Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cider Deodorizer

It's now been about a week since my latest "brew two" session, during which I made 5 gallons of "Graff" (a cider/beer hybrid) and 1 gallon of "Liquid Sunshine" Pilsner. By now the Graff has finished most of its primary fermentation, but is still very slightly active, so I intend on leaving it in the primary as long as it takes, as well as continue to re-wet its towel wrap each day to keep it cool. The pilsner, being a lager and fermenting at colder temperatures in my fridge, is just chugging along at its usual pace, totally normal and happy.

So tonight I went into the linen closet, which is also my brew closet for all room temperature fermentations, grabbed a fresh towel, and headed for the shower. After I finished showering, I snatched up the towel and began to rub down my head and face when suddenly I noticed.... the scent of fresh apples? Yes! I put the towel back over my face and unabashedly drew in a deep breath. Wow - better than Febreeze! Apparently the CO2 escaping from the very active Graff fermentation had been trapped inside the linen closet and managed to absorb into my clean towels. Amazing!

The whole experience was quite a surprise, and now I'm wondering if I should place a carboy full of active cider in my other closets, you know, maybe even one next to the dirty clothes hamper and yet another next to the cat's litter box? I mean, who needs air freshener anymore when you have fermented apple juice gases, right?

In any case, it was definitely another interesting brewing discovery that just made me realize how many fascinating things can occur in the house of a homebrewer.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Brew Two!

I consider myself to be pretty lucky, being that I live only about a half hour's drive from a great homebrewing supply store. Many brewers may never see the inside of an actual brewing store, since so few exist and it may not be worth the drive when you can simply have your ingredients or equipment shipped right to your house. But if you are blessed, like me, and happen to live near a store, then you know how fun it is to just walk around in there and check out all the cool toys!

At my local store, it usually takes a couple of minutes for the owner to prepare and package my ingredients, during which time I am free to wander around like some kid in a candy store, ogling all the supplies, dreaming and scheming of future brewing projects. About a year ago while waiting for my grains to be crushed, I came across these really cool 1-gallon glass containers and I purchased two of them, along with the corresponding rubber stoppers. They have proven to be a great asset to my brewing arsenal, and I have used them to make yeast starters, brew mead, and most importantly, make small batches of beer.

At first I would only brew "experimental" batches with new, strange ingredients, thinking that if the beer came out nasty, at least it would only be 1 gallon wasted, instead of dumping a full batch. Around that same time was when I got my kegorator, so the 1 gallon brewing system was great for producing beers for competition that could be bottle-conditioned instead of worrying about the messy transfer from the keg (I don't have a "beer-gun" or other designer keg-to-bottle tool). I even built a small, 2 gallon mash tun, which worked great for these tiny batches of beer. The only problem with my miniature brewing system was the time involved to brew.

Even the most efficient, energetic all-grain brewer needs at least 4 hours on brew-day, and depending on what methods are used, up to 5 or even 6 hours! Why would you spend all that time to make 9 bottles of beer?!! So that's when I came up with the "Brew Two" concept. Since my 1-gallon system was completely separate from my 5-gallon, why not make two beers every time I brewed, one full batch for kegging, and one small batch for bottling? Any time that I had available for brewing I would barely expend the tiniest bit of extra energy, but get way more out of it. So now I have much more room for experimentation, and now I have more of a variety of beers around in case I grow tired of whatever happens to be on-tap at that moment (my kegorator only has one tap).

So the other day I had another "Brew Two" session, during which I made 5 gallons of "Graff," a sort of hybrid mix of beer and cider, and 1 gallon of "Liquid Sunshine" Pilsner. My local homebrewing club is having a Pilsner competition in October, so I figured the Liquid Sunshine would be ready just in time to compete. I know I said I was going to make Jonny's "Backyard" Bourbon-Oaked Ale my next brew, but when I saw fresh-squeezed apple juice on sale at the grocery store, my recession-scarred mind said, "hey, lets go for a more economical recipe this time." Since I already had some yeast in my fridge, I managed to get the ingredients for both batches for about 25 bucks.

I got the Graff recipe and instructions here, and changed it very slightly to this:

2 lbs pale malted barley
1 lb crystal 60
4 gallons Mott's Fresh-Squeezed Apple Juice
1/2 oz Spalter hops (30 minutes)
1 packet Safale US-05 yeast
5 teaspoons Fermax Yeast Nutrient



And here's my recipe for 1 gallon of "Liquid Sunshine":

2 lbs pilsner malt
4 ozs cara-pils
2 ozs vienna
0.2 oz Spalter hops (60 minutes)
0.2 oz Spalter hops (30 minutes)
0.1 oz Spalter hops (15 minutes)
1/2 packet Saflager S-23

My little 2-gallon mash tun filled to the brim at mash-out:



Bag of spent grains:



Left pot is pilsner boiling (I used a 100 minute boil to avoid excessive dimethyl sulfide production), right pot is Graff wort portion just about to start boiling:



Sweating over my two brew-pots, but enjoying the very first taste of the Belgian Dubbel! (came out awesome!):



After about 6 hours at room temperature, the pilsner makes it way into the bottom shelf of the fridge, active and happy:



I put the Graff into the "brew closet," wrapped in a moist towel to keep it cool. One other quick note: after using 1/2 a packet of Saflager for the pilsner, I dumped the rest into the Graff! I'm hoping the towel evaporation technique will keep my fermentation temperature in the upper 60's, allowing the lager yeast strain to add a touch of fruity character. We'll see what happens, right now both beers are fermenting aggressively and I will, as always, report back on their progress.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

First taste of Home-malted Amber Ale

The other night I finally cracked the first bottle of "Home-malted" Amber Ale, and judging from its complexion, I should probably call it "Dark Ale." Mmmm, very pleasing to the eyes and the pallet, but a bit darker than I anticipated. Very nice head, malty aroma, and complex taste. There is a bit of honey flavor (I added honey to all my home-malted creations after each try produced unusually low efficiencies), then some bitter, chocolaty notes, and finally the hop flavor, which is actually coming through more than expected. This one is a good mix, the kind of beer that you have to puzzle over, repeatedly smelling and tasting to try and come up with a way to describe its flavor. Overall I'm very happy since it's much different than the other two lighter beers I made with the homemade malt. Perhaps even my favorite one.

Here's a couple pictures of the Dark Ale in the glass:





As I've said before, malting my own barley at home was very interesting, and I feel that I learned a lot, but I'm definitely going to hold off on doing it again for a little while. It turned out to be quite a bit of work and I was never able to get very good efficiency from the grain. I want to try again in the winter when I can dry the grains in the sun without worrying about the Florida summer rains. Until then, I'll enjoy the last of my Amber "Ice" Lager, and now my Dark Ale, and plan for the next brew session, a recipe of my own creation: Jonny's Backyard Bourbon-Oaked Ale. Prepare for an attack on the senses! This one is a big beer with lots of different flavors vying for attention. I hope to try and brew sometime this week - I'll see you then!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Homebrew Challenge

The other day, after re-reading my last post, I started thinking - wouldn't it be cool to test people and see if they could tell the difference between homebrew and commercial beer? And also see which they prefer to drink? So I invented the "Homebrew Challenge," a blind taste test between my homemade creations and commercial samples of the same style!

Last night I invited over the first victims: my good friend Jerome and his cousin Randy who is visiting for the week and has never tried homemade beer before. I pitted my Toasted Lager against Yuengling's Traditional Lager, a reasonably well respected commercial offering in the same category: American Amber Lager. According to the US Open Beer Championship website "American-style amber lagers are amber, reddish brown, or copper colored. They are medium bodied. There is a noticeable degree of caramel-type malt character in flavor and often in aroma. This is a broad category in which the hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma may be accentuated or may only be present at relatively low levels, yet noticeable. Fruity esters, diacetyl, and chill haze should be absent."

Neither contestant had tasted my lager yet, and they didn't know what commercial beer it would be paired with. I told them to give away 5 total points (split between the two beers) for each of the 5 following categories: aroma, appearance (color, clarity, and head retention), flavor (malt/hop balance, carbonation, and aftertaste), body, and drinkability/overall impression. The end results? An all-around win for homebrew! My Toasted Lager scored very well in all categories, especially flavor and body. The clarity of the Yuengling surpassed my homebrew, but my head retention and the story it left behind on the glass won me that category.

Jerome, having tasted some of my beers before, was able to identify the homebrew after the first sip, saying "it's less refined, but not in a bad way." He then pointed at the Yuengling and said "The way this comes across is almost watery." I took a video of the tasting, but unfortunately it was a bit dark and didn't come out that well - I will post more video content after the next "Challenge," but here is a stillframe of Jerome holding up the two brews:



Cheers, buddy! Thanks to Jerome and Randy for taking part in the "Homebrew Challenge." I invite anyone else who's interested to stop by and taste the difference!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Session Beer" - the Toasted Lager review

Waiting to taste your splendid, frothy, miraculous malt creation has to be the most difficult thing about homebrewing. Especially when each batch utilizes some new-fangled technique, recipe, or method, which in my case happens quite often. Such is the story with my Homemalted Organic Toasted "Ice" Lager (is the name long enough for you?). Here I sit, having just got home from a barbeque with my friends (during which many blah-tasting commercial beers were imbibed by all those present) just staring at the kegorator, thinking - why not just have one glass? And so I went ahead and poured the first sampling - aaaah, what a wise decision.

Even though this beer has been force carbed in the keg less than 48 hours, I must say that it has great body and is very delicious. This is the first ice beer that I have ever brewed (by accident), and I must say that I can notice an immediate difference in the head formation and retention. Absolutely amazing! After pouring the first glass, I can see that the head is very thick and robust, almost like meringue, and it lasts and lasts. Even when I took the last sip, there was still almost a finger's width of thick foam floating on the surface. So I can't help but wonder - should I freeze all my beers from now on?







I was even tempted to try and balance a quarter on top of this amazing head, but by the time I found one, I had already finished most of the glass. The flavor of this beer is very light and malty with hoppy undertones, actually more hoppy than I expected. A bit more body than the last "homemalted" creation, but very smooth and easy to drink. With its clean aftertaste and low alcohol content (about 3.5%), I would definitely consider this a "session beer."

The term "session beer" is used by homebrewers and beer drinkers to describe a beer that is easy to drink and can be heavily consumed in one sitting without becoming inebriated. Wikipedia defines "session drinking" as "drinking in large quantities over a single period of time, or session, without the intention of getting heavily intoxicated. Unlike binge drinking, the focus is on the social aspects of the occasion." Homebrewers like to say that their session beer is "quaffable," or easy to drink.

But where did these terms originate? I've always wondered about their conception, so lately I have been digging around a bit, and I found this awesome article, which states:

A British expat and buddy of ours in California once suggested that a "session" referred to one of the two allowable drinking periods in England that were imposed on shell production workers during World War I. Typically the licensed sessions were 11am-3pm and 7pm-11pm, and apparently continued up until the Liquor Licensing Act [of] 1988 was introduced. Workers would find a beer that they could adequately quaff within these restrictive 4-hour "sessions" that were laid down by the government without getting legless and return to work or not get arrested for being drunk and disorderly. Now he could be full of shite, but we've found some smatterings of info to back this up and it sounds like a fine origin of the term to us.

Sessionable beers of the time might have been a cask-conditioned offering, Mild or Bitter, at 3 to 4 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), but no higher. Poured into a UK pint glass (20ozs vs. the US 16oz pint), patrons might have had upwards of 8 pints during a session and still remain coherent, ergo the "session beer." Sounds like a lot of beer, but it actually works out to be about 1 beer per hour if you take into consideration the rising ABV of today's beers.


Very interesting stuff, right? However, unlike England circa WWI, there are no regulations regarding drinking "sessions" at my house. So come on by anytime and let me introduce you to a better beer - fresh homebrew!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Ice Beer

Well, I finally finished the "Homemalted" Pale Ale, so last night before bed I decided to transfer my Toasted Lager into the keg with hopes of getting a taste this weekend.

I started by sanitizing my cornelius keg and some plastic tubing for the transfer, and cleaning the kegorator lines. Then I took the container of lager out (I lager my beers in the back of the kegorator), opened it up, and to my surprise found that it was partially frozen! I really do have the coldest beer in town! But is that a good thing? I mean, now what am I supposed to do with this beer ice?

In all actuality, this is a scenario that I have always hoped to some day experiment with. You see, allowing your lager-style beer to partially freeze is not a bad thing in any way. Partial freezing is a technique that can be manipulated in a couple of different ways to produce very beneficial results in your final product.

First, there is a practice called "Ice Stabilization." This is a process where the brewer allows a small amount of ice particles to form in the beer (usually around 5%), and then skims them off before bringing the beer back above the freezing point. The ice particles will contain mostly water, which raises the alcohol level of the beer slightly. Also, I have read that this technique also appears to aid considerably in clarification. The partial freezing seems to trap haze-forming particulates and assist in the fining process of the beer. This, in turn, will obviously make the beer "smoother" tasting, with much more flavor stability. Not bad, right?

Secondly, there is a process called "Ice Distilling." For this procedure, much larger amounts of beer are allowed to freeze and are then removed, drastically increasing the alcohol content of the brew and completely changing the flavor profile. Eisbock beer is the most famous example of this method of brewing. Eisbock is basically a traditional German Doppelbock that has been ice distilled, increasing its ABV to anywhere from 9% to 15%, and concentrating its flavor incredibly.

And lastly, I have even seen a few people who claim that they accidentally froze their beer completely, and then after thawing and kegging experienced dramatically better beer - smoother flavor, better head retention, etc. There are a few guesses I could give as to why this might work, but I think mostly it has to do with clarification and the fact that you have effectively killed off every yeast particle.

In any case, I decided to let my beer thaw overnight and in the morning it still had a few small pieces of ice floating on top. I removed them with a sanitized strainer and proceeded to transfer the beer into the keg. I can't wait to see how it comes out! This will be my first actual experience with ice beer so, needless to say, I'm very excited.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Carboy watching

The life cycle of ale yeast is an extremely fascinating thing to see in action, that is, if you have the benefit of brewing beer in a glass carboy. First, during the initial "lag time," the yeast tends to collect near the bottom of the fermentation vessel, slowly moving and undulating into mushroom-like little clouds, collecting nutrients and oxygen. It looks like it is planning or scheming in some strange way. Then the next 3-5 days of intense growth and activity become infinitely more visually impressive. Suddenly, the yeast explodes with energy, releasing billions of microscopic carbon dioxide bubbles. The CO2 rises and carries the yeast molecules up with it to the top of the fermenting beer, where the gas escapes into a great foamy mass. The yeast continues to react fervently until it slows and clumps together (flocculates) with other yeast around it. These tiny globs fall back to the bottom, creating a sort of "circulating" effect. It is because of this heavy amount of action at the surface of the beer that ale yeast is known as "top-fermenting" yeast.

During the peak of activity, a fermenting ale looks like someone is swishing it around with some kind of huge invisible spoon! Yeast clumps are rising and falling with incredible intensity, foam is billowing from its surface - it really is quite amazing. Homebrewers may not like to admit it, but many of us, including myself, are "carboy watchers." Seriously, there really is nothing like staring into your carboy, observing the crazy party going on in there.



And you can't help but think to yourself - hey, my yeast are having a damn good time, right? I mean, they could be stuck fermenting some boring pile of bread dough, all sweaty and hot in the back of a pizza joint, but no, they somehow made their way into a sweet batch of homebrew - and they are rocking out! Think about it - the yeast organism does not have a huge amount of functions. Whenever someone asks me about yeast, I like to sum up their entire life with this analogy: yeast basically live to eat and reproduce, and then they "fart" pure carbon dioxide, and "pee" pure alcohol. Tell that story at a party and no one will ever forget how yeast works!

But seriously, to sit for just a moment and observe these tiny little creatures and their endless parade of insanity is actually quite calming. It really is nice to contemplate an organism with such a simple existence, doing it's simple task, creating this amazing beverage we call beer. And to think, for thousands of years people never even knew they existed!

Aaaah, carboy watching - call me crazy, but it's just another thing that I love about homebrewing.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Belgian Dubbel

Yesterday I finally brewed the Belgian Dubbel and my brew session was quite successful. I ended up with about 5 1/2 gallons of wort (a little more than expected) at an original gravity of 1.066 (recipe predicted 1.065), and my "tiny-mash" yeast starter worked great - my airlock has been blowing crazy CO2 and I can see the yeast churning with delight.

I have a couple different Belgian Dubbel recipes, but this time I chose to buy an all-grain kit from Northern Brewer. I wanted to try using less specialty grains and allow the flavor to rely primarily on the Belgian yeast and candi sugar (crystalized beet molasses), so ordering this kit was a quick, easy solution.

The kit included:

10 lbs. Dingeman's Pale Malted Barley
0.5 lbs. Dingeman's CaraMunich
0.25 lbs. Dingeman's Special B
1 lb. Dark Belgain Candi Sugar

1 oz. Spalt hops (60 min boil)
1 oz. Czech Saaz hops (1 min boil)

Wyeast #1214 - Belgian Ale Yeast

The suggested mash schedule called for:

122 degrees for 20 minutes (protein rest)
153 degrees for 60 minutes (sacharification rest)
170 degrees for 10 minutes (mash-out)

A great, simple recipe. I noticed quite a few weird stems and chunks of barley plant in my grains for the first time, but my efficiency didn't really suffer, so I guess it was no big deal. Here's some other takes on the Belgian Dubbel style:

(For 5.5 Gallons)

12 lbs. Belgian 2-Row
0.75 lb. Cara-Munich
0.25 lb. Belgian Biscuit
0.25 lb. Aromatic Malt
0.25 lb. Special B

1 lb. Belgian Dark Candi Sugar Syrup

1.375 oz. Styrian Goldings 4.2% Pellets 60 min
0.75 oz. Czech Saaz 3.4% Whole 15 min

White Labs Belgian Golden Ale WLP-570

OG: 1.078
SRM: 18
IBU: 25

OR TRY THIS ONE:

12.00 lbs. Pale Malt(2-row)
0.63 lbs. CaraMunich Malt
0.50 lbs. Victory Malt
0.25 lbs. Aromatic Malt
0.25 lbs. Special B Malt
0.13 lbs. Chocolate Malt
1.00 lbs. Candi Sugar

1.50 oz. Fuggle Pellet 5.00 60 min.
0.50 oz. Fuggle Pellet 5.00 5 min.

WYeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity

Ugh, one thing that I never look forward to on a brew day is the clean-up. Here's my mash tun, bucket & wort chiller, 7.5 gal brewpot with strainer, and 4 gallon brewpot, all filthy and waiting to be hosed down and cleansed:



What a day! See you next time...

Monday, July 27, 2009

How I made a yeast starter without malt extract

Usually when I make a yeast starter, I use dry malt extract (DME) - only because I believe it is the "standard method," and it has sort of become a habit. So I usually have a pound or two in the back of my fridge for that purpose. But if you've had a chance to read about my first attempt to brew with homemade malt, you already know that I had to basically ransack my fridge during that brew session, and all my available DME wound up in that beer (which miraculously came out excellent and I am drinking it right now).

In any case, today I wanted to get a starter going so that I can brew my Belgian Dubbel tomorrow, and suddenly realized I have no DME. So I decided to make a tiny little mash to produce a quart of wort for the starter. First I smacked my Wyeast pack to release the nutrient pack, which needs at least 3 hours to activate:



Then I opened up my ProMash software and created a small recipe. I immediately discovered that ProMash will not allow a recipe smaller than 1 gallon. So I kept the batch size at 1 gallon and adjusted the grain weight until I achieved a predicted 1.040 specific gravity, which came out to 1.44 pounds. Then I divided that by 4 and came up with 0.36 pounds - the amount of Belgian Pale Malt (my primary ingredient in this brew) necessary (at 75% efficiency) to make a tiny mash and produce a quart of wort.

Next I measured out 0.36 pound of grain and 1 quart of water, adding a little extra water for grain absorption and boil off. I also decided to use a couple chunks of Belgian candy sugar, since it is part of my recipe and I feel that it is always best for a yeast starter to consume the same sugar profile it will eventually be expected to devour and make beer out of:



Then I heated up the water to the mid 150's and dumped in my grains. The mixture stabilized at about 151 degrees:



I left it for an hour, goosing up the temp every 10-15 minutes by turning on the stove burner for a few seconds and stirring gently. Then I heated it up to 170 degrees for a 10 minute mash-out. I got out another pan, put my mesh strainer on top, and dumped the mash through it:



I then transferred the strainer back to the first pot and slowly drizzled the hot wort over the grains, performing this action 3 or 4 times back and forth between the two pots:



I eventually ended up with a pile of "spent" grains, and some nice looking wort:



I brought the tiny wort to a boil. Here's its miniature-sized hot-break:



Then I added the chunks of dark Belgian candy sugar:



I boiled for about 10-15 minutes, then dumped it into my sanitized 1 gallon fermentor that I use for starters (no I don't have a cool flask and stir-plate):



I chilled the wort in an ice bath:



And finally, I aerated vigorously, and then pitched my yeast:



And that's it! It's just like a regular mash, just super-tiny! It's the first time I've ever tried doing it that way, but it appears to have turned out very nicely - I guess we'll find out for sure tomorrow morning. See you then!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mead for a good friend

My friend Steve just got married last week and unfortunately I was unable to attend the wedding. However, when Steve and his new wife Jodi return from their honeymoon this weekend, they will finally receive my gift - mead! Over six months ago I found out about the marriage and I decided to brew up a small 1 gallon batch of traditional (but lightly carbonated) mead as a wedding present.

I used 1 pound each of orange blossom, clover, and wildflower honeys, champagne yeast for that extra dry character, and of course yeast nutrient to aid in fermentation, and acid blend for flavor harmony. In the end I got one large "growler" for Steve and Jodi, and four 12 once bottles for me and my wify. I primed the mead with 1 heaping tablespoon of corn sugar to impart a nice "sparkling" sensation on the palate (that's all it takes!).

Anyway, I know that technically six months is not quite long enough to serve a proper mead, but I did open a bottle recently, and let me tell you - I was very happy. I'm sure Steve and Jodi will love it as well, since neither of them has ever tasted mead, and only know of its existence through my constant ramblings at our collective social gatherings.

Here I am on January 16th drinking a homebrewed chocolate-coffee stout and preparing "Potter's Olde Sparkling Mead" (Potter is Steve's last name):



Here's the final product, accompanied by its "Mead Lore" scroll, an overly dramatized "history" of mead (much of which is stolen from Papazian's "Joy of Homebrewing") and a blessing on their marriage. I tried to make the bottle's labels and the scroll look old by burning them with a lighter(!):



The following is what I wrote in the "Mead Lore" scroll (all in Old English font):

Mead, oh glorious mead, the most ancient and sacred of all beverages, was born eons ago in a shroud of mystery and magic. It is quite possibly the first alcoholic beverage ever known to man, believed to have been discovered in old tree trunks that had collected honey and naturally fermented for years. Its intoxicating and aphrodisiacal qualities were the spark of many an unrestrained orgy and outburst of merriment during the Festival of Saturn, celebrated in December in ancient Rome. The Inca and Aztec Indians also brewed mead and held it in high reverence. Throughout the years, mead evolved into a veritable sacrament of great importance and meaning.

Many a tale abounds of the magical qualities of mead; of the joy, the celebration, and even the tragedy that befell its imbibers. Those who are fortunate enough to taste authentic mead today should do so in reverence to all those of the past. Only then can they truly understand the history and heritage imbued in every rosy droplet.

Let it be known that mead is, above all else, a beverage of love. In days of old, the drinking of mead was held responsible for fertility and the birth of male offspring. This is where the tradition of the modern day “honeymoon” got its start. It was believed that if mead was consumed for one month (one moon) after a wedding, then nine months later a son would be born. The custom of drinking mead at weddings and for one month after eventually led to our modern day custom of the “honeymoon”. The mead maker would then be congratulated on his ability to harness mead’s magic for its intended benefit.

Eventually, mead drinking developed quite a reputation for its ability to increase the chance of bearing sons, and became an important part of each family’s traditions. So much so that a special drinking cup, called the “Mazer Cup”, was carefully crafted and then passed down from generation to generation. The couple who drank from the cup would be blessed with the bearing of sons who would carry on the family name, tend to the family’s flock and fields, and fight in the constant wars of that time.

In those days, the making of mead was an art. It was regulated by customs, statutes, and superstitions, and was only allowed to be performed by certain individuals who had been highly trained in the magic of turning honey into mead. Today many have the knowledge required to produce this ancient beverage, but few give its legacy the proper reverence and respect it deserves.

Potter’s Olde Sparkling Mead is an alchemistic blend of three distinctly derived honeys in equal parts: clover, orange blossom, and wildflower. This trio of nature’s finest elixirs have been gently combined, pasteurized, and then allowed to ferment naturally for two months. Primed and bottled, it arrives to you aged over four months. Upon opening, it will release its sparkling effervescence and impart its truth to a place deep within your soul.

I, the mead maker, hereby congratulate you on your union. I ask God to bless your marriage, your life, and your offspring. May you always find happiness, may you always be courageous in all of your endeavors, and may you root all of your aspirations in honesty and integrity. As you drink this mead, please know that I have toiled in its creation out of friendship, admiration, respect, and love. I pray that together we may appreciate the ancient wisdom of mead, and always be humbled in the face of that which is greater than us.

Your eternal patron,



Jonathan C. Windt


Pretty hilarious, right? I will obviously report back after the first tasting by an actual "Potter." Perhaps my son will have another friend soon?

7/26/09: Cracked open the mead last night and it was a great success! Jodi said that it tasted like "liquid flowers." Steve read the entire mead scroll with a weird English accent - I wish I had that on video! Definitely going to brew mead again when I have the chance.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Third brew attempt with homemade malt

Over the course of the last week I have been malting the remainder of my 25 pounds of barley seed. I had about 4 pounds left after the other two attempts, which produced much less sugars than anticipated. The first batch was a total failure, but I attributed my low efficiency to poorly crushed grain (I tried to smash it with a rolling pin in a zip-lock freezer bag). For the second batch, I built my own inexpensive grain mill, which worked great, but I still had poor efficiency for some reason. So I researched the process a little bit more and decided that this time I would allow the barley to germinate longer than the other two times. Also, I would use an extra long protein rest (45 minutes), and an extra long sacharification rest (90 minutes), while continuing to utilize the benefits of a decoction style mash.

The malting process was pretty much the same as last time, just longer (about 5 1/2 days). The only problem I encountered was in the last 2 days mold was rampant. I had to constantly stir the grains and even remove a few clumps that had started to fuzz over. I let the grain develop until all the shoots were at least 100% the length of the seed, meaning many had busted out. The drying process was much faster since I had less grain to dry, and it had more time to succumb to evaporation prior to kilning. The end result was noticeably different - sweeter and plumper! I had a good feeling. I kilned the grains longer than usual until the smell of chocolate and coffee filled the house.

Today I had to do some work online from home, so I decided to brew at the same time. I chose to keep my batch size down to 1.5 gallons, hoping for a high gravity reading. It took most of the day since I was using such long temperature rests, and also just being as meticulous as possible. But in the end, sadly, my efficiency was only about 35%. Unbelievable! I've tried everything and I just can't seem to make this work. I think the only other factor is the temperature used to dry the grain - my oven won't go below 170 degrees, which is a little hot according to what I have read. I keep the door propped open for circulation, but maybe the heat killed the enzymes? In any case, this batch of grain was the most delicious smelling yet, so I am sure this beer will taste great despite being lower on sugars than expected. The odor was like pure bitter chocolate - so intense I could taste it! As with the other two failed batches, I added a little bit of honey and some sugar at the end to bring up the gravity. I am currently about half way through my keg of "Homemalted Pale Ale" (the first crazy batch), and I have to say it is pretty tasty, so I'm not too worried about the others.

One other thing I wanted to mention: the rollers of the homemade grain mill became noticeably smoother after only two batches. I actually had to rough them up again today so they would grind properly, leading me to believe that this cheap alternative may not be quite as perfect a solution as I thought. Oh well, I will end up buying a real one eventually.

In conclusion, I think that after malting 25 pounds of barley at home, and brewing it into 3 different batches of homebrew, each with very poor efficiency, I would say that I've had just about enough of "home-malting." Yeah, I'm done. I've invested countless hours into this project and I don't feel that the results were worth it. I am glad I tried it and maybe I will revisit it someday - possibly during the dry season when I might be able to put my grains out in the sun without worrying about rain - but for now I am going to move back to commercially produced grain. I already ordered the ingredients for my next batch - a Belgian Dubbel. So I'll be brewing again in the next week - see you then!!!

Friday, July 17, 2009

First taste of home-malted pale ale

When I force-carb my beers and I want to get them ready to taste as fast as possible, I put the CO2 at 30 psi for 48 hours, then drop it down to serving pressure. This accelerates the process a bit more than just keeping it at 10-12 psi for a week or two, and seems to work quite well. This is what I did with my "Home-malted Pale Ale," since I really wanted to see how this stuff was going to taste.

So, I just poured my first pint, and it's not that bad! Despite the fact that I had problems with the efficiency of my homemade malt and had to add some extra sugars before pitching, it came out okay. It has a nice hop aroma with a hint of honey (I had to add some honey to bring up my gravity), it is nice and clear and light amber colored, it came in at 5.4% alcohol by volume - it's just lacking body (to be expected), and has poor head retention (also expected).

Here are some pictures of the first glass:





Half empty or half full? You be the judge. I'm just happy to have homebrew in the keg again, even if it isn't the best I've ever made. Cheers!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Too much foam?

I just kegged my "Home-malted Pale Ale" the other day and, surprisingly, it didn't taste too bad - very hoppy with a bit of a honey aroma. It will take a little time to chill and force carbonate, so I'll have to wait just a bit longer for a real test, but overall I'm pretty pleased considering what I went through and what found it's way into that weird beer!

As I was sanitizing my corny keg, I remembered a cool trick that I use to reduce over-foaming when I pour beers from the kegorator tap. I've been using it for a while, so I can't remember what website I actually found it on, and I can't give the proper credit that is due, but I'm sure a lot of people out there are using something like this anyway.

Basically, to avoid over-foaming, you need to either have a bunch of extra line between your keg and the tap, or you need to lower the CO2 pressure so that the beer comes out slower. But if you lower the pressure too much, then the beer doesn't stay as carbonated. Many styles of beer require a high amount of carbonation, and I personally really enjoy a slightly higher carb on all my beers anyway, so what you need to do is figure out a way to slow down the rate of pour without reducing the CO2 pressure. Some people have devised smaller hard plastic tubing that they jam into the keg's dip tube, but I read somewhere about a better solution.

They are called "Bayonet mixer nozzles," and you can purchase them from a company called McMaster-Carr. Here is the link directly to the one you will need, which is the 5.3" L, 1/4" blunt tip model. Basically, this thing is a special tip designed to be attached to some kind of epoxy gun that will mix two substances as they pass through the nozzle housing. Inside the nozzle is a twisty-looking plastic mixer insert that you can remove and slide easily into the dip tube of your corny keg. You can even put more than one in there for more resistance, but I wouldn't recommend more than 2. With 2 in my keg and no extra line involved, I can keep my pressure as high as 14-16 psi and still get a nice, slow pour - perfect for the carbonation I desire.

They only cost $1.38 each (plus shipping) and come in this cool little bag:



Here's what one looks like when they first arrive (see the mixer part inside?):



Use something small to push out the mixer (I used the inside of a pen):



Pull out the mixer insert:



Then pull out another one so you have 2 total. Unscrew the bolt around the "out" valve on your keg, exposing the dip tube. Slide in the mixers. That's it! When you are cleaning and sanitizing your keg and lines, the sanitizer will pass through the inserts and clean them as well, so you never need to remove them. However, they are really easy to remove if you want to clean them better. Also, you can remove and add mixers according to how much carb you desire in different beers. If you have a bunch of kegs and brew a lot, you might have some kegs with no mixers, some with 1 or 2, etc. They are very cool, cheap, easy, and amazing - just one of the little tricks I'm so happy I found out about.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Keeping it cool

By now it's probably pretty obvious that I'm all about cheap, easy solutions to common brewing issues, and since currently I am just waiting around to taste these two screwed up beers I made from "home-malted" barley, I thought I would talk a little about regulation of fermentation temperatures. For me, living in Florida, that means cooling down the fermentation vessel, since I will never need to warm one up as long as I live here. Cooling is something that I need to consider every time I brew, except for maybe those 1 or 2 lucky batches that get brewed in the middle of winter.

Most of the year, we have central air conditioning that keeps our house at a steady 76 degrees, which is already at the high end of desirable temps for ales. But then you also have to take into account the fact that the fermentation process itself generates a small amount of heat, so at that point you end up with your ales being fermented in the high 70's or even over 80 degrees - not ideal. So I use the cooling effects of evaporation to keep my ales chill. All you have to do is wrap a moist towel around your carboy, and the evaporation will keep the beer anywhere from 5-8 degrees cooler than the surrounding air. You can even place a small fan next to the carboy and it should provide even more cooling - depending on the humidity in your house, even as much as 10-15 degrees! You can remove the towel every day and re-wet it, or you can just spray it down every so often - that's what I do:



When it comes to lagers, the only option I have is to ferment them in my regular fridge. If I turn the temperature control all the way up, my fridge stays between 49-51 degrees (a few degrees variation is pretty normal). This can be just a tad low for some yeast, but if you wait long enough it eventually attenuates. I always use a diacetyl rest, which means when the primary action is mostly over I remove the fermentor from the fridge and let it warm up to room temperature over the course of 24-48 hours. This re-activates the yeast and allows it to eat up diacetyl, a compound that is naturally produced during fermentation and tastes like butter - not a good flavor for most beers. After that, I lager the beer by putting it right inside my kegorator - it fits alongside the keg and CO2, and stays around 30-35 degrees (in this picture the CO2 is hidden behind the keg):



I know this may sound crazy, but the only lager fermentor I have that will fit in my fridge is an old 5-gallon kerosene can! I got it a long time ago when I had a salt-water fish tank. When I used to refill the tank with fresh water, the pet store would sell me the water in these plastic kerosene cans, so nothing has ever been inside there except for pH balanced salt water! I basically just drilled a hole in the top, and then inserted a rubber stopper and blow-tube. It fits perfectly on the bottom shelf, and is relatively easy to pull out:



So, even though I don't have any fancy cooling equipment, I still manage to keep my beers as close to ideal temperatures as possible without expending too much time or energy. That's what it's all about, right?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Second brew attempt with homemade malt

So now that I have my own nifty, homemade grain mill and my own awesome homemade malted barley, I feel pretty cool. The day after I finished the mill, I took my second batch of malt (about 10 pounds) and crushed it. The next day I didn't have to work until the afternoon, so I got up early and began my second attempt at brewing with the homemade malt. I felt very confident now that I had crushed my grains properly, and I can't even begin to describe how unbelievable they smelled after milling. So sweet, so delicious, almost like chocolate and coffee!

I performed a similar session as last time, using a double decoction. I also tried boiling a bit longer. In the end, however, my gravity came out at 1.026 - still very low, but a major improvement over my first attempt. Unfazed, I simply added some pasteurized honey and pitched my yeast - I can see now that this is going to be the biggest challenge I have faced since I started brewing.

So I went back to the internet and began searching for more information, trying to discover what else I could do differently. I ended up finding out a few more things about home malting. First, you always have to use at least 30% more grain to achieve the desired results. Apparently, homemade malt will never have the same potential as factory made. Second, it is recommended that you employ a very long protein rest, and also an extra long sacharification rest - most of the information I found said at least 45 minutes at 122 degrees, then at least 90 minutes at 150 (keep your sacharification temp as low as possible). And lastly, boil longer (like 90 minutes) to reduce dimethyl sulfide flavor (tastes like cooked vegetables or shellfish/ seafood), and aid in sedimentation. I guess homemade malt produces a lot more sediment and is harder to clear. I believe this is true because just the other day I transferred my first homemalted disaster to the secondary, and it looked very hazy. I added some polyclar to try and aid in clarification - I am definitely very curious about this weird concoction and how it will look and taste.

So now I have 4 more pounds of barley remaining. Next week I am planning on malting it, and this time I would like to try letting it sprout just a bit longer than I did with my first two batches. Maybe I can get some more sugars out of it and improve my efficiency that way as well? I was planning on smoking the last of my barley, but considering how much I have been struggling to make this process work, I think I will just stick to the basic plan again and shoot for better results.

Also, I just wanted to mention that the whole mashing process that I have been using to make my crystal malt is not necessary! Apparently you can accomplish the same thing just by putting it in the oven and adjusting the temperature properly for the desired time, then kicking it up to caramelization temps.

And so the adventure continues, challenging but ultimately very rewarding. I love it!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Make your own grain mill for $25.00!

Okay, so now that my first "homemalted" brewing attempt was a complete failure, I have assessed my procedures and have come to the conclusion that poorly milled grain was the culprit. I really want to mill these gains properly, so I've been looking online to try and find a cheap alternative to the usual homebrew mills that run between $125 - $200 dollars. I was recently happily surprised to find this blog entry that describes how to make your own grain mill at home for about 20 bucks! So, I proceeded to make a cheap grain mill and will now relate to you my experience.

First, I found the nearest Michaels Craft Store, but you could probably go to any craft store if there isn't a Michaels in your area. I purchased this "pasta machine", which is designed for making thin layers of clay for crafts. It cost about $24. I brought it home and my 15 month-old son Evan tried to steal it from me while I was taking this picture:



Here's a picture after I took it out of the box (it comes with a hand crank and a clamp for attaching it to a table):



Next I turned it over and removed the base:





The "pasta machine" has two sides, one with a knob to adjust the width of the rollers, and one with the entry point for the hand crank. The hand crank side has an exposed screw, so I unscrewed it and removed that side:





Next, I removed the two bolts inside, which turned out to be 10mm in size, and then the end popped off and I was able to remove the top and bottom guides, exposing the rollers:





When this thing is finished, your basically going to pass the grain between these rollers to crush it. The problem is that the rollers are perfectly smooth and designed for dough or clay, so grains will just slide around on top and never pass through. You need to rough them up so the grain is drawn in properly. The blog I mentioned above tells you to take apart the entire apparatus to rough up the rollers, but I decided not to do so, since it looked like a major pain in the ass to remove the spacing knob, and why should I put myself through that? I had already succeeded in removing the guides and easily had enough room to roughen the rollers. I used a hack saw to scratch them, then I beat the crap out of them with the claw side of a hammer. Here's a picture after this process (it didn't come out that clear, but you get the idea):



I put everything back together, but left off the bottom guides. Are they really necessary? I don't think so. I think they are there just to guide the pasta or clay so that it comes out the side instead of straight down, but for our purposes it is better if the grain actually falls straight down. Then I clamped the hand crank to my work bench and used the hack saw to cut off the tip, which I could then place into my variable speed power drill to operate the mill without any effort! (In this picture I've already placed the tip into my drill):



Next I found a scrap piece of plywood and an old "Homer" bucket in my garage and cut the plywood down to fit squarely over the bucket:





I measured the mill and then drew out a rectangle on the plywood that would allow grain to pass into the bucket after being crushed. Then I cut out the hole using a drill and hack saw (the wet spots are from my sweat - I was working in my garage and it was 100 degrees out that day):









I found four screws that were long enough to make it through the plywood and into the mill, and slightly larger in diameter than the existing holes in the mill where the base used to be attached. I figured I could force them into the existing holes for a nice snug fit. So I then pre-drilled holes through the plywood and pushed my screws through just enough so they were peaking out the other side.



After turning over the wood, I placed the mill on top and used the protruding screw tips to locate the base holes. Once everything was lined up, I turned it back over, applied firm pressure with my foot, and powered the screws in. They fit nice and tight so the mill ended up very firmly attached to the wood:







Lastly, I cut a small piece of wood to fit over the top of the mill, and cut the end off of a 2-liter seltzer bottle to form a makeshift hopper. I traced the end of the bottle onto the wood, which turned out to be about 1 inch in diameter. Then I drilled a hole and forced the mouth of the bottle into it. It was so snug that I didn't even bother to use any glue. But I did glue the wood to the top of the mill with this super strong, waterproof cement that I have used in the past to fix up mash tuns. Before I glued it on, I got the idea to scratch up the rollers even more by turning on the drill and then dragging my bit across the rollers. Worked great! One tip though: you have to put the drill in reverse, otherwise the bit will jam in the rollers!











That's it! After that I let the glue dry overnight, and then tested it out the next day. I had to adjust the roller width a few times until I found out that setting # 3 worked best. The only drawback is that it is quite slow. It took me about 30 minutes to completely mill 10 pounds of grain. That is a really long time when you are kneeling down holding a drill. I thought maybe if I cranked the drill up to full speed it would be faster, but it actually worked better at a slow, steady pace. At high speed it feels like the pasta maker is going to literally fall apart, and also less grain gets trapped in the rollers. Here's the first trial of the new "el cheapo" grain mill:

video