Monday, April 27, 2009

Amber waves...

Well folks, I have tasted a few shots of the Steam Beer from the fermentor. It's still pretty yeasty but I think it's going to turn out pretty well. I have decided to take the next step to all-grain brewing.

This summer, I will be doing several batches using no malt extract syrup at all. Just steeped and mashed grains.

The biggest addition to my equipment arsenal is a 5 gallon stock pot:

Using this, I will be able to mash the grains and then do the subsequent boil for an entire 2.5 gallon batch. No more splitting it up!

In order to make the grains easy to remove after steeping, I also bought a 5 gallon fine nylon mesh paint strainer bag.

They were $4 for a two-pack at my neighborhood hardware store. The bag will hold the grain while it steeps in the hot water. Then I can just pull it out, dump the grain, wash the bag, and it's ready to go again.

So, tasting nation, what do you think? I want to start with a Pale Ale, since that seems to be the easiest all-grain beer to start with, but what next? Suggestions?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Brew Day: Partial Mashing

Apologies for the lateness of this post.

The partial mash went very well. In a couple weeks, I will be drinking my Steam beer.

~3 lbs of Pale/Gold Malt Extract
1/2 lb of Crystal 40 Malted Barley
2 oz of Maltodextrin powder (non-fermentable sugar that adds body but little to no flavor)
1 oz of Perle pellet hops (3/4 oz boiled for 1 hour, 1/4 oz boiled for 10 minutes)
1 pouch California Lager liquid yeast (made into a starter)
Lots and lots of DC tap water. MMMMM-mmmm

The first thing you do on any brew day is boil a bunch of water. You need boiled water to go in the fermentor, but also to do lots of small little things like rinse off things that need to stay sanitized.

While that's boiling, sanitize all equipment that will touch the wort once it's cool. That means the fermentor, thermometer, stirring spoon (maybe), etc.

Take a gallon of your pre-boiled water and cool it off in a water bath in the sink. It doesn't have to get all the way down to yeast-pitching temp, but you don't want to melt your fermentor, either.

And now, the big new step for a partial mash: Steeping your specialty grain.

There are dozens of kinds of grain that are used in brewing. The variety above is called Crystal 40. It is barley malt that has been kilned at higher temperatures, caramelizing some of the sugars. The number indicates how caramelized/dark it is. Crystal malts range from 20 (very light) to 120 (very dark).

We will steep this grain in 160 degree water for a half hour to extract a bunch of color and flavor. The grain sock is used so that it can be easily removed once steeping is complete.

While steeping, it smelled very sweet and bready. I was also very surprised at how quickly the color of the water changed.

After the grain steeped, brew day proceeded as it usually has for my previous extract batches. We add the Gold Malt Extract syrup:

I added the bulk of the hops at the beginning of the hour long boil. This is the "bittering stage." The alpha acids in the hop isomerize in the hot water, and cut a lot of the malty sweetness of the grain and extract.

Then, with 10 minutes left for the boil, I threw in the last 1/4 oz of hops. This is the "flavor and aroma stage." While the bittering hops' acids are cutting the sweetness, all of the aromatic oils are being boiled away. So in order to have some hoppy taste and smell, we add some hops here at the end of the boil.

Once the boil is over, we quickly chill the wort in a water bath in the sink. Then we pour that chilled wort into the fermentor and add our yeast from the start we made on Wednesday. A lot of liquid had evaporated during the boil, so I added some cooled boiled water to get back up the 2.5 gallon mark.

Give the whole thing a good shake to make sure there's plenty of oxygen for the yeast to party with.

And voila! Our Steam beer is fermenting happily in the Mr. Beer keg. It had a nice, thick kreusen on it by Sunday evening, indicating healthy and vigorous fermentation. Bottling on May 2! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Steam Beer Step 2: Making a starter

Yesterday, I smacked my smak-pak of yeast. If the pack swelled, that was my sign that I had healthy, strapping young yeast to work with. Judge for yourself:

So, now that the yeast pack is definitely viable, we brew up a starter wort. To do this, I boiled 1 cup of extract with 1 quart of water for 10 minutes. I also added a little baking yeast to the boil. These yeast cells are killed in the boil, and dead yeast cells make excellent food for our living (and much more expensive) yeast cells.

After the boil, I cooled the starter wort by placing the covered pot in a pool of cold water in the sink. While that was cooling, I sanitized the large water bottle that would be holding the starter, as well as the outside of the yeast pack and a pair of scissors (can't be too careful when it comes to sanitation).

Then I added the wort and yeast to the bottle. The liquid yeast is a very light tan, sort of like cat formula:

Once it was all together, i gave it a good shake to make sure there was enough dissolved oxygen for the yeast to party with. Then i put the cap on loosely and put a piece of plastic wrap over the top. This is to allow gases to escape, and hopefully keep any bad nasties out.

And there it is, a finished yeast starter. I will let this ferment until brew day on Saturday, when the whole thing will be pitched into the main wort.

Stay tuned for the main event! Beermageddon!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Steam Beer Part 1: Smack my yeast up

As I gear up for my first partial mash this weekend, there are a few steps I need to take to get ready. I order the ingredients for this batch from, since it is cheaper than my usual suppliers of Mr. Beer and Stomp Them Grapes. I learned too late however, that the reson the yeast was so cheap is that the packet doesn't come with enough cells to do the job.

The packet come with 25 billion yeast cells, and I am going to need at least 100 billion. So now I have to become a yeast farmer, consarnit!

Liquid yeast packets have an inner package of yeast nutrient that needs to be ruptured to activate the yeast and get them going. Luckily, I have great slapping experience from initiating several duels to defend my honor.
I am now letting the least wake up and get happy until this evening. Then, I will pitch the yeast into a starter wort: a small amount of malt that the yeast can eat to power their furious, passionate reproduction. Slow jazz optional.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Starter? I barely knew her!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dharma Beer

Fans of ABC's LOST know that the Dharma Initiative, a sorta-benevolent-but-still-kinda-shady research organization that was wiped out by The Others, had its own brand of supplies. From peanut butter to whisky, everyone had their Dharma-brand rations.

Memorably discovered by Sawyer, Jin, and Hurley, Dharma also had its own beer. And in anticipation of LOST this evening, I started to think: what kind of beer is this "Dharma Barley-Flavored Drink?"

First, the label offers a few clues: It's 5% alcohol by volume, so it's not a barleywine, doppelbock, or any other extra-strength beer. It's also not on the lower end, say like a Guinness Draft or a Miller Lite. "Barley-flavored" isn't much help, since all but the small category of gluten-free beers use malted barley as a large portion of their grain bill. It doesn't stipulate ale or lager, either.

It comes in both bottles and cans, so it's likely pasteurized and force-carbonated. It's not bottle-conditioned and there are no live yeast in the beer. The bottles are amber-colored, so it is brewed with real hops whose acids can be damaged by exposure to light (this causes "skunking").

Personally, if I were on a tropical island, I'd prefer a crisp, lightly fruity beer like a Corona or a subtle pale ale. A nice tart wheat would be good after a long day of number-entering as well.

Of course, it's probably just your average pale American Lager. In order to entice the most folks onto the island, you'd have to keep it generic and familiar.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Repeal Day before Repeal Day

Like all good and decent Americans, I know that December 5 is "Repeal Day," the day the America's "Noble Experiment" of Prohibition was ended for good.

However, during my online travels today, I came upon the above banner ad, telling me to toast today as Repeal Day. As Rorschach said, "Hurm."

So, after some research, I learned that on April 7, 1933, there was a "soft repeal" on beer before the big one for all liquor in December. Granted, it was only 3.2 beer that became legal, but it was something.

So thank you, advertisement, for teaching me something new. And yes, have a (slightly higher alcohol) beer this evening and toast the end of Dry America.

Monday, April 6, 2009


My weizenbock (dark wheat) was ready to drink this weekend.

As you can see, it's a deep, dark red. Taste-wise, this is the hoppiest beer I've made so far, but they aren't aggressive and blend nicely into the caramel sweetness in the finish. A very nice beer to sip while chatting with friends or watching tv.

The problem with the Mr. Beer ingredients I seem to be having is that, while the beer tastes good, I wish there was more to it. I think it has to do with how the ingredients are portioned. Mr. Beer recommends two cans of extract per half-gallon batch, which equates to roughly 2 lbs 6 oz of extract per 2.5 gallon batch. Most recipes call for at least 3 lbs of fermentables per 2.5 gallons.

My last batch of Mr. Beer-ingredient beer (a hazelnut coffee brown) is in the fermentor now. After that, I think I may be done with Mr. Beer ingredients for the time being and have already ordered stuff for my first partial mash: A Steam-style beer!

Stay tuned for a full partial mash rundown!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Bell's Oberon and the Problem of Hype

So, for some reason, Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo Michigan has become a popular microbrewery for beer writers to talk up their seasonal releases, especially here in the DC area. Everybody went gaga when their Hopslam (Double IPA) came out in January, even at $16 a six-pack, and now everyone is atwitter with their Oberon Summer Ale, slightly more resonable at $9 for a sixer.

Personally, I don't see it, or taste it. It's certainly drinkable (inside baseball!), but at craft-beer prices, there's a lot more out there that is way better.

I guess for me it comes down to the malt character: it's not there. Maybe the brewmaster's wife ran off with a grain farmer, but in both of their offerings I have bought into the hype for, there is almost none of that bready, toasty, cookie flavor I hold so dear.

Now with the Hopslam, you expect the hops to be agressive, but the only sweetness seems comes from the honey they add. And with the Oberon, the yeast is actually the dominant character: peppery and clove-y. Why bother calling it a wheat beer when you can't taste the wheat at all?

So, when the beer writers in the area treat the next offering from Bell's as the Second Coming, don't buy it or the hype. Let someone else buy it for you.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ad-beer-tising pt. 2

My post on Miller's "Triple Hopped" ad campaign set the comment boards on fire, so I thought I'd follow up with a discussion of the other macro-brewery's new slogan, Anheuser-Busch's "The Difference is Drinkability."

As the plaid-shirted douche tells us, we should drink Bud Light because of its "drinkability."

Now, to some, calling a beer merely drinkable would be considered a thinly-veiled putdown, but one of the main selling points of "lite" beer has always been that you can drink it all night and still have room for wings and not pass out.

Bud light is low calorie, low alcohol, and low taste, so it's perfect for high-volume quaffing at parties and tailgates. Bring a cooler of Guinness to your next outdoor get-together, and everyone will need a nap after a few.

I'm not one of these beer snobs who says they never drink light beer. It has its place and it's usually cheap and plentiful. Plus, on a really hot day, you're not in the mood to contemplate how the hops play off the dark malts in a nut brown ale, you just want something cold and relaxing.

And so, it is drinkable, and even the best option in some cases. But it's more about what they leave out than what they put in.