Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter Solstice Dunkel

Ahh, lager season. When I try to prove that a world class beer can be brewed in 32 degree weather on a porch. I like to think yes.

Dunkel means dark in German, which is what it is outside by the time I get done brewing. Which tomorrow or the next day being solstice, it made sense that I would brew a dark one.

Munich Malt(dark)- 5 lbs
Munich Malt (light)- 4 lbs
Carafa 2 (400L)- 2 oz
CaraPils- 8 oz
Melanoidin Malt- 8 oz

Perle- .5 oz- 60 minutes
Tradition- 1 oz- 15 minutes

White Labs WLP833 Bock

127/150/166- Double Decoction

Gravity- Projected/Actual/Final/ABV

I cannot account for that high gravity. It could have been the massively stuck lautering process again, which has me designing a new mash tun. I'm thinking something where the false bottom is weighted to about 10 pounds, thereby making it impossible for grain to get under it.

The decoction process was something I've done before, but I had never attempted to do it where I was trying to hit an exact temperature rest. I had always played it safe by doing it at mash out, which is not too tough, since if you miss your temp, as long as you don't miss too high, it's not too big a deal. Today I moved from the first rest to the sacch rest, and I absolutely nailed it. All I can say is to do your calculations (or have Promash do it for you like I do), and pull the exact amounts, and it'll work out okay. I'm interested to see what kind of maltiness I get from this technique.

The recipe is pretty German. I try to stay well within what you'd expect for a style the first time I brew a certain beer, then I can make my adjustments from there. All German malts, all German hops, and a southern Bavarian yeast. I'm a little worried that it might be a little too dark (that Carafa is soooo dark, you really don't need much to make a massive color adjustment), but it should taste like it was brewed in a cave outside of Munich by a guy wearing lederhosen.

I've never repeated anything, but I think this may be my first. I'm doing my first lager a little sooner this year, so I think I may try it at the end to see how the repeatability of the recipe is.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Highlanders Kiss- Scottish Ale

I have been trying to come up with some recipes lately to round out some styles that I haven't previously brewed. Unlike my dad who tries to completely fill his mash tun with grain (I keep trying to tell him that it's not like Belgium in the old days when you would get taxed based on the size of the mash tun), I tend to start out with my beers on the small side.

So I was a bit surprised when I wrote up my recipe for my first Scottish Ale that my gravity pushed it to the upper reaches of the style. I tried to imagine a Highlander, what with his kilt and no undergarments, drinking a beer with and original gravity of 1.035 in rainy 50 degree weather while tending his flock in the Scottish Highlands, and it just didn't seem right. I pressed ahead with my Export strength recipe, and came up with this:

Highlanders Kiss Ale

Maris Otter- 7 lbs
Crystal Malt 20L- 8 oz
Flaked Barley- 8 oz
Smoked Malt- 4 oz
Carafa 400L- 4 oz

Goldings- 1 oz- 90 minutes

Wyeast 1728- Scottish Ale- 1000 ml starter

Gravity- Projected/Acutal/Final/ABV

156/167 mash out- hot water infusions

Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) will no doubt know that I typically have difficulty obtaining the ingredients I went for at the LHBS. I only had one substitute on this brew which was the Carafa (subbing for an equal amount of Roasted Barley). Meaning it was more or less what I set out to make. The name Highlanders Kiss is for the kiss of smoked malt I threw in to give it just a hint of smoke. Oddly, a lot of what I read said the German smoke malt is more suited to the style than a Scottish Peat malt, which I don't understand, but whatever. Perhaps when I'm perfecting this recipe once and for all, I'll try a batch with both to see how it turns out. Everything else is pretty straightforward. One hop charge at the beginning of a long boil, Scottish yeast, etc. Predictable brew day, hopefully to be a good brew. This yeast strain didn't form the normal krauesen that I expect, so I'm cautiously optimistic. I know it was viable yeast, so I'm giving it three weeks in the primary fermenter.

As far as the rest of the year, I'm at a crossroads. It seems to be getting much colder earlier than last year, so I may brew my sour beers and get on with the lagers. We'll see what the weather does and take it from there.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Saison Dunkel- A German Belgian

I don't drink Saison's very often, mainly because they're so damn expensive, but sometimes the expense is worth it. I had a Saison Dupont last night, and it just reminded me why I love the style so much. Peppery, spicy, and totally balanced. So good.

Today I brewed the second of two Saison's I will brew this year. I did a more classic version a few weeks ago, so today's was a darker brew. I read in Farmhouse Ales that some German's do some variations on the styel, so it seemed like a fun idea to do a darker incarnation that featured some German grains.

Saison Dunkel-

German Munich Malt- 3 lbs
Belgian Pilsner Malt- 3 lbs
Vienna Malt- 2 lbs
Special B- 8 ounces
CaraFoam- 8 ounces
Sauer Malt- 4 ounces

Fuggle- .75 oz- 60 minutes
Fuggle- 1.25 oz- 15 minutes

Yeast cake from Saison #1

148/165- hot water infusion with a decoction mash out

Gravity- Target/Actual/Final/ABV

I always go back to Randy Mosher's Radical Brewing when I'm putting together a recipe lately. One of the things he talks about is squeezing as much color from your base malt as possible. I had originally planned on using a dark Munich malt instead of a light, but this beer was still noticeably darker than the first one. The Special B is a classic Belgian Dubbel ingredient, so it seemed like the right roasted Malt to use as my other main color adjustment. The yeast does most of the work on this beer, so there's a very small amount of hops in relation to the gravity, but I think this will be a tasty brew.

I was putting together the list of beers I want to make in the next few months, and I've got some really fun things coming up. I will be harvesting some hops here pretty soon, which will go into my first Harvest Ale. I am planning on a Cocoa Porter using some Scharfenberger Cocoa Nibs as a bittering agent. I am also really excited about doing a Scotch Ale, which will employ a small bit of smokey malt. Good times!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Saison #1

My dad has a way of describing jobs around the house by how many beers he needs to drink to get the job done. Cleaning the p-trap in the kitchen sink would be a one beer job. Building a garden box for my mom would probably be a two beer job. Farmers in Belgium 150 years ago felt the same way. Not having much farm work to do in the winter time, they brewed beer, a style called Saison. It was meant to be a low alcohol easy drinking beer to give to the farmhands to refresh them in the hard hot summers.

It is also probably my favorite style of beer to brew. Because it was brewed on every farm, every farmer had his own recipes, typically using whatever ingredients he had on his own farm. This made for some massive diversity, to the point where there is no real standard bearer beer for the style. Brewers know when they're drinking one, but no two are alike. Like the guy at the home brew shop said to the this weekend: "Get the right yeast, throw a bunch of crap in your mash tun, and let it rip!"

Saison #1

Rahr Premium Pilsner- 8 lbs
Sauer Malt- 5 oz
CaraFoam- 5 oz
CaraVienne- 5 oz

Wilammette- 1 oz- 60 minutes
French Streisspalt- 2 oz- 14 minutes

Wyeast Saison 3724- 1000 ml yeast starter- pitched off the stir plate

148 single infusion with a 1 gallon decoction mash out

Gravity- Target/Actual/Final/ABV

Saison yeasts are typically very high attenuators, so my aim with the grain bill and mash is to make something that will finish dry. This is the first of a couple Saison's I'm going to do, so I decided this one should be light in color (more of a classic Saison), with small amounts of character malts. The next one will be darker, less classic, and more dependent on darker base and character malts. I wanted an unobtrusive bitterness to balance the grain, so I went with Willamette. The Streisspalt flavor charge is more of the sort of thing you would expect to find in a classic recipe, something a farmer in Wallonia might have growing in a far off corner of his farm. They were unlike any hops I've used before. They didn't have that greeny freshness you find with American hops, but more of a solid spice aroma coming off of them.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Makin' it up

My beers recently have had one common thread running through the recipe: the brew store didn't have have what I was looking for, so I made it up there in front of the sacks of grain, reusing the yeast, and whatever hops happen to be left over in the freezer. This week's beer was supposed to be a stout, but the brew store I visited in Lansing, Michigan had everything I needed and more except for roasted barley. I haven't been brewing a long time, but everything I've read about stout is that without roasted barley, you have something that would be called something other than stout.

I've done a lot of pale ales this summer, mostly because it's pretty easy to come up with a recipe on the spot, but I feel like it's something I'm getting decent at. And again, of all I've read, beer nerds say that if you can't brew a good pale ale, you aren't yet brewing good beer. So, while standing there at the Red Salamander (again, good beer store, minus the roasted barley), I decided on another pale ale.

Pappy Pale Ale

2 Row Pale Malt- 7 pounds
20L Crystal- 8 ounces
80L Crystal- 8 ounces
Roasted Barley- 8 ounces

Nugget- .5 ounces- 60 minutes
Nugget- 1 ounce- 15 minutes
Nugget- .5 ounces- Knockout

Yeast Sludge from the previous two batches

Mash Schedule-
149/167- hot water infusions

Gravity- Target/Actual/Final/ABV

The highlight of this brew day was undoubtedly getting to brew with my dad. This is, after all LaVoy Boys Brewing, and this was the first opportunity that there have been multiple LaVoy's at a brewing session. In principal my dad was treating it as a chance to see a more experienced brewer brew, and I was treating it as a chance to show off a little, but really we both wanted to brew up some beer as father and son. It was miserably hot (90 in the shade, probably closer to 105 next to the burner), but it was probably my funnest brew session ever.

The beer itself: straight up pale ale. Two row. Two types of Crystal malt (because as Randy Mosher says: when one malt would be good, two would be better), and a decent amount of the leftover roasted barley. Nugget hops are pretty high alpha acid, so I think a subtle roastiness will give it a nice backbone.

I have no idea if my readings were accurate at all, as my dad pointed out that I took the sample with the crud from the yeast cake, so I was probably closer to the 1.046 that I had targeted than I thought.

Next up, I'm going to do a couple of Saisons, as I've been itching to brew one. I think I'll probably order a lot of my stuff online to be sure I can do what I want. Then will be the yearly sour beers, one with fruit. Then some darker ales. I can't wait.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

IPA Insanity!

Last year was marked by a distinct lack of hops in a lot of my beers. Partly, it was due to THE GREAT HOP SHORTAGE OF '08 (NO!), but I think it was mostly due to my being a fairly new brewer. I was loathe to make something undrinkable because I just plain hopped the shit out of it.

This year I'm much more comfortable with my hopping rates, pairings, and also with how I'm using the malts to balance that. My first IPA this year was absolutely fantastic. I've given a few out to taste, and it's gotten some pretty rave reviews. Of all my beers, I would feel comfortable putting that one on a shelf in a store right now.


Maris Otter- 9 lbs
Crystal 90- .125 lbs
Brown Malt- .125 lbs
Flaked Barley- 8 ounces

Willammette- .5 oz- First Wort Hopped
Willammette- 1 oz- 60 minutes
Vanguard- 1.5 oz- 15 minutes
Vanguard- 1.5 oz- 5 minutes
Vanguard- 1 oz- Dry Hopped

151/165- hot water infusions

Wyeast 1968 London ESB- yeast cake from the Come Hell or High Water Ale

Gravity- Target/Actual-/Final/ABV

The grain bill in this one turned into another attempt to use up what specialty malts I had. I forgot to get some Crystal 60, and I used up all my Crystal 90, which turned out to be less than half of what I had planned on using. So, I pressed the Brown Malt into service. Roasty flavors in IPA's are not completely out of place, but I went with a really light hand on it. Maris Otter: what can I say? I would use it in every ale if I could. While my first IPA this year was a high alpha acid brew, this one used some pretty low versions, but with a very respectable 42ish IBU's. I'm hoping for more of a spicy hoppiness in this one, where the first one was more fruity. The London ESB yeast fermented last week's batch super quick, and the Chinook hops were right up front in that one, so I think this one will be really good.

I'm really hoping to get in a couple of Saison's before the weather turns cooler, although it hasn't been real hot in Chicago this summer. But I'm torn between that and maybe getting in one more fun late summer ale on this yeast cake before I do some darker ales in September and October. We will see.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Come Hell Or High Water Ale

My plan this weekend was to do a Saison. The warm weather is perfect for just letting a fermentation take off without worrying about how warm it gets. The trouble was that when I got to the brewing store Saturday afternoon, they didn't actually have a single ingredient that I had gone in there to purchase, the most devastating of which was the yeast. My Saisons last year were all done with regular Belgian Ale yeasts, but this year I really was looking to brew them with a true Saison yeast to see how they improved.

Faced with this crushing defeat, standing in front of the disappointingly empty racks shelves where grain usually sit (lots of specialty malts, but very little base malts), I decided that come hell or high water, I was going to brew on Sunday. I came up with the following recipe:

Officially: CHOHW Ale

Muntons Mild Ale- 5 lbs
Maris Otter- 2 lbs
2 row pale- 1 lb
Victory Malt- 8 oz
Crystal 90- 4 oz
Black Patent- eh...oz. I used up whatever I had left. I think it was about .125 oz

Chinook- .5 ounces- 60 minutes
Chinook- 1 oz- 15 minutes
Chinook- 1.125 oz- 1 minute

Wyeast 1968- London ESB

154/168- Hot water infusions

Gravity- Target/Actual/Final/ABV

The thing I'm most excited about with this beer is the yeast. Most of my regular American Ales I've done have been done with the same yeast strains (one from White Labs and one from Wyeast, but I think from the same brewery). I've never used this London ESB before, and while Chinook hops wouldn't normally be your first choice with this strain, I had some that needed to get used, and it seemed like a fun thing to do. It was also my first chance to try out hopping a pale ale with an eye toward super charging the hop flavors by doing most of the hop additions later in the boil. The grains were mostly chosen from what they still had at the store, and what I had left over in my pantry that needed to get used up (i.e., the single pound of regular 2 row pale malt, and all of the specialty grains).

I liked the way my Stonebridge Pale Ale turned out earlier this year with the higher mash temperature to make the beer seem bigger, so that definitely informed my mashing decisions. I plan on kegging this beer for use at a BBQ or party in our garden later this summer, so regular readers of my blog (all three of you) can start kissing up to me now if you want to be invited. Joking.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


And finally the tripel. If you've never had this style of beer, you are seriously missing out. In principle, it's a big refreshing beer. The Belgians are big on talking about digestibility in their beers. Which is to say, something you can sit down and eat with as opposed to something that would fill you up all on it's own. The tripel is sort of the culmination of that, as it's something you sort of NEED to eat a meal with. The style inherently contains a lot of sugar which makes it really high in alcohol. If you sit down after a long day in the garden with a few of these and no food, you can get yourself pretty drunk really fast.

But again, that's not really the point. Beer, while refreshing and fun on it's own, is best enjoyed with food. I continually see articles in Bon Appetit where people are mentioning beer more and more in food pairings. And there are some foods that just pair better with beer than with wine, so it makes sense that you would start to see this. According to Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster of The Brooklyn Brewery, it's a good style for game birds and gamy hams like prosciutto. I am psyched about having this beer with a nice big dagwood type ham sandwich in August on the picnic table.

On to the recipe!


Belgian Pilsner- 8 lbs
Vienna Malt- 2 lbs
Belgian Aromatic- 4 ounces
Carapils- 4 ounces
Clear Homemade Candi Sugar- 2 lbs- put in the boil at 45 minutes

Kent Goldings- 4.6- 1 ounce- 60 minutes
Chinook- 13- .25 ounces- 13 minutes

Wyeast 1388- Belgian Strong Ale- yeast cake from Single and Dubbel batches

149/167- hot water infusion with a decoction mashout

Gravity- Target/Actual/Final/ABV

The grain bill of a tripel is geared toward being able to stand up to the large amount of sugar that's going into the beer. That sugar ferments completely, so you need good stuff on the front end to make sure it's got a bit of malt and body to hold up under all that alcohol. Good Pilsner and Vienna malts are perfect for this. The Vienna especially is going to leave a little something that the yeast can't convert. The Kent Golding hops as a bittering addition are a traditional tripel ingredient. The Chinook not so much. I was kind of inspired by Chris, my neighbor who brews for Three Floyds, after talking to him about my single to try some unconventional hop additions. I probably should have done a little more research about the hop pairing of Goldings and Chinook (in truth, I didn't do any research at all), but homebrewing is about experimentation, and the Chinook addition is a tiny one at 1/4 of an ounce, so I don't think it will impart too much harshness. I added the sugar during the boil. Some people have been advocating adding it to the secondary, but I kind of like the idea of getting a little character from what happens when the sugar is a part of the boil.

The gravity came out a little low. I think if there is one aspect to my brewing that I have not really been able to get a handle on yet, it would be evaporation rate. I was unaware of how much volume would be added from the two pounds of sugar syrup, along with the relatively imprecise measurements on the side of my kettle for volume (I basically took a metal file and marked the side as best I could for the 3 to 7 gallon marks). This can get really imprecise when you put multiple whole hop additions in the kettle, along with the immersion chiller and the hop screen. Definitely something I plan on working on. In the end, I collected 5.5 gallons of beer into the carboy, which made my gravity almost the same as with the dubbel. The good news is that there was an extra pound of sugar in there, so I should get the divergence I was looking for from the two beers.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


The Belgian Dubbel is probably one of my favorite styles to drink, and to brew. It's got everything in it, although to be fair, probably not a hop head style. The malts are upfront, the Belgian yeast gets free reign to express itself, and there's the signature dark candi syrup to boost the alcohol and keep it light. Seriously. If you stuck me on a deserted island for the rest of my life, and the only beer I had access to was Chimay Red, I'd probably be cool with that.

Also: I really enjoy using Special B for some reason.

Belgian Pale Malt- 7 lbs.
Munich Malt Dark- 2 lbs.
Special B- 12 oz.
Aromatic- 4 oz.
Homemade Candy Dark Candi Syrup- 1 lb.

American Kent Goldings- 1 oz.- 60 minutes
Mount Hood- .875 oz.- 14 minutes

Wyeast 1388 Belgian Strong Ale- yeast cake from the Belgian Pale Ale batch

151/165- Hot water infusions

Gravity- Target/Actual/Final/ABV-

There are a few departures from the previous versions I did. I changed the Vienna malt to Dark Munich which should give it a hint of roastiness along with a little extra color (my previous versions turned out orange as opposed to a deep brown that I had been shooting for). New hops, new yeast, but the best part was the sugar. Belgian candi sugar at a homebrew shop is tremendously expensive (something like $5 for a pound), and the candi syrup that they use in Belgium is even worse (more like $9). I've read up quite a bit about it, and every source seemed to say that these were basically cooked up versions of regular sugar that you can buy at the grocery store for a few bucks for a five pound bag. In Brew Like a Monk, Stan Hieronymus even talked to a brewer who had an analysis done by Archer Daniels Midland, and they told him it was regular sugar, so just buy sugar. So I cooked this one up myself. The result so far: I am never buying sugar at the homebrew store again. It took a little longer to cook up than I was expecting, but I got a nice dark color out without roasting it. All for less than a dollar.

A very successful brew day, and I'm very much looking forward to tasting this. My last one I did for Thanksgiving last year didn't have as much time in the bottle to condition, so I want to see what the yeast can do with a proper long storage period.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Single- Belgian Pale Ale

This beer is the first in my Gay Beers 2009 series. As I said in my last post, my plan is to do three successive beers on the same yeast, each getting stronger and bigger. It's a page out of Ted's book, and he brews some damn good beers, so I'm guessing it'll be a success. I'm not bothering with names for these, so this one is simply called the Single.

The Single-

Belgian Pilsner Malt- 6 pounds
Munich Malt- 2 pounds
Cara Pils- 8 ounces
Belgian Aromatic- 8 ounces

Fuggles- 1 ounce- 60 minutes
Simcoe- .875 ounces- 15 minutes

Wyeast 1388 Belgian Strong Ale- pitched straight from a smack pack

151/168- Hot water infusions

Gravity- Target/Actual/Final/ABV

I was so pumped to start brewing my Belgian beers this year. I love the spicy beery deliciousness they bring to my belly. I hadn't brewed this style before, so I turned to Michael Jackson (the other one) for most of my recipe notes. Pilsner Malt for most of the gravity. Munich for a little extra kick, sweetness and color. Cara Pils for some body, and Aromatic for...umm, I forget, but I'm sure it'll add something. My plan was to use Fuggles all the way through (more on that in a minute), but I'm interested to see what the Belgian yeast will do with the Simcoe's, which are really a classic western IPA hop. And of course, the lovely yeast. I am always so impressed with what flavors and aromas a Belgian yeast can squeeze out of what you throw in a carboy. I picked the Strong Ale yeast partly because I hadn't used it before, and partly because the successive beers I'll be making with it will be pretty high octane, especially the tripel. Lower pitching rates tend to add esters to a beer, so I deliberately pitched without a starter to maximize the effect.

Most of brewing at this point is a lot of waiting around, which is great, because there is loads of free beer, and that means there's plenty of time for drinking some while I'm watching the beer brew itself. Most of what needs to be done is in the last fifteen minutes. I had been waiting for a repair guy to show up at the house for several hours, and of course, he decided to pull up 18 minutes before the end of the boil. I was dry hopping an IPA, and had two varieties of hops on my table. Of course, instead of throwing 1 ounce of low alpha acid spicy Fuggles in at the fifteen minute mark, I threw in 7/8 of an ounce of high alpha acid fruity Simcoe. Needless to say, I was pretty upset for about an hour. Which is when I ran into Chris from Three Floyds. While our dogs sniffed each others backsides, we discussed the recipe, and my mistake. His response was that is exactly the sort of thing they would do at his brewery. Apparently, Fuggles and Simcoe go well together, and are complementary when blending. So there you go. Happy accidents.

Next up: The Dubble

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Gay beers

If you've seen the movie "In Bruges," you will know exactly what "gay beer" stands for. If you haven't seen it, you should (this means you Grandma).

In the film, one of the main characters keeps referring to Belgian beers as gay beers, and his beloved English Pale Ales as regular beers. Truth is, the gay beers are the best beers (I know of at least 7 Germans who will be seriously disappointed by that statement, but it's true). My buddy Ed said before I brewed my first beer something to the effect that brewing is all about making a nice environment for your yeast. Belgian beers are about the character of the yeast driving the flavor and aromas more than any other. And despite the strict nature of the guidelines for beers in general, I feel like I have the most freedom to experiment with these.

Brewing here is highly contingent on temperature control of fermentation, of which I have none. So it's all seasonal. Belgian yeasts have a tendency to be able to deal with higher temperatures, so it is the time of year where Brauerie LaVoy turns into Brasserie LaVoy. Where I go from making Bölkstoff to making something a bit finer.

I'm going to do my gay beers in two parts. Ted has been doing series of beers with the same yeast, and I will try something similar here. The first part will be a series of Abbey style Belgian Ales, a single, a dubbel and a tripel. The second will be a series of Saisons. Some of what I'll be doing will be building on what I've done before. I've done a couple of dubbels, and a couple of Saisons. The overall approach will change a bit. Instead of expensive candi sugars from the home brew store for the higher octane brews, I will be using sugar concoctions that I cook up on my stove. I'm going to experiment with some different grains for the Saisons, especially with spelt (which is an heirloom varietal of wheat).

Needless to say, I am really excited about this. I was driving Kerry crazy last week mulling over whether to start these beers last weekend or not. I decided to wait, because I wanted to be fully ready for these. GAY BEERS!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

American Hops, American IPA

I really started my serious brewing last year in the midst of a 500 year hop shortage. As such, I felt like it was a little odd to try brewing an India Pale Ale, because hops were in short supply, and really expensive.

I ordered some some supercharged American hop varietals recently from Freshops, and it seemed like it was time to let loose with a hop bomb.


Marris Otter- 7 pounds
Two row Pale Malt- 2 pounds
Flaked Barley- 8 ounces
Crystal 40- 8 ounces
Victory Malt- 8 ounces

Chinook- .5 ounces- 60 minutes
Simcoe- 1 ounce- 15 minutes
Simcoe- .75 ounces- 5 minutes
Simcoe- 1 ounce- Dry hopping in the secondary

Wyeast 1056- American Ale yeast- 1200 mL starter- pitched right off the stir plate

153/167 mash out- hot water infusion

Gravity- Target/Actual/Final/ABV

I had written this recipe up last week, but I completely changed it around after a conversation with Ted about using hops which blew my beady little brain as to how I use hops. The Chinook hops are a classic American IPA hop. The Simcoe hops instantly became my favorite variety when I popped open the bag. They smelled so fresh and fruity, almost with peach undertones. The grain bill is a larger sized version of what I made a few weeks ago for a pale ale. I added some Victory malt to give the beer a bit more malt flavor. I've been reading a lot of Randy Mosher lately, and he's an advocate of getting most of your color from the base malts for the Pale Ale family, so Marris Otter is the backbone of this one.

As far as brewing goes, I could not have asked for a better day to make beer. The weather was absolutely beautiful, and I was able to finish cleanup right before the rain started. Great day, and hopefully a great beer.

Coming up are my favorites to brew: Belgian beers. I'm so excited to be getting back into the Dubbels, Saisons, and start using the crazy expressive Belgian yeasts.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Red Rye

I've been doing quite a bit of experimentation with my beers since going to all grain brewing, but I've been hoping to do some more work on some older recipes. Specifically, I had been thinking about having a sort of Haus Bier. Something that I've always got a few bottles of, that's good, that if people stop by, I know I can bust this out, and it'll be a crowd pleaser. My Rye Ale last year was definitely a candidate. It was really smooth, not too assertive, so it would work for beer nerds and BMC fans alike.

Red Rye-

Two row pale malt- 5 lbs
Rye Malt- 3 lbs
Crystal Malt 60L- 8 ounces
Black Patent- 3 ounces
Rice hulls- 1 pound

Willammette- 1 oz- 60 minutes
Noble hop mix- ?oz- a few minutes

Wyeast 1056 American Ale- pitched on to the yeast cake from the yet to be named Pale Ale from the week before

98/125/151/157- hot water infusions- the 157 was supposed to be a mash out, but I just ran out of room in my cooler. 5 gallons is definitely undersized. I may need to upgrade this year.

Gravity- target/actual/final/ABV

This is pretty much the same recipe as last year, plus a little Crystal malt and some Patent for color (this seems to be the year of Black Patent color additions). As far as the hops go, I feel like when I'm brewing something like a Rye, I want the malt to really be showcased, and the hops should be in the background. The Willammette addition should give it a complementary bitterness. The Noble hop melange is a mix of Mt Hood and Crystal that I had only very small amounts of, so I was looking to get rid of them. I was a little frustrated by the mash problems I had earlier, so they were really more of an afterthought.

Needless to say failing to hit my mash out temp turned the mash into a five gallon cooler full of cement. I vorlaufed, started the runoff, and I don't think I got to half a gallon before the mash just set completely. It was back to transferring the mash to a bucket, so it turned into a long and tremendously messy brew day. The rice hulls didn't do a damn bit of good as far as I could tell, and I think the 98 degree rest was far to thick to do any good. Anyway. While this beer is going to be a good one, the thought of brewing it every four to six weeks as a Haus Bier is just a little more work than I think I could take. I may try a different iteration later this year with flaked rye instead. I'll have to research what sort of differences that would make.

Pitching on to the yeast cake was explosive. So explosive, in fact, that in the week it took me to get around the writing this, it's already done with primary fermentation. I racked it yesterday.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Last Minute No Recipe Pale Ale

I had planned on doing a retooled version of my Rye Pale Ale this weekend, but had a last minute change of plans. I got a call from Ted Saturday morning inviting me to be part of an event based around building arcade games from reclaimed materials. Being a part of a fun event like that was too good to pass up.

The invite itself presented a couple of problems. I would have four weeks to brew, ferment, condition and carbonate a beer. This would mean kegging it. The recipe I had planned on brewing was not the sort of beer that would be ready that quick. I was no where near any brewing software to come up with a recipe. So, I walked into Brew and Grow, grabbed a bunch of grain, and sort of made it up on the spot.

LMNR Pale Ale-

Maris Otter- 7 pounds
Flaked Barley- 1 pound
Crystal Malt 60L- 8 ounces
Crystal Malt 90L- 2 ounces

Fuggles- 1.25 ounces- 60 minutes
Wilammette- .5 ounces- 13 minutes
Willamette- .5 ounces- Knockout

Wyeast 1056 American Ale- I had a yeast cake from my 1 gallon barleywine. I made a 1000 ml starter to help roust the yeast, since this needed to take off right quick. I ended up pitching this as the just as the krauesen was on the way down, which, as I understand it, is the best time to pitch into your brew.

155/172- hot water infusions

Gravity target/actual

As I was first considering this recipe in the car, I was thinking something like a bitter might be good. But Ted had just brewed one, and I didn't want to serve the exact same thing as him at this event. So, a smallish Pale Ale would be in order.

This should be a really good beer. I've been reading Extreme Brewing, and Randy Mosher recommends getting as much color from your base malts as you can, hence hte Marris Otter, which I've never used before. The high mash temp is going to make it feel like a bigger beer than it really is, the flaked barley should make it look like a bigger beer than it is, and the quick cooling time (I went from knockout to under 100 degrees in about 10 minutes) should make the hoppiness really pop. The yeast I was using tends to work with what you give it, so I think I made a real nice clean flavored pale ale. I was a little high on the OG, which has to do with evaporation more than anything. That's something that I'd like to get a little better at predicting this year. All in all, close enough.

The brew day itself was miserable. It was rainy, cold, and starting to snow as I was finishing. I usually do most of my clean up as the beer is chilling, but today I was not in the damn mood to plunge my hands into cold waste water in a 39 degree drizzle. It makes me wish the Illinois Lottery would have pity on me and see fit to award me enough money to build a proper brew shack.

As far as having it ready on time is concerned, I saw the first bubbles in the blowoff bucket about 20 minutes after pitching the yeast. That is a definite good sign.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Confidential to Phil

Step 1- Pour yourself a brew
Step 2- Rinse bottle with hot water
Step 3- PBW and rinse a day or two before bottling
Step 4- Star san right before bottling
Step 5- Weep at the beautiful head on your brews

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One Gallon Christmas Barleywine

Lager season is over, and it's time to start busting into some serious ale brewing. I'm excited about this, partly because the whole temperature control thing about lagers is a little stressful, and partly because I did some good stuff last year that I want to improve on, and some stuff I want to try out new. I'm going to try a few different incarnations of my rye beer that I did last year. I feel like that was a really good first effort, and could turn into a sort of always on tap haus beer type of thing. I'd like to redden the color a little, and see what sort of interesting things I can do with it, while still letting the rye drive the flavor.

But first on the docket was to do a barleywine. I used a White Labs ale yeast most of last year, and while it did some good beers, it also pooped out on the last few, which led to some tremendously over carbonated stouts, and some spectacular Brown Ale bottle bombs. I decided to use Wyeast 1056 American Ale to do a few right off the bat, and since I didn't have much carboy space, I decided to do a one gallon batch, and start repitching the yeast cake. I haven't done a barleywine before, partly due to the smallness of my MLT, so a one gallon was perfect. I would only need to mash a few pounds of grain, so I could make it as thin of a mash as I wanted. Here it is:

One Gallon Christmas Barleywine-

2 Row Pale Malt (organic)- 3 lbs
Crystal 60- 4 ounces

Cascade- .5 ounces- 90 minutes
Cascade- .5 ounces- Knockout

Wyeast 1056 American Ale- Pitched straight from the smack pack

152- infusion

Gravity Target/Actual

The general idea behind this was to do a pretty big, super hoppy American style Barleywine, ferment it in a one gallon jug, decant it to two separate growlers after the primary fermentation, and then bottle in a few months. I'm thinking I'll bottle it in some Duvel bottles, as they are such a heavy gauge, and will easily hold the pressure if the carbonation gets too much in the coming months. I'll let it sit til Christmas, and then hand it out to family and friends.

The gravity came out low because I had not really done a one gallon batch in the stockpot I used, so it was a little difficult to know how long I could boil to get the evaporation that I was looking for. I collecting two gallons, and boiling for almost two hours, and ended up with a little over one gallon. I probably could have gone a little longer, since my last hop addition was going to be at knockout, and then I could have topped up the fermenter if I needed any volume. Brew and learn, I guess. It should still be real interesting as I boiled it pretty hot for so long. There was little in the way of character malts, so most of the color will come from the caramelized sugars. The Cascades should explode in aroma when these get poured. I was literally able to take it from knockout to pitching temps in 8 minutes, so the aroma addition will be real fresh.

Note to self: anytime you do a really big beer in a one gallon jug, add a blow off tube. The initial fermentation was positively volcanic. Awesome, but messy. It was pumping out some fantastic Cascade aromas too.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Darkish American Lager No. 2

Every brewer hears about how if you do the same beer with two different yeast, you end up with two completely different beers. I had never done that before, but my last lager of the season gave me the perfect opportunity.

The first version of this was made a month ago with an American Pilsner yeast strain. I did my smoke beer two weeks ago with a Bavarian strain. The American strain is sort of geared toward accentuating hoppiness. The hallmark of a Bavarian Lager is the malts, so this was set up perfectly.

Darkish American Lager No. 2-

German Pilsner Malt- 5 lbs
Vienna Malt- 3 lbs
Crystal 60- 2.5 oz
Cara Vienna- 4.375 oz
Cara Hell- 9.125 oz
Black Patent- 1/2 oz

Nugget- 1 oz- 60 minutes
Vanguard- 1 oz- 8 minutes

Wyeast Bavarian Lager 2206- Yeast cake from the Rauchbier

152 infusion/168 decoction mashout

Gravity target/actual-

I didn't have access to a computer for this beer, so I only sort of remembered what I had done the first time. The malts ended up being close, and the hops slightly closer, but there were some definite changes. The malts, especially the character malts were more geared toward using us what little was left of some stuff that's been sitting around for a while. The Nugget hops are pretty high in alpha acids, and with the slightly higher amounts, the bitterness of this beer are going to really pop. Much more bitter than I usually make.

The brewday went really well, after last time's gas issues. I ended up watching parts of several soccer matches while brewing this one. I was up high on my gravity, which I pin to better mash efficiency. I calculated my numbers based on 75%, but I was probably closer to 80%. Pitching to the yeast cake made it take right off, to the point that I'm going to rack it this weekend. I had a small sample fermenting in a test tube in the kitchen to keep an eye on gravity progress, and I'm thinking it should be ready to rack as soon as this weekend. It smelled very bready. Outside temperatures are starting to get warmer, and I'm anxious to get it to the lagering phase before the weather gets in to the 50's every day.

Up next ale season 2009 kicks off. I hadn't really been thinking much about ales recently, so I'm going to try to make some improvements to some of last years recipes, but there will be some completely new ones too. I'm going to start it off with a one gallon batch as a starter for an update/redo of my rye beer, which was one of my tastier efforts last spring.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

No Gas Smoke Beer

My MO for this year is to start to develop some of the stuff that worked well last year, but I also want to build some stuff that I can work on for next year. My brewing buddy Ted did a smoke beer last year that was absolutely fantastic, and it was definitely the inspiration for this one, with it's smooth forward smoke flavor and beautiful red hue:

No Gas Rauchbier-

German Pilsner- 3 lbs
Dark Munich- 3 lbs
Rauch Malt- 3 lbs
Cara Pils- 8 oz
Black Patent- 1 oz

Mt Hood- 7/8 oz- 90ish minutes
Crystal- .5 oz- 10 minutes

Wyeast Bavarian Lager 2206- 1000 ml starter

OG Target/Actual-

I had been wanting to do a rauchbier, but I wanted an even amount of smoke in a medium sized beer. Something you drink several of because it's a strong taste but still refreshing. The hops are low alpha acid noble varietals. They should provide some nice bitterness, but I didn't want much since the star of this beer was supposed to be the malt. To that end, I picked a Bavarian Lager yeast, which is supposed to highlight malts. I'm planning on using the yeast cake in another version of the Darkish American Lager No. 2.

So it was a real cold brew day (somewhere in the 20's), and to keep the gas flowing I had to dunk my propane tank in hot water. And then about ten minutes into what was supposed to be a 90 minute boil, I realized I was about to completely run out. I dropped everything, ran to the gas station and got some more. My boil stopped for about 15 minutes as near as I can tell, since on my trip to get gas, I zeroed out my stopwatch. By the time I got the gas going again, my wort was about 160 degrees.

At that point, this beer was basically screwed in the sense that it was not going to end up with what I had wanted. I decided once it got boiling again to just boil another 60 minutes, and call it a beer. I had a lot more evaporation than I had anticipated, so I ended up with a much higher gravity and a lot less beer. Something like 4 gallons or so.

Oh well. As I always tell my dad when he's having issues with his beers: the worst case scenario is you made beer. I'm thinking once it's in the bottle, I'll lay it down for a while, as the higher gravity with the smoke is going to need some time to condition.

I also now have two propane tanks, so I'll never run out again. Now I just need it to stay cold long enough to do another lager before spring arrives.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Darkish American Lager No. 1

I hadn't brewed in a month, mostly due to a crazy work schedule, and it was time to get this show back on the road.

The recipe-

Pilsner- 4 pounds
Vienna Malt- 4 pounds
CaraVienna- 4 ounces
CaraPils- 4 ounces
Crystal Malt 60L- 4 ounces
Black Patent Malt- 1 ounce

Nugget (11)- .75 ounces- 60 minutes
Vanguard (4.6)- .875 ounces- 10 minutes

Wyeast 2007 Pilsner- 1400 ml starter

149/167- hot water infusions- missed this by 1 degree

Gravity Target/Actual-

My initial idea with this beer was to make an orange one. It struck me that orange as a taste is probably not all that hot in beer form (truth be told, "orange drink" was horrendous out of those leaky McDonalds cups when we were kids). I wanted some depth of flavor, but I didn't want grain soup, so while there are a few different character grains in it, they are low in weight (the Patent Malt was just there to darken it a little. And it does not take much. I think it was something like 2 tablespoons worth to get the color I wanted). The Nugget hops will give it an assertive forward bitterness, but the late Vanguard addition should make smooth too. Balance. I would have called it Balance Beer, but that sounds like maybe a manufacturer of energy bars for ladies have gone into the beer business. You know, like, it's beer, but it helps fight Osteoperosis. Maybe you could have a bunch of women sitting in those inexplicable Viagra commercial bathtubs in the middle of some far off field drinking them and laughing together. Or maybe a bunch of women in one bathtub. At least it would be a fun commercial anyway.

Super close on my temps, super close on my gravity, blah blah blah. It was nice to brew again. I'm glad my technique is consistent. My beers this year are going to be so much better. I can't wait to crack the first one of these open sometime late in March.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Holy crap

The news: I have not brewed yet this calendar year.
More news: I will brew a lager this weekend.

I have just finished up an epic month long work related project. I am ready to brew again. I had planned on doing a one gallon batch to get the yeast cake for a big lager, but I'm going to scratch that. I've probably got another month and a half at best for doing lagers, and I'm going to try to squeeze three brew days out of that.