of the Brew Masters TV show is available on iTunes (!). The show features Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head Brewery. Unfortunately, there were only five episodes made before it was canceled (some suspect the big beer companies exerted their power). I can't wait to watch them.
Brew Masters
UPDATE: The episodes were interesting and entertaining. Highly recommended. Dogfish likes to be creative and make high ABV beers. Inspiring.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Beer #2: Bavarian Hefeweizen

On Tuesday (November 1st), we started brewing Beer #2, a Bavarian Hefeweizen, as soon as I got home from work.

Earlier in the afternoon Kim "smacked" the Wyeast yeast pack to release nutrients for the yeast to feed on. The package inflates to show that the yeast is healthy and active.
Wyeast 3068 Weihenstephan Wheat
I used the Bavarian Hefeweizen extract kit from Northern Brewer. The kit cost $28.75. I ordered a second extract kit at the same time to lower overall shipping charges.

The recipe for the Bavarian Hefeweizen is the following:
  • 6 lbs Wheat malt syrup (additions at 60 and 15 min)
  • 1 lbs Wheat dry malt extract (at 15 min)
  • 1 oz Tettnang hops (60 min)
  • Wyeast 3068 Weihenstephan Wheat yeast

Boiling Wort
The total brew process went smoothly and took a little less time than our first batch. I didn't make any of the potential errors I made during Beer #1. We recorded an original gravity of 1.049.

The fermentation bucket started bubbling within 12 hours and had a scent of bananas. This beer only ferments for two weeks. In the meantime, I'm trying to get enough bottles.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bottling Beer #1

Sanitized bottles with plastic wrap
Today was bottling day for Batch #1, our Extra Pale Ale. I was a little overwhelmed by all the things that needed to be done in a specific order so I wrote the steps down. Having the list of steps helped the process go smoothly, without mishaps. The steps we used are numbered below.
  1. Put a bottle cap on bottle, then take it off. 
I included this step just for the experience. I didn't want my first try to be with a full bottle.

  1. Mix priming solution of sugar and water. (2/3 cup in 16 oz of water for corn sugar, 5/8 cup in 16 oz of water for table sugar)
  1. Bring solution to boil, then let cool.
Bottle caps in sanitizer
Kim took care of the priming solution preparation. She boiled the water and sugar solution in a small pot. When the water hit boiling, she turned the burner off and removed the pot from the burner.

  1. Prepare sanitizer in bottling bucket and sanitize the following:
  • sanitize autosiphon and tubes
  • sanitize bowl
  • sanitize thief
  • sanitize spoon
  • sanitize bottles --> put bottles aside and cover with plastic wrap
I used StarSan to sanitize everything. 

Beer sample to find final gravity

Kim fed me some crackers with cheese and pepper jelly while my hands were all wet. The snack was much needed as we neared noon.

  1. Try siphoning sanitizer into a bottle.
Again, I added this step so that I could try the autosiphon. Apparently, you need to start with three pumps, not one.

  1. Pour sanitizer into bowl.
  2. Count bottle caps and put into bowl with sanitizer.
My daughter was in charge of all things bottle caps. She counted the bottle caps and put them in the bowl of sanitizer.

    Using the autosiphon to move beer
    from fermenter to bottling bucket
  1. Take final gravity with the thief.
Kim used the thief to get a beer sample so that we could get the final gravity (FG) using the hydrometer. We got a reading 1.012, which seems low to me. That number, coupled with our original gravity (OG) suggests a beer with 4.2 ABV. I thought the beer should be closer to 5.5 ABV.

  1. Empty sanitizer from bottling bucket.

  1. Pour priming solution into bottling bucket.

  1. Siphon beer from fermenter into bottling bucket.
12. Stir gently to mix with solution.

    One case capped
  1. Use bottling wand to siphon beer into bottles. Place cap on each bottle after it's filled.
My daughter helped by placing the bottle caps on the bottles as I filled them.

  1. Cap bottles.
Once all the bottles were filled and capped, I put the beer in a dark, warm closet to condition.
15. Wash everything.

The whole activity took about two and half hours. I'm sure this duration could be shortened with experience.

Opening the Fermenter

Today we finally opened the fermenting bucket and had a look. We had not had a chance to see our beer during the three weeks of fermentation. Many brewers use glass or plastic carboys that allow the brewer to watch the yeast feast/fermentation. I, on the other hand, use a white, plastic bucket. Plastic buckets leave everything to the imagination.
Krausen along the edge
Smelled like fermented something. Mostly, it smelled like beer.

krausen - noun, The foamy rocky head of yeast that forms at the peak of fermentation. (

At the bottom of the bucket, under the beer was about an inch of trub. It was thick and messy. I emptied it out in our compost pile.

trub - noun, "...the layer of sediment that appears at the bottom of the fermenter after yeast has completed the bulk of the fermentation. It is composed mainly of heavy fats, proteins and inactive yeast." (wikipedia)
Close up

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: Imperial PumKing

When I got home from work yesterday Kim said she had a surprise for me. In the refrigerator, I found the beer I had perseverated about all weekend: the Imperial PumKing by Southern Tier Brewing Co. Ah, thank you! I grinned and closed the refrigerator door to let the beer chill. 
Imperial PumKing by Southern Tier Brewing Co.
After the October sky had darkened and we had a warm fire glowing in the living room, we tasted the mighty PumKing and took notes.

Appearance: Pours a honey, orange color. Not much head.

Smell: Syrupy, pumpkin custard. Hint of cinnamon, nutmeg, all-spice.

Taste: Like eating pumpkin bread. Smooth and buttery. Bready, brown sugar. Cannot taste the 8.6% ABV.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Lightly carbonated.

Overall: Delicious. Very tasty autumn beer. Not overly spicy or sweet. What is amazing is that beer can be made to taste like something else entirely; it's like drinking pumpkin bread.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Green Onion Pub

Saturday night Kim and I finally had a chance to have a couple pints at The Green Onion Pub in Utica, New York. We don't have many options in Central New York for great microbrews on tap, especially in the Utica-Rome area. In Utica, there is the Green Onion and Nail Creek pubs.

Earlier in the day the The Green Onion hosted a tasting of Brewery Ommegang beers. Brewery Ommegang is located in Cooperstown, New York and is the premier brewery for Belgian beers in the States. I've read that they are expanding their brewery again. The Green Onion Pub had switched the kegs so that there was a whole row of Ommegang beers on tap!
All Ommegang beers on tap!
Some are specialty and seasonal beers that would cost quite a bit if you bought each one at Marcy Discount Beverage. But here was a chance to try a few for $5 a pint on draft.

We were fortunate enough to run into a co-worker of mine, Kevin, and his wife Sue. Kevin is an avid fan of beer, a frequenter of The Green Onion Pub, and a home brewer with years of experience. Fueled by some fantastic, high ABV pints, the conversation was lively. We had a good time getting to know Kevin and Sue.

Our first beers of the evening was the Witte for Kim and the Belgian Pale Ale for me. Both are year round beers for Ommegang. According to their website, the Ommegang Witte is a Belgian-white, or Witbier. Kim enjoyed it enough to have a second pint.

Beeradvocate reviews of Witte.

The Belgian Pale Ale is a Belgian-style pale ale, which differs considerably from an English or American pale ale. It's not very bitter and it doesn't even have a strong hop profile.
Witte and Belgian Pale Ale
My second beer was the Ommegang Adoration. The Ommegang site describes it as follows:
Ommegang Adoration, brewed in the authentic style of Belgian winter, or noel beer, is dark, strong, malty and assertively spiced. At 10% abv Adoration is not a lightweight beer, and is best sipped before a roaring fire, or on a sleigh ride over the hills to Grandma’s house. (But let someone else drive.) It would also be a tasty accompaniment to dark roasts and wild game. Even at the strong abv, the beer is well-balanced and not at all hot or fiery. The dark malts give it lush, malty flavors and aromas, strongly complemented by the five spices, including coriander, cumin, mace, cardamom and grains of paradise. Hopping is modest, as befits such a beer.
I really loved the Adoration. My favorite beer of the night.

Beeradvocate reviews of Adoration.

My third beer was the Indica IPA from Lost Coast Brewery & Cafe from Eureka, California. Awesome. The aroma was grainy and hoppy at the same time. Really. It smelled like the wort as it was cooking.

My fourth beer was the Chocolate Indulgence. Very yummy. Kim tasted it and liked it too.

Eventually, our friends had to leave. We decided to go to Nail Creek. We weren't there long, but I was there long enough to have a Green Flash West Coast IPA
Green Flash West Coast IPA
The beer was absolutely wonderful. A good friend had recommended this beer to me. I would like to try it again sometime when I am a little less lit. : )

Beeradvocate reviews of Green Flash West Coast IPA.

Regarding The Green Onion Pub, I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a couple pints of great craft beer. It has a cozy, welcoming atmosphere. I know that this last Thursday they had a Southern Tier Brewing Co. tasting (I wish I could have gone to) and on Friday they had a Saranac tasting. With the Ommegang tasting on Saturday, that means they did three straight days of tastings for New York State breweries, and for each tasting, they swapped out the kegs to offer an unrivaled selection of the feature brewery's beers (!). I'm impressed.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Removing Bottle Labels

Today I started preparations for bottling our first batch of beer (next week). We need two cases of empty bottles, clean and sanitized. I started by soaking bottles in hot water with OxiClean. The OxiClean cost $5.79 at Rite Aid and I'll be able to use it for multiple soaks. I might just try using vinegar and hot water after I run out of OxiClean.
Soaking 24 bottles in OxiClean
Bottles without labels
Eventually, the labels and glue comes off. The labels on the Lagunitas IPA Maximus bottles (shown above) came off within 15 minutes.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


So what prompted me to take an interest in brewing? What, after years of microbrews, occasional hopfests and brewery tours, made me want to try? What made me think that the hours of labor involved might be enjoyable and hobby worth pursuing?

I listened to Van Hemlock's How to Murder Time podcast "Homebrew" during the drive to work. The podcast covers many different topics. On this occasion, they described buying a wine making kit from Testco (in the UK). Something about their description of the experience was enough to trigger an interest in home brewing beer. I've listened to the podcast again and transcribed some key phrases.
"My dad was very much into, and still is, into homebrew."
"I think everyone's [dads] was in the '70s."
"Always something behind the sofa." 
"My enduring childhood memories of my father involve mostly just large curious shaped bottles with weird bubbly airlock things in the top."
In talking to my father about my interest in home brewing, he said that he had made some wine using a large crock that his father used to make wine with. My grandfather made several different wines. My great uncle used to have a basement full of wines and visitors would stumble out of the basement after he offered samples of each wine. My father also mentioned that the field across from the house I grew up in was all hops when he was young. Central New York has a hops growing history that is only now starting to begin again (e.g., Foothill Hops).
"Now I am a man and I've realized I am not a man, not until I've made my own wine. It's a rite of passage." 
"Another big important part of the homebrew experience is the activity itself. It's doing the home brewing, it's feeling like I'm making something." 
"People are doing it [now] for the hobby of it, a sort of good life, retro thing." 
"I enjoyed it and I feel like I've learned something."
I think I was also excited by the prospect of making gallons of beer--gallons of beer!--and the idea that maybe I could save money (eventually).

I do know that I have already learned a lot about beer, beer styles, and the process of making beer. Making the first batch was indeed a rewarding experience.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Possible Errors?

There were a few things that happened during our brew day for Beer #1 that could be considered errors and have the potential for off-flavors in the beer. We'll see. I'll make note of them here.
  • When we re-hydrated the yeast we did so in 2 cups of water, as opposed to one cup. I don't think this is a problem and one home brewer I spoke to did not think so either.
  • A few times that we checked the temperature of the yeast water, we did so with a thermometer that had been washed, but not sanitized.
  • During the chilling of the wort I stirred the wort some to cool it. Unfortunately, I dropped the spoon in the wort. I used my hands to grab the spoon out of the hot wort. I didn't get burned or anything, but the spoon handle and my hands could have contaminated the wort.
  • When I cleaned the brew kettle I noticed a burned blackness in the center bottom of the kettle. The malt extract must not have been stirred-in well enough. That burning could cause off-flavors. A fellow brewer suggested warming the malt next time so that the syrup is not so thick.   
Here is a thread from the beginners forum that offers some comfort and perspective regarding brewing mishaps: What are some of the mistakes you made...where your beer still turned out great?   

Beer #1 Costs

I will take time now to document the costs involved. This information might be helpful for anyone considering getting into the home brewing hobby.


First, I needed the basic equipment. As mentioned in another post, I was given the Basic Starter Kit from Northern Brewer for my birthday. That kit costs $79.99, and Northern Brewer charges a flat $7.99 for shipping. That's a total of $87.98.
Northern Brewer's Basic Starter Kit
I also needed a brew kettle and a thermometer. You may have these in your kitchen already. I purchased a Granite Ware 8 pc Canner Set from Target for $29.99. The set includes a black, 21.5 quart kettle.
Granite Ware 8 pc Canner Set
I bought a thermometer from Bed Bath & Beyond for $10.99.


I chose the Extra Pale Ale extract kit from Northern Brewer. That kit costs $22.50. I chose the Safale dry yeast for another $3.75. That's $26.99 total. With the $7.99 shipping and handling cost, the package cost me $34.24. Lesson: If you need to buy from Northern Brewer, buy a bunch of stuff all at once if you can.


I also bought 1 bag of ice and 3 gallons of water at the grocery store. That cost approximately $5.

Total Cost

+  $5.00

Because my Basic Starter Kit was a gift and I was given $20 in a birthday card, my total cost came to: $60.22.

Provided you have a brew kettle and thermometer, all one needs to start is the Basic Starter Kit and an extract kit. Using the costs above, that comes to $130.21 with a single order from Northern Brewer. Your local home brewing shop may be able to give you a deal. Also note that the cost of the extract kit will vary depending on the style and the amount of ingredients needed.

I will also mention that I purchased John Palmer's How To Brew book, which was $19.95 plus tax at the bricks & mortar Barnes & Noble store. It's the third edition of the book and comes highly recommended by many home brewers. A gift certificate from my sister allowed me to buy another recommended book: Randy Mosher's Radical Brewing. Neither of these books is necessary for your first brew day, but they don't hurt. 

Arguably, I could have borrowed a brew kettle and a thermometer. I could have also made my own ice and boiled the three gallons of water I needed prior to brew day. That would have saved me about $46.

Addendum: Due to interest by an...ahem..."anonymous" comment, I provide this additional information: Batch #1 will make 5 gallons of beer. That equates to two cases (48 bottles) of beer. This first batch required some upstart costs. But if you consider just the cost of ingredients alone, which was $34.24 total. The cost per bottle is about 71 cents. That's approximately $4.28 for a six pack.