Pints for Prostates

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.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Brew Day for Beer #1

Brew day finally arrived. I had been waiting about a month (!). A podcast I had listened to started an interest in brewing beer for myself (I can do it!). I started reading about the process and visiting the forums at I purchased the classic homebrewing book, How to Brew by John Palmer (free HTML version of earlier edition). The waiting started in earnest when I was given a Basic Starter Kit from Northern Brewer for my 40th birthday (thanks Kim!). 
Yup, 40...
Kim and Basic Starter Kit with drawings by the kids
Our brew day for Beer #1 was on October 10, a beautiful autumn day. With equipment, recipe, ingredients and instructions, we started.

Kim and I started boiling water in the kettle at 11:00 AM. The Extra Pale Ale extract kit included specialty grains: 1 lbs of Belgian Caramel Pils. We steeped them in a mesh bag. It was the same as steeping a tea bag in hot water. We smelled the pungent barley grains. At the boil point, we removed the bag of grain, added 3 lbs of the Gold malt syrup, and removed the kettle from the burner. We stirred in the thick brown syrup.

Next, we brought the water back up to a boil. But at that point when the boil is obtained, the mixture is no longer boiling water, but is called "wort," a brewers term for unfermented wort.
wort noun, the unfermented or fermenting infusion of malt that after fermentation becomes beer or mash. Origin: before 1000; Middle English; Old English wyrt; cognate with German Wurze spice; akin to wort.( 
The brew became wort at 11:56 AM. At that point, we started the 60 minute timer and added 2 oz of Cascade hops. Wow! The strong smell of those hops filled the kitchen. We looked at each other with wide grins. We were doing it! We were making beer! The surface of the wort was green from the dissolution of the green hop pellets.
While the wort was boiling, we sanitized the fermenter, airlock, thief, bowl, spoon, scissors, thermometer, etc. Part of brewing is an attention to cleanliness. Equipment must be washed AND sanitized.   

We also prepared the yeast according to Palmer's instructions. I used Safale US-05 dry ale yeast. The process involves timed actions at specific temperatures. Not hard, but important.

One minute before the end of the 60 minute boil, we added 1 oz of the Cascade hops. The first dose we added earlier was to add bitterness to balance the malty sweetness of the barley malt. The boil time allows isomerization of the hop resins. The second dose adds flavor and aroma.

We started cooling the wort at 12:56 PM. It was cooled by putting the kettle in a sink filled with ice water. We needed to bring the wort down to approximately 100 degrees.

When the wort was chilled, I added three gallons of water (1 gallon distilled, 2 gallon spring...the grocery store was out of distilled water) to the fermenter. Poured the wort in. Aerated the wort by putting the lid on the fermenter and rocking it back and forth.

I used a thief to take a sample of the wort and a hydrometer to measure the gravity. We got 1.044 OG, which is quite close to the 1.045 OG that is expected for the recipe.

Next, we "pitched" the yeast at 1:24 PM. I sealed the fermenter and attached the air lock.

We cleaned the kettle and other instruments and finished at 1:50 PM. Just short of three hours total. It was fun :)

Extra Pale Ale

Extra Pale Ale with specialty grains
The beer I chose for my initiation into the home brewing hobby is the Extra Pale Ale. I like beers with a lot of hop flavor and this recipe seemed like a good basic beer to start with. In particular, it showcases the flavor and aroma of Cascade hops. I'm hoping that by using some recipes that feature only one hop variety I can better discern, for myself, the qualities that characterize each hop.

I ordered the Extra Pale Ale extract kit from Northern Brewer.

The recipe I used is as follows:
  •    1 lbs Belgian Caramel Pils (specialty grain)
  •    6 lbs Gold malt syrup (split addition at 60 and 15 min)
  •    2 oz Cascade hops (60 min)
  •    1 oz Cascade hops (1 min)
  •    Safale US-05 Ale Yeast

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Not Brewing Today


As the title says, I am not brewing today. I don't mind not brewing today because I don't feel so well. I don't have much energy. Besides, my single fermenter bucket is busy fermenting my first home brew: an Extra Pale Ale. So I have to wait. Instead, I have created this blog. With this blog, I plan to share my experiences, the things I learn, and the tastes I create.

In the blog entries to follow I'll describe my first home brewing experience: the recipe I used, the sights and smells, and the process used. For now, I'll just say that the fermenter is in the basement, it has been down there for a week, and the attenuation phase--when the airlock bubbles the most due to vigorous fermentation--has ended. The beer will stay in the fermenter another two weeks.

fermenter in the basement
In the mean time, I'll prepare bottles and write this blog. Please follow this blog for updates. I hope you'll find the home brewing process as interesting as I do.