Archive for category Home Brew

Simple Yeast Starter

Plain and simple… fermentation control is what sets GREAT homebrew apart from OK homebrew. Besides controlling fermentation temperature (which’ll probably be a separate post… eventually), the yeast themselves are integral to a healthy fermentation. Pitching enough yeast cells will minimize lag time as the cells won’t have to replicate before beginning fermentation. When you pitch healthy yeast cell, you’re make healthy beer… the yeast aren’t stressing and producing off flavors. All in all, pitching enough healthy, active, yeast will make a better beer. Jamil Zainasheff, one of the greatest homrbrewers in the country, expounds on the benefits of healthy yeast in a new book Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation that he co-wrote with Chris White, of White Labs… one of the major brewing yeast producers. I’ve already covered how to get the most out of your dry brewing yeast by rehydrating… but how do you get the most out of a liquid yeast strain? The answer is simple… make a starter. A starter will allow the yeast to  replicate to the numbers you need for a healthy, vigorous fermentation BEFORE being pitched into your wort. The yeast will be active, as well… they’ve been in a semi-suspended state since they were packaged and shipped from the yeast lab… so they need to be roused… like being handed a warm cup of coffee when the alarm goes off at 5:30AM.

The benefit of a yeast starter is something most homebrewers can agree on… but, like most other homebrewing-related topics, the “best” method of how to actually make a yeast starter is up for debate. Some folks have professional chemistry labs in their basements… stir plates, flasks, yeast loops… typical over-the-top mentality. Some homebrewers, like me, figure out how to achieve the benefits and results without blowing an entire paycheck on equipment. I’ll spend the $1, instead of the $1,000… especially if it gets me to the same ends as everyone else. Here’s how…

What you’ll need:

  • Three days advance notice… if you’re brewing on Saturday, start this on Wednesday (“Smack” the pack on Tuesday).
  • 1 2-L plastic soda bottle (which you’ve pre-graduated to the 1L, 1.25L and 1.5L mark)… save the cap.
    • I’ve also seen 3-L generic brand soda bottles… they might be ideal, especially if you need to do a full 2-L starter.
  • Funnel that’ll fit into the pop bottle
  • 1 scale (which you already have as part of your brewing equipment)
  • 1 lb of pilsen DME
  • Fermcap-S (foam inhibitor)
  • 1 yeast smack pack, or one vial of your desired liquid yeast strain
  • Your sanitizer solution of choice.

…. that’s it.

Graduated this soda bottle at the 1, 1.25. and 1.5 Liter mark… and, so I never forget, I wrote how much DME to use. Never forget.

Now, here’s how to do it…

  1. Run your recipe through your brewing software. Using your predicted OG and the volume of wort you’ll be fermenting, plug the beer’s statistic into the Mr. Malty Yeast Pitching Rate Calculator to see how big of a starter you’ll need to make for your beer.  Enter the manufacture date of your yeast. Make sure to select “Intermittent Shaking” from the drop down, and hit “calculate”. For example, if I’m making 3.5 gallons of a 1.052 beer with yeastmanufactured in the middle of November, I’ll need a 1 liter yeast starter for my beer. If you need more assistance with figuring out the Mr. Malty Yeast Pitching Rate Calculator, has a great tutorial on using the calculator.
  2. Now that you know how much starter you’ll need, you need to make a starter wort. Collect the volume of water you’ll need (e.g. 1 liter of water for a 1 liter starter, etc.)… then multiply that volume by 100 to determine how many grams of DME you’ll need… 100 g DME for a 1 liter starter… 150 g DME for a 1.5 liter starter… and so on. Bring that much DME and the water to a boil for a ten minutes so it will sterilize… cool in an ice bath to room temp. Going back to my example, I’m going to bring 1 liter of water and 100 g DME to a boil for my 1L of starter wot Mr.  Malty told me I needed. You’re shooting for a 1.040 SG wort… a lot of brewers will collect excess running or pre-make starter wort. But, it’s not that hard to do make the starter wort on the fly, as needed. It’s that simple.
  3. Once you have your chilled starter wort ready, pour it into you sanitized two liter pop bottle using a sanitized funnel. Next, pour in the contents of your smack pack or vial into the starter wort in the bottle. Add a couple drops of Fermcap-S to prevent a krausen blow out. Cap the bottle. Shake for a minute or two… or until your arms feel like they’ll fall off. Shake it like it owes you money. Set it back on the counter, and unscrew the cap until it just barely catches the threads… this way CO2 can come out, and O2 from the air can get in.
  4. Every time you walk past the kitchen (or wherever your start bottle is), screw the cap tight, shake it for a minute, then set it down and unscrew the cap until it just barely catches the threads. This is the “intermittent shaking” method… and your kind of simulating the agitation of a stir plate (without having to actually have a stir plate).
  5. Let it ferment (and continue to shake) for a day or two… once the starter drops clear, and the yeast fall out of suspension, cold crash the bottle in the fridge… do this by AT LEAST the night before you plan to brew so it can have eight-twelve(ish) hours in the fridge. This’ll get the yeast cake compacted in the bottom of the bottle.
  6. On brew day, decant the liquid from the starter… just pour the clear liquid off the top without disturbing the yeast cake at the bottom of the bottle. Stop decanting and leave about an inch of the liquid in the bottle… this’ll give you a little liquid to get mixed in with the yeast cake when it comes time to pitch. Leave the bottle out on the counter during the brew day so it has PLENTY of time to warm up to room temp. When you’re ready to pitch, shake the starter bottle to loosen and resuspend the yeast and pitch the contents of the bottle into your wort.
  7. … and that’s pretty much it. Might seems a bit complicated, sure… but it’s less fussy that the “stir plate method”… and you don’t have to invest in buying or take the time to build a stir plate. Just a left over 2 liter soda bottle… that’s it. Even homeless people have left over soda bottles.

More information:

Brew Strong: Yeast Starters

Mr. Malty

Northern Brewer: Complete process of making a starter on a stir plate, including how to step up a yeast starter for more cell count.

Northern Brewer: Yeast Starter (making the starter wort and adding the yeast)


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Tasting Notes: Bell’s Hopslam

Bell's Hopslam

Supposedly the “holy grail” for hop heads… Bell’s Brewery’s Hopslam is consistently rated as one of the top beers in the United States (and the world)… FINALLY got a chance to thump my palate and give it a go.

The beer poured a wonderful orangey-copper.  Hazy. What little head that developed in the glass dissipated very quickly… high ABV beer will do that. A thin white ring of bubbles lingered on the perimeter of the glass. I chose a red wine glass to mimic the “tulip” glass that this should be served in… but, alas, no tulip glasses in stock at this house.

Aroma is very fruity…tropical fruit… like mangoes and grapefruit. I picked up a little bit of earthy notes, too… like the rinds of fruit skins. A little resiny, too… maybe a touch of “feet”… like stinky cheese? But, not in a displeasing way. The fruit notes of the hops sure dominate.

Taste was unbelievable… like grapefruit juice. Very acidic up front, like orange juice. Not overwhelmingly bitter like I though it would be… I hate hop bitterness, so I was leery it would be too much for me. It wasn’t… the hops are all in the flavor and aroma, that’s for sure. The middle of the taste was sweet… there’s honey in the recipe and I think it cam through. As it warms up, a little more pine resin taste comes out. Very slight malt sweetness, too… like bread. The finish of the taste is resiny, and the 10%ABV cuts through at the end of the taste with a little “hot alcohol” bite. Lingering taste is fruity hop flavor, hop resin, and fruity sweetness.

Overall, I can see why this beer is one of the top beers in the U.S… very pleasing… very unique… huge “novelty factor” since it releases once a year. The hop isn’t overly bitter, like I though it might be. Very big punch of flavor… huge fruit aroma. My first reaction was “man, this tastes like pink grapefruit juice”… and it does.

Glad this only comes out once a year… at $17(ish) per six pack, I could see this blowing through my beer budget in a hurry. Definitely schwacked my taste buds… I’ll sit her in the hop coma and enjoy the feeling.

By the way, tasting beer isn’t that hard… you just describe the tastes in detail and compare it to what you know… bready malt tastes, like saltine crackers or whole wheat bread. Fruity aromas like grapefruit. Sweet… alcohol bite… carbonic bite like when your nose tingles after burping up soda… all descriptors of the experience of savoring and enjoying the flavors of the beer your tasting. Start with what the beer looks like when it’s poured… then, sniff it… bury your nose in the glass and take in a big whiff… what does it smell like? Then, take a sip. Let the beer sit in your mouth for a second, then swallow. Take another sip. Smell it again. More sips. You’ll get the hang of it… some people are so intense about their tadting notes, they take a little notebook with them to jot down their experience. You don’t have to be that intense… sure, you can geek out on it, but just describing the beer to others you’re sitting with can be enough to get the beer convo rolling… and that’s what beer is: it’s social. It’s an experience. It’s something more than swilling it down your gullet while you grind on hotties. It’s beer… sit down, talk to a friend. Talk about what your tasting. Catch up on life. That’s what it’s all about. You can watch two experienced home brewers taste some beers to get an idea (se below)… or go out and try a craft beer and actually take a second to let the flavors and experience process in your brain and some tastings for yourself…

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DIY Hop Spider

This is what the end product will look like... use it as a reference, or to scare small children into doing your bidding because you've convinced them it is some sort of medieval torture device.

A few weeks ago, I whipped up a hop spider… just troll the plastic plumbing fixtures at Lowe’s and found a 3 or 4 inch PVC coupler for three or four bucks. Next, head on over to the decorative wood-working aisle and find the dowel rods… the only trick to picking out a dowel rod is finding one sturdy enough to not bend or flex while choosing one that’ll match the diameter of a drill bit you have at home. Another fun thing about dowel rods is they make great fencing foils when you’re slightly-annoyed wife starts complaining that you’re dragging her from one end of Lowe’s to the other.

After you’ve got the PVC coupler and dowel rod, head over to the plumbing section and find a stainless steel worm clamp big enough to fit on the bottom diameter of the PVC coupler. Got it? Good. Now, walk over to the paint section. In amongst all the painting accessories is a blue plastic pack of two five gallon mesh paint strainer bags. They’re basically big white mesh bags… get the five gallon size. After you’ve picked up the strainer bags, you should be close to the cash registers… because every Lowe’s is designed damn near identical.

Find the drill bit that matches the diameter of the dowel rod you bought, and drill a hole through the PVC coupler about one inch from the top. Directly opposite that hole, drill another hole, so the dowel rod will bisect the coupler. Now, 90 degrees from that second hole, drill another hole in the coupler. Opposite that hole, drill the fourth and final hole for the other piece of dowel rod. You’re basically making a big ‘X’ with the dowel rods… just make sure to offset the holes so the two pieces of dowel rod don’t intersect and bump into each other in the middle. Break (or saw) the dowel rod in half. Use a hammer to pound the rod through one hole across to the other, and the same for the other set of holes. Use the worm clamp to secure one of the five gallon strainer bags to the coupler. Bingo.

So now that you have this dubious-looking device, you might be asking yourself, “soooo…. what’s it for?” Well, have no fear… the answer is quite simple. You set the hop spider over your brew pot with the strainer bag sitting in the boiling wort. You add the hop pellets (you’ll probably need a bigger couple to fit whole leaf) through the coupler so they’re contained int he bag, but still in the boiling wort. This will allow you to easily remove the hops from the wort when the hop schedule is done… and will also eliminate the hop particles from finding their way into the fermenter when you transfer wort. This way they’ll not plug up autsiphons or racking canes and no particles will be waiting for you int he trub to have to worry about washing out when you harvest yeast. Plus, they look cool…. so there’s that. Until next time, folks.

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Repeal Day!


 78 years ago, on December 5th, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was repealed and Prohibition was ended. Suck it, Temperance Movement!

Just too bad the only places to survive Prohibition were breweries like Anheuser Bush and the Coors Brewing Company… while all the “little guys” couldn’t make ends meet when their product was declared illegal and had to close shop, thus beginning the dominance of the mega-breweries in the U.S. beer market. Meh well… in some ways that was a good thing, as the mega breweries rise to dominance is the force driving the modern craft beer movement.

In the spirit (get it!) of today, enjoy this clip from the Ken Burns documentary “Prohibition” while you savor a delicious craft brew.

Lots of other good clips from “Prohibition” on the PBS website, too…


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Making Your First Batch of Homebrew… In 25 Steps

One of my friends at work wants to start homebrewing, so I made up this beginner’s instruction sheet for him. I figured I’d share it with all of the internets, in case anyone out there is looking for an easy way to get into homebrewing.



What You’ll Need on Brew Day:

  • One five gallon pot
  • 2 pounds Amber DME
  • 2 pounds Bavarian Wheat DME
  • 1 oz Hallertauer hop pellets
  • 1 11.5-gram packet Danstar Munich dry yeast
  • 1 6.5-gallon Ale Pail with locking lid and spigot
  • 1 3-piece airlock
  • 2 large bags of ice from the grocery store
  • Clean out your kitchen sink, so it’s empty. You’ll need to use your sink for an ice bath to cool the wort after it’s done boiling.
  • 1 1-gallon jug of distilled water
  • Bottle of Star San concentrate
  • Scissors
  1. Dump out a splash of the distilled water from the jug. Add ¼ oz Star San concentrate to the distilled water. Cap, and spin the bottle until the concentrate dissolves in the water. This will be your sanitizer solution.
  2. Collect 4 gallons of cold tap water in a five-gallon (20 qt) pot and heat on the stove on high.
  3. While the water is coming to a boil, measure out 0.60 oz of the hallertauer hops, and set aside.
  4. Pour both bags of Amber dried malt extract (DME) into the heating water and use a whisk to dissolve the DME into the water. This makes the water into “wort”… since it now contains the grain’s sugars, which will be fermented into beer.
  5. Bring the wort to a boil. Watch out for boil overs as the wort comes to a full boil… if you see a boil over starting to happen, take the pot off the heat, let the foam subside, and put it back on the heat… alternatively, squirt the foam with a spray bottle of water (if you have one around).
  6. Once the wort comes to a rolling boil (not a super strong boil… we’re not trying to splatter the wort all over the place, but enough so that it is rolling), wait for any foam on the surface to subside. This is called the “hot break”.
  7. After the hot break, set a 60-minute timer. Add the 0.60 oz of hallertauer hops and start the timer. Stir the hops in, and make sure the wort doesn’t boil over as the hops are added.
  8. Pour both bags of the Wheat DME into a clean, dry mixing bowl, and set aside.
  9. Let the wort boil for 55 minutes (there should be 5 minutes left on the timer)…and pour in the Wheat DME. Be careful, because the steam will want to clump the DME. If you want, you can splash a little of the hot wort into the bowl to dissolve any clumps. Just be careful… obviously it’s boiling hot.
  10. While the wort is still boiling, attach the brewmometer to the side of the pot so it’s sticking in the wort without touching the bottom or sides of the brew pot. The boiling wort will sterilize the thermometer.
  11. Once the timer is done, cover the pot with the lid.
  12. You want to put your covered pot of wort in your plugged kitchen sink. Fill your sink with cold water around the pot. Every few minutes, take out the pot, and let the warm bath water drain out. Repeat with fresh, cold tap water until the wort has cooled to 100°F. Once the wort has cooled to 100°F, add ice to the bath water and continue to cool the wort to 70°F.
  13. Once the wort has cooled, ANYHTINGthat comes in any sort of contact with the wort or beer must be sanitized… or you could get and infection. Infected beer will either taste a little off, or so much mold and bacteria could grow in the beer that the beer will have to be dumped. The good news is that nothing can grow in beer that could kill you… but something nasty could give you some bad digestive issues. Once the beer begins to ferment, you’re MOSTLY out of the infection danger zone, as the alcohol and the hop acids will prevent anything nasty from growing, but you still need to be careful.
    1. While the wort is cooling, sanitize your bucket, lid, spigot, and airlock using your Star San formula. Add the Star San to the bucket, put on the lid and shake and spin the bucket so the Star San comes in contact with all the interior surfaces of the bucket. Foam is ok. Using a funnel, pour the Star San out of the bucket and back into the gallon jug. Until right before you pour in the wort, keep the lid over the bucket so no dust or anything settles in the bucket. Put the stopper and airlock pieces in a bowl and cover with Star San. Put a pair of scissors in the bowl of Star San, as well, and dip the packet of Munich yeast in the Star San so the outside gets sanitized.
  14. Once the wort has cooled to 70°F, take the pot out of the ice bath, and dry off as much of the water as you can (so it doesn’t drip into the fermenter). Take off the lid and CAREFULLY slowly pour the wort into the bucket. As you get to end of pouring in the wort, you’ll see some green crud at the bottom of the pot. Stop pouring before most of that crud gets in the fermenter. It’s ok if a little bit does, but leaving some of the wort behind is ok, so long as most of the crud stays behind, as well. You should pour in about 3 gallons of wort before you have to stop… that’s why we started with 4 gallons at the beginning… to account for a little bit of boil off, and for the little bit we’ve had to leave behind.
  15. Using the sanitized scissors, cut open the packet of Munich yeast. Sprinkle the dry yeast on the surface of the wort, making sure to avoid clumping the yeast particles… try to get an even layer. If not, that’s ok… you’ll still get beer.
  16. Completely snap on the lid, take the airlock pieces out of the sanitizer and reassemble the airlock. Insert the airlock into the grommet on the lid, making sure it’s sealed tightly. Carry the bucket to somewhere out of direct sunlight, in an area with a fairly constant room temperature… not in a closet on an exterior wall… somewhere with an ambient room temp of around 65-70°F… where no one (or no curious chocolate labs) will bother it. Once you have the bucket where you’re going to leave it, add water to the airlock up the little line.
  17. After 12-24(ish) hours, you should see the airlock “bubbling”… that means the yeast are fermenting the beer. GREAT SUCCESS!
    1. Let the beer ferment for two weeks… keep the temp constant… any changes in temperature can “shock” the yeast and they’ll stop fermenting before they should. The bubbling in the airlock will slow down and stop after a few days. This means that “primary” fermentation is over, but you need to let the beer ferment for the full two weeks. Check the fermenter daily to make sure the water in the airlock stays at the little line… don’t let it dry out.
    2. Spend the two weeks collecting green plastic soda bottles. I go to Shop N Save and get the 7UP bottles on sale, then dump out the pop, rinse out the bottle, and save them. You’ll need about 20 16.9-fl oz bottles.
  18. After two weeks, you’re ready to bottle your beer. Get your bottles together, and using the gallon jug of Star San, completely fill up a bottle with sanitizer solution. Pour the solution from that bottle into the next bottle… then pour that solution into the next bottle… and so on until you’ve sanitized all the bottles. Doing this minimizes the amount of foam left behind in each bottle. Foam is ok… but too much can be bad. If you have any bottles with excessive amounts of foam, let them drain as much as possible. Put the soda bottle caps in a bowl and cover with solution so they get sanitized, as well.
  19. Using a small funnel, add 1 ¼ teaspoons of granulated white sugar to each sanitized bottle. Be careful not to add two doses of sugar to one bottle, or miss adding sugar to a bottle.
  20. Put a glass sunder the spigot of the bucket, open it up, and drain out beer until it runs mostly clear to avoid getting too much trub (pronounced “troob”… the yeast and the crud at the bottom of the fermenter) into the bottles.
  21. Using the spigot on the bucket, fill each bottle to about an inch below the neck. You want to leave a little bit of headspace. Make sure to not aerate the beer… use the “tip and let it run down the side” method when you fill the bottles, like when you pour a pint of draft beer. Try not to let it splash or run in so quickly that bubbles form… this could oxidize the beer and make it taste a little funny later.
  22. Fill up bottles until the beer in the fermenter mostly runs out… you should get anywhere between 15 and 20 bottles. Once the trub starts running out again, you should think about finishing up the bottling. If you have a leftover bottle that is not completely full, discard that bottle… it could explode. Just dump it, and chalk it up as “one for you hommies”.
  23. Tightly cap the bottles. Put the bottles in picnic cooler, if you have one. If not, a storage tote will work… just in case any bottles decide to turn into bottle bombs. The yeast will eat the sugar and produce CO2, which will carbonate the beer since it’s in a closed container. Label each bottle (I use blue painter’s tape) with the beer’s name, and the date you bottled it.
  24. Let the beer carbonate for two weeks at room temperature. The bottles should get ROCK hard.
  25. After the beer has carbonated for two weeks, wait another two weeks and let the beer age a little bit. It’ll make the taste more better. Go ahead and try one if you get impatient, but the longer you wait, the better it’ll taste. If you can, the beer should spend these two weeks of conditioning in the fridge. If not, leave them at room temperature and just put the bottles in the fridge for at least two days before you drink them.

Home Brew Shop Shopping List:

  • 2 1-lb bags of Amber Dried Malt Extract (DME)
  • 2 1-lb bags of Wheat DME
  • 1 oz hallertauer hops
  • 1 11.5-gram packet Danstar Munich dry yeast
  • 1 6.5-gallon Ale Pail with lid (the lid should have a small rubber grommet in it)
  • 1 plastic spigot for the bucket
  • 1 three-piece airlock
  • 1 8-oz bottle of Star San

Grocery Store Shopping List:

  • 2 large bags of ice
  • 1 1-gallon jug of distilled water

When it’s done, it’ll look like this…

And for those visual learners, a few episodes of Brewing TV will help you get an idea of what in the frick I am talking about…

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Contemplating my upcoming brews…

As I said – err, typed – in a previous post, homebrewers have to think about two months in advance. A batch of beer takes about two weeks to ferment, then bottle, then two weeks to carbonate in the bottle, then about four to six weeks to age. So, you have to think… “what beer would be good two months from now?” And, two months from now is mid-November. But, by the time I brew, the two month wait will put me in early-December. What beer is good in early December? I mean… it’ll be cold, so something dark would be nice. I just brewed my bourbon-oak brown ale/Colonial beer, which might be drinkable around that time, as well…so nothing like that. What am I in the mood to drink? Malty… sweet… something that’ll last be filling for the cold. How about a Scotish ale? Mmmm… Scottish ale. Yeah, that sounds good!

You can take our lives... but you can never take our deliciously-drinkable, sweet and crisp with a touch of peat and smokiness session beers!

And something I learned last  trip to the brew store… prepare and take a freaking list, stupid! Don’t forget your grain bill and think you need crystal 120 when the recipe you spent hours tinkering with class for crystal 60. Been there… face palm. So, let’s get the recipe set, and take a copy with you to the local home brew shop.


East End Brewing Company

Session Ale #36 – Nooner Scottish Ale

Batch Size = 7.5bbl (1bbl=31gal) = 232.5 Gallons

(Grain Quantities in lbs)
Pale ale  275 (1.2lb/gal = 19.36 ounces/gal)
Crystal 60L 30 (.13lb/gal = 2.08 ounces/gal)
Dextrine Malt20 (.09lb/gal = 1.44 ounces/gal)
Dark Munich Malt 20 (.09lb/gal = 1.44ounces/gal)
Peated Malt 5 (.022b/gal = .35 ounces/gal)
Black Barley 5 (.022b/gal = .35 ounces/gal)

Safale S-04 Yeast

90 min boil at beginning add 10 oz (.04oz/gal) magnum hops at 14% AA

O.G.  = 11.6 plato = 1.047SG
Wait… is that 275 pounds of base malt in the recipe?!?! 30 pounds of crystal malt?!?! What in the name of sweet reinheitsgebot is going on here?!?! My 5 gallon pot won’t hold 275 pounds of grain.

Ha! Fooled you! That’ s a commercial recipe I got from one of the assistant brewer’s at East End Brewing Company in Pittsburgh, PA. They did a one-off session beer called Nooner Scottish Ale. It was great. Nice and light, lower ABV so you can drink three or four in a session (hence, “session beer”) and not get rip-roaring, falling over drunk.  A light mouthfeel, not too heavy or chewy. A nice touch of caramel sweetness with a hint of eathy/dirt taste from the peated malt (which is malted barley that has been smoked over peat moss, like what they use for scotch). It had a nice, alpha bite hop front, with a malty finish. The beer was very clean, too… it had a crisp finish. It was awesome. And, the wife loved it, too. So, we divide the amount of each ingredient by their volume size to figure out the amount of each ingredient per pound, then multiply that by the size batch we will make to scale each ingredient. There’s another home brew lesson for you… scaling. You can do it for any recipe you find. Of course, once you brew the batch according to your scaled grain bill, you might find it needs a little tweaking to dial in on the taste of the commercial beer you’re trying to replicate.

So, when I scale the grain bill for my 3 gallon batches, I get:

3.6 lbs Pale malt
.39 lbs Crystal 60
.227 lb Dextrine Malt (But, I may substitute CaraPils if I can’t find the Dextrine malt)
.227 lb Dark Munich
.06 lbs (1 oz) Peated Malt
.06 lbs (1 oz) Black Barley
.12 oz Magnum @ 60 minutes… magnum is a very high alpha acid hop, so you get a lot of bittering power out of a little amount

For simplicity’s sake,(and to compensate for me doing a BIAB batch, which takes more base malt to get good efficiency), I’m going to round each ingredient (except the peated malt and black barley). And like I said, I want to make a list so my stupid ass doesn;t forget what to buy once I drive the half hour to the home brew shop.

Shopping list:

4 lbs Pale Malt
.4 lbs  Crystal 60
.25 lb Dextrine/CaraPils
.25 lb Dark Munich
1 oz Peated Malt
1 oz Black Barley
1 oz Magnum hops… even though I need .15 oz, you have to buy hops by the whole ounce.
1 packet S-04 dry yeast

And there it… grains, yeast, hops. That (plus the water that I get from my sink) makes beer. As long as I take my list, I should be good to go. And, the beer should come around just in time for the holidays and the necessary drinking that comes with the sedentary lifestyle of cabin fever and the “seasonal depression” associated with shorter amounts of daylight. Winning.

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Pumpkin Beer

Yes, yes... thinking about pumpkin beer can make you go a little crazy.

Well… it’s that time of the year for home brewers… time to start thinking about late fall. We homebrewers  have to think about two months ahead. From the time we brew, we have to let the beer ferment for two weeks, carbonate in the bottle for two weeks, then condition and age for a month, or so, until all the flavors of the beer meld together and taste good. (Yes, if you keg your beer, you can shave about a week of that time line… and some beers, like hefeweizens, are better without a ton of conditioning time… and lagers take longer to ferment… so in some ways, that “rule” about two months in advance is a rule for a reason… it’s meant to be broken)

But, anyways, pumpkin beer is great. A lot of people like it… so you can hook even the most discriminatingly close-minded Bud/Miller/Coors drinker… everyone has that uncle, right? The one that prefers Keystone Light, or Coors Light… or God forbid, Old Milwaukee… maybe you can get them to try something out of the ordinary because pumpkin beer is pretty unique. One of my favorite brew pubs I’ve ever been to, Rivertowne Pour House in Monroeville, PA, serves a great pumpkin beer… a nice body, a little but of the gord taste, nice spices… cinnamon, nutmeg, maybe a little ginger… nice sweet maltiness with the earthy and spicy hops taking a back seat. They even “salt” the rim of the pint glass with sugar and cinnamon. It’s cliche to say “it’s pumpkin pie in a glass”, but it really is. Awesome. And that’s what I am modeling my first pumpkin beer recipe after.

Punkin' Chunkin'... another glorious celebration of the pumpkin. Flinging and shooting things through the air and tailgating in a field all day in the Fall? Don't mind if I do.

Some breweries realize that pumpkin, in and of itself, is very delicate and hard to obtain flavor… which it is. It’s very hard to capture pumpkin in a beer, so some breweries try to replicate the experience of pumpkin pie by relying on the spices to kind of trick your taste buds into tasting pumpkin, even though they don’t use it. I just  had Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale, and I think they try to do o just that… a cinnamon, and nutmeg bomb to make you think there’s pumpkin in there. It was WAY over-spiced. And, no pumpkin in a pumpkin beer? I think that’s crap.

Here’s my thoughts…

Maris Otter and 2-Row as the base malts to get a little breadiness coming through from the Maris Otter, while getting good conversion power and “crispness” from the 2-Row.

Crystal 60 for color and a little caramel sweetness.

Honey malt… never used the stuff, but supposedly it lends a really nice sweetness. I think it’ll make it have the sweetness associated with pumpkin pie, but not so much that it’s overly-cloying.

Oats… to lift the body of the beer and give it a nice creaminess and round mouthfeel.

Pumpkin… two small cans of Libby’s canned pumpkin… roasted in the over at 350°F for about 30 minutes. I think this’ll help bring out the “pumpkin”ness of the pumpkin, so that the delicate flavor will be detectable when all is said and done.

A teaspoon, or two, of pumpkin pie spice… can’t have pumpkin pie without pumpkin pie spice.

Lightly hopped, with only a bitterness addition, of East Kent Golding hops… let the malts and the pumpkin and spices come through.

So, using those thoughts, I crafted a recipe for my Chunkin’ Punkin’ Pumpkin Ale…

2.5 gallon batch

3 lb Maris Otter
2 lb 2 Row
1 lb Rice Hulls
.50 lb Crystal 60
.25 lb Instant Oats
.25 lb Honey Malt
2 small cans Libby’s canned pumpkin, roasted @ 350°F 30 mins.

BIAB Mash, 60 mins, 152°F

.50 oz EKG @ 60 mins
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice @ 5 mins

S-04 yeast, ferment at room temp in wet swamp cooler.

If I brew this within the week, it should be ready by the end of October. And… a few bottles will likely survive until Thanksgiving dinner with the family.

By the way, for those still scoffing at the goodness of pumpkin beers… Sam Calagione, the founder and master mind of Dogfish Head Brewery, got part of his start by winning the Punkin’ Chunkin’s pumpkin cooing contest with his home brewed pumpkin beer way back in the 90’s… before Dogfish Head was even an idea, let alone one of the most integral breweries in the craft beer movement.

Brewmaster’s (a great show about craft beer on the Discovery Channel… that, of course, was cancelled) went to Dogfish Head as their Punkin’ Ale was rolling down the bottle filling line… or not.

A little extra homebrew fun with pumpkin…

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