So You Want to be a Homebrewer – Volume 1: Recipe and Overview

So, you like beer and want to try making your own batch at home? You’ve read about it on the internet. You’ve heard your buddies talk about it. You figure it’s time – what’s the worst that can happen, right? You drink it, it sucks, you throw it out.

Good for you! Welcome to the community!

Homebrewing is a fun hobby if you are really into beer, and you enjoy learning/practicing a process. It really is something you get better at each time you do it (if you are willing to try and learn from your mistakes). As I’ve talked about previously, my personal experienced started with an IPA kit I received as a gift.  That batch was drinkable, and the reviews from my friends were that it didn’t suck. Hooray for me.

My next batch was a disaster.

I learned very quickly what a waste of time the process can be if you don’t properly sanitize your gear. That experience made me almost give up the hobby. Luckily, I had one gifted kit left, and rather than throw it out, I decided to give it my best shot. I spent some time reading articles online, and watching a lot of YouTube videos from experienced brewers. There is A LOT of nuance to this hobby that is lost when you just read the instructions that are inside of the kit you buy. When you understand the steps, understand the WHY behind what you are doing, and understand how the process leads you to different points in the brewing process, you can better execute the craft. And, you will also be in a better position to make corrections if a problem arises, OR, more importantly, be able to IDENTIFY that a problem is coming.

This series of posts will not be the companion piece to John Palmer’s, “How to Brew.” That dude wrote the definitive book on homebrewing, and you are hard pressed to read any beer forums that don’t refer back to John Palmer at least once. Rather, these posts will walk you through my process in brewing a beer on my stovetop in the plainest language I can provide. If I have to use jargon, I’ll be sure to explain the jargon. I’ve found that when people come over to try my beer, they usually ask about 20 different questions about it, and then say, “…that just seems like a lot, and I don’t think I could figure it out…”

YES YOU CAN.

In 2 minutes, I’m able to explain to people exactly what gravity means, and how important it is to the quality control process simply by putting my hydrometer in some tap water. All of this process can be explained and absorbed by looking at it in pieces rather than as a whole. Yes, its 4-5 hours of work, and yes, there are a lot of things you need to do along the way to get it right, but, it is manageable if you have a plan. You can use as little or as much equipment as your heart desires. Me personally, if there is a way to make the process easier (within reason), I try to either make the equipment or get the equipment.

For the purposes of this series, I’ll talk about the brewing process as it impacted one of my recent beers, The Bunsy Imperial Stout + Oak Chips.

Continue reading So You Want to be a Homebrewer – Volume 1: Recipe and Overview

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Brew Day – Bunsy Imperial Stout + Bourbon Oak Chips – 12/8/18

It’s time to get a little freaky! I don’t want to buy an oak barrel because they are a pain to keep clean/sanitized from what I read. BUT, I do want a way to create a delicious oak flavored beer.

Enter the chips.

Oak chips to be exact. Oak chips, spirals, or cubes are a very useful arrow in the homebrewer’s quiver. As long as they are handled properly, they can add some very interesting character and depth to your beer. I never used them previously, so I’m keeping very basic. I’m brewing a base imperial stout, and then I’m going to soak the oak chips in some bourbon for a week. The goal is to have a nice imperial stout with detectable (but not overwhelming) bourbon and some oak/smoke highlights.

I chose Evan Williams as my bourbon of choice because I like the taste. And, it won’t break the bank. I bought my oak chips (packaged) from my local homebrew store, so no additional prep was needed. I don’t know enough about this process to advocate making your own oak chips – I’m sure that there is some type of prep involved – I’ll save that for another person to explain. You probably don’t want to sweep sawdust off your workshop floor. That just sounds gross.

This oak chip addition will be in the secondary, so I don’t have to worry TOO much about infection. The beer should be alcoholy enough to ward off the plague at that point. But, I do want to make sure I handle these things properly (like a good little home brewer). Here are the simple steps I performed…

  1. get a mason jar and lid (wash, rinse, sanitize both)
  2. dump in the oak chips
  3. pour bourbon on top until the oak chips are covered
  4. shake and let the chips set
  5. top off bourbon to keep the chips below liquid level

The general idea is that the bourbon will sanitize the oak chips. Over the next few days, I checked on the liquid level, and topped it off once or twice as the chips absorbed more bourbon. By week’s end, that jar smelled MIGHT FINE!

Here is where you can personalize the process. Some forums advocate pouring the liquid AND the chips into the secondary. Some advocate just putting the chips into the secondary. It really comes down to your taste preference. Since I only wanted some highlights, I reserved the liquid, and just threw in the chips. The liquid is sitting in my fridge for future deployment (or drinking). It really does smell amazing.

The amount of time the chips sit in the secondary is totally a taste preference. After 5 days, I started drawing mini samples to see how it was doing. At day 7, I felt that the level of bourbon/oakiness was where I wanted (another taster confirmed), and then I bottled. I had three other people taste this sample completely still. THEY LOVED IT. This thing will be amazing once its done bottle conditioning.

Recipe note – it took about 4 oz of bourbon to cover initially, and I probably topped off with about 1-2 more ounces as time went on.

The Recipe:

imperial stout + bourbon oak

Target numbers:

  • Pre boil SG: 1.073
  • OG – 1.102, FG – 1.020

This will be bottled once it reaches its final gravity.

Bought ingredients at my local homebrew store (Bacchus & Barleycorn).

Brew day notes:

  • Date: 12/8/18
  • Stovetop BIAB setup
  • Total time (including cleaning): 4 hours
  • Brew day beer of choice:
  • Brew day A/V stylings of choice:
    • “Two and a Half Men,” season 8
  • Actual OG: 1.114
    • I’ve never hit an OG that high – this is new territory for me! Glad I made a yeast starter!
  • Final OG: 1.031
  • Final ABV: 11.3%
  • What went well:
    • Everything – no issues at all
  • What went bad:
    • Fermentation temp was a little too low for my liking. The basement is reflecting the arctic tundra that is the outside weather. The space heater only does so much without going TOO HOT, so I’ll need to find a more targeted way. I don’t want to build a fermentation chamber, so I’ll have to see what options are out there.
  • Fermentation notes:
    • 12/8 (yeah, same day as brewing) – visible bubbling in airlock
    • 12/12 – still bubbling…
    • 12/15 – 1.036 gravity
    • 12/17 – added bourbon soaked oak chips, but reserved the liquid
    • 12/22 – nice taste in the sample, some nice oak and bourbon character – put in fridge to cold crash for a few days
    • 12/27 – 1.031 gravity at bottling. Missed final OG, but hit the target ABV for the recipe. I think that better temp control during the fermentation would have driven the gravity lower. I’m looking at some interesting solutions for that including aquarium heaters!
  • Tasting notes:
    • 12/27 – this beer tastes amazing. At 10 days on the oak/bourbon chips, this thing is even nice to drink at room temp and still. Its sweet with a little bourbon backbone and some oakiness. I’m very glad that I reserved the liquid and didn’t pour that into the fermenter – the bourbon balance is PERFECT right now. I’m going to put a bottle or two off to the side, and let it age for a couple of months in the bottle. I have a trip to Philly in March, and I know my buddies will want to try this one.

 

Have you ever brewed this style beer before? Please let us know about your brewing experiences. If you enjoyed this post, please like and share. Thanks!

Brew Day – Bunsy Burton Ale – 11/20/18

Being sick kind of blows. I don’t get sick a lot, but when I do, it makes me really miss not being sick. Caught some type of sinus cold/infection and have been under the weather since Friday (this is my 4th day sick). It was my first time taking care of Baby Breaking all by myself when I’m ill.

Guess what – that really bites.

I love watching my kid, but he doesn’t care that I’m sick. He still wants all of his baby wants, exactly when he wants them. He doesn’t care that it feels like a elf is banging a tambourine behind my right eye, and chiseling cartoons with a dull ice pick into my skull. In fact, the little guy actually would giggle when I’d sneeze, hold back my tears, and then shake out my head like Mike Tyson just clocked me.

The best part is I can’t really sleep. Being horizontal just increases the pressure. I’ve accepted that Ibuprofen is now a dietary supplement for me until this passes. According to the internet, that should be any day now.

As the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us, I took 1.5 days off work because its a ghost town in the office during this week, and I’d rather be home with the family and brewing some beer. We are hosting Thanksgiving this year, so we’ll spend a majority of Wed/Thurs prepping food. So, that means I get to commandeer the kitchen for a batch of beer today (I had to look up how to spell commandeer – tricky). Don’t worry – I’ll try not to add any phlegm/hop additions.

I first read about Burton Ales in BYO (a great homebrewing magazine if you’ve never heard of it). The style of beer is named after a town across the pond in merry ol’ England. Here is an interesting article from the interweb about the style. In a nutshell, you need to make some adjustments to your water profile, you should use a burton strain of yeast, and the beer itself is on the darker/sweeter side with the hops (of course). While checking out a plethora of different ways to brew it, I saw people adding brown sugar, molasses, and some other darker fermentable adjuncts. For this beer, I’m slightly adjusting a recipe from BYO. Rather than hop blast at the end of the beer, I’m just going to put the hop blast additions (.16 oz of each East Kent and Pacific Gem) in at zero minutes, and let it set for 5 minutes before cooling. The darkest IPA I’ve ever made was the Hop Dump, and I thought that was a touch on the dark side (it used Crystal 60). I can only imagine the color this will have with crystal 80 AND chocolate malt in it.

I’ve had a Burton style ale before – it was the Burton Baton by Dogfish Head Brewing. It was amazing. That certainly was a one and done type beer because it was right around 10% (bordering on Barleywine territory). As you can see below, this will be slightly less potent if I hit my numbers. Overall, looking forward to this one. That seems silly to say – I look forward to ALL OF THESE!

The Recipe:

bunsy burton ale

Brew notes (I’m not going to regurgitate all of the steps – just the ones that are important):

  • Add water adjuncts into mash
  • 75 minute mash
  • Hops at 60/15/10/1

Target numbers:

  • Pre boil SG: 1.056
  • OG – 1.073, FG – 1.017

This will be bottled once it reaches its final gravity.

Bought ingredients at my local homebrew store (Bacchus & Barleycorn).

Brew day notes:

  • Date: 11/20/18
  • Stovetop BIAB setup
  • Total time (including cleaning): 4 hours
  • Brew day beer of choice:
    • Homebrew – El Hefe
  • Brew day A/V stylings of choice:
    • “The Office,” season 8
  • Actual OG: 1.076
  • Final OG: 1.020
  • Final ABV: 7.4%
  • What went well:
    • Nailed pre-boil gravity
    • Nailed post-boil gravity
  • What went bad:
    • had to add water to top off again – need to adjust my boil metrics in BeerSmith
    • original recipe called for Northdown Hops, but I used them in another recipe, so I subbed in Pacific Gem as the 60 min bittering hops (since the alpha acid was in the ballpark of Northdown).
  • Fermentation notes:
    • 11/20 – in to the tank – MAN, this thing is dark brown
    • 11/21 – slight bubbling
    • 11/22 – BUBBLES!
    • 11/27 – 1.020 gravity, added dry hop addition
    • 12/4 – bottled
      • Sample is dark and sweet but bitter. Doesn’t have much hop aroma. I’m enjoying the flat/room temp sample. Certainly a different beer.

 

Have you ever brewed this style beer before? Please let us know about your brewing experiences. If you enjoyed this post, please like and share. Thanks!

Brew Day – Breakfast Stout – 11/11/18

It’s football sunday again. My Eagles are the night game against the Cowgirls. We get to display our new weapon (Golden Tate). I hope they find a lot of interesting ways to deploy him.

I’m a huge fan of Breakfast Stouts. Especially, if the stout has coffee in it. Founders is one of my favorites, so I used a recipe from BYO that was a Founder Breakfast Stout clone, and make a couple minor grain changes. I recently drank my last Founders Breakfast Stout, so, rather than buy more, I decided to handcraft some.

I’m excited about the coffee additions – I’ve always only added a cold brew to the keg – this is my first time actually boiling with the coffee and adding grinds into the secondary. Should be a blast! The wort was crazy sweet, and the sample I tested before putting into the fermenter was pretty amazing – great depth of flavor there, and OMG THE COFFEE! It’s a shame this won’t be ready for Thanksgiving – I have a feeling that people will enjoy this a lot.

The Recipe:

Breakfast stout

Brew notes (I’m not going to regurgitate all of the steps – just the ones that are important):

  • 75 minute mash
  • Hops at 60, 30, 0 min
  • Coffee and chocolate at 0 min
    • Let brew rest for 30 minutes with 0 min additions before cooling

Target numbers:

  • Pre boil SG: 1.066
  • 1.65
  • OG – 1.085, FG – 1.016

This will be bottled once it reaches its final gravity.

Bought ingredients at my local homebrew store (Bacchus & Barleycorn).

Brew day notes:

  • Date: 11/11/18
  • Stovetop BIAB setup
  • Total time (including cleaning): 4 hours
  • Brew day beer of choice:
    • Homebrew – Chicory Dry Irish Stout and El Hefe
  • Brew day A/V stylings of choice:
    • FOOTBALL!
  • Actual OG: 1.093
    • Exceeded expectations – NICE!
  • Final OG: 1.024
  • Final ABV: 9.2%
  • What went well: pretty much everything
  • What went bad: I knocked over my stainless steel hop holder and spilled some Cacao and Coffee at 0 min. No biggie – just had to run through a strainer into the fermenter.
  • Fermentation notes:
    • 11/17 – added .66 oz of ground coffee
    • 11/20 – drew a sample at 1.024 (about 8 points to theoretical FG)
      • Coffee aroma, coffee/chocolate taste, slightly sweet. VERY DARK
      • Remembering that I was 8 points over my target OG, so not sure how much further down this will go.
    • 11/24 – bottled! Tastes amazing!

 

Have you ever brewed this style beer before? Please let us know about your brewing experiences. If you enjoyed this post, please like and share. Thanks!

Brew Day – Spiced Winter Ale – 10/28/18

It’s football sunday. My Eagles are playing across the pond (London), and the NFL Network has the exclusive rights to broadcast the game. Since I’m a cord cutter, and chose a streaming service (Hulu) that DOES NOT offer NFL Network, I’m resigned to watching the game via the NFL.com app on my Samsung phone. I tried streaming to my TV using the Miracast app, but (and even though it worked), when I activated the NFL app, the screen went black and said, “NFL.com does not allow sharing with other screens.”

Jerks.

I’d like to know how they can even do this. Its like some type of wizardry. I really thought I beat the system for a second there.

I spent a portion of yesterday balancing my kegerator system. Getting the pressure and resistance just right really is a balancing act and takes patience. It comes down to knowing the desired pressure for your style of beer, and then going through the process of setting the pressure, drawing beer, resetting pressure, releasing pressure, drawing beer, and doing this until you get homeostasis in the system. I think I finally got it. My beer is pouring pretty well.

I also spent a portion of the AM prepping a batch of local apple cider for fermenting into hard cider (post coming soon). Within a couple hours, that bad boy was fermenting nicely.

Today’s beer recipe is a nod to the cold weather coming our way. A nice dark and heavy spiced beer is great for winter. I do enjoy stouts, but a nice spiced ale with some alcohol bite is perfect for cold nights in front of the fireplace. Since this one projects out in the 9%-10% range, I don’t want to do a 5 gallon batch and keg it, rather it’s perfect for a small 1.5 gallon batch and bottle. This recipe is kind of a clone/knock off of a guy’s recipe from my BYO magazine, but my grains are slightly different (I’m keeping his ratios though).

The Recipe: (note – see below about subbing Carafa 488 for Chocolate 350)

old winter ale

Not pictured in the recipe is the spice extract. This will be my first time making this type of spice extract. Basically, I’m steeping cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and ginger in 4 oz of Vodka for a week. Once primary fermentation is done, I’ll add the extract a teaspoon at a time to taste.

Brew notes (I’m not going to regurgitate all of the steps – just the ones that are important):

  • Made a yeast starter with my S-04
  • 90 minute mash
  • 90 minute boil
  • Hops @ 60 min
  • Add extract after primary is done

Target numbers:

  • Pre boil SG: 1.065
  • 1.5 gallons
  • OG – 1.087 , FG – 1.020

This will be bottled once it reaches its final gravity.

Bought ingredients at my local homebrew store (Bacchus & Barleycorn).

Brew day notes:

  • Date: 10/28/18
  • Stovetop BIAB setup (decided to get an actual brew bag for $10 and see how long it lasts)
  • Total time (including cleaning): 4 hours
  • Brew day beer of choice:
    • Homebrew – Chicory Dry Irish Stout
  • Brew day A/V stylings of choice:
    • FOOTBALL!
  • Actual OG: 1.091
    • Exceeded expectations – NICE!
  • Final OG: 1.022
  • Final ABV: 9.2%
  • What went well: pretty much everything
  • What went bad: Had to change a grain due to B&B not having chocolate. Since the SRM on the chocolate was 350, I subbed in a dark grain to provide the color. Ended up with a carafa with an SRM of 488. Little darker than anticipated, but what can you do!
  • Fermentation notes:
    • 11/2 – good activity in fermenter
    • 11/10 – gravity at 1.024 (target was 1.020, so pretty good)
      • added 2 oz of spice extract to the batch
        • did a taste sampling at 1 tsp per 6 oz, and it was too strong, so I cut it in half – reserved remaining 2 oz of extract for future beer
      • sample tasted nice even before the spice extract
    • 11/17 – bottling with 1.09 oz cane sugar – hoping a bottle is semi-carbed for Thanksgiving! The sample tastes pretty darn good. The aroma is amazing.

 

Have you ever brewed this style beer before? Please let us know about your brewing experiences. If you enjoyed this post, please like and share. Thanks!

Homemade Hard Cider – 10/27/18

As a family trip last weekend, the Breakings drove out to Louisburg Cider Mill . The trip was two-fold…

  1. Get some pumpkins and get some pictures of Baby Breaking amongst said pumpkins
  2. Get some pumpkin spice donuts

I decided to make it an even better trip by getting some jugs of cider and resolving to turn one of them into booze.

I’ve never made homemade hard cider before. I’ve consumed commercial cider and enjoyed it. I’m a pretty decent homebrewer and understand the mechanics/nuances of making a fermented beverage. So, I did some Googling on home hard cider making just to ensure that I learned any intermediate steps that aren’t the same as beer brewing. It’s about 90% the same, luckily. There are MANY ways to make your hard cider – since this was my first rodeo, I opted for the simplest approach, just to dip my toe in.

In general, you can ferment anything that has fermentable chains of sugar in it when you introduce viable yeast, and create an environment where they can do their thing. Apple juice (and yes, cider) have these fermentable sugar chains, so it’s just a matter of doing the proper requisite work to set up that environment for the yeast to thrive.

If the cider/juice is NOT pasteurized, you’d need to boil it just like wort in beer production. Also, and this is a big deal, you can NOT use juice/cider with preservatives in it. So, if you are going to give this a try – aim for preservative free juice/cider. Lucky for me, the cider at Louisburg is pasteurized already, so I can skip the boil step and go right to sanitizing/pitching.

Before pitching your yeast starter, you can add pectic enzyme to the cider as a clarifier. It doesn’t impact taste at all – just clarity (it makes the pectins in the juice/cider fall out of suspension). I did buy a pouch from Amazon, but at the last second, decided not to do it. Again – since this is my maiden voyage into cider land, I didn’t want to add a variable that could screw it up. I want to get this first batch under my belt, and then I’ll focus on the bigger picture and improving my process.

One note about the yeast – I was going to get Nottingham Ale dry yeast by Danstar (very highly recommended by a majority of the sites I checked out). But, I opted to go with S-04 because some other sites said it works almost as well, and, I already has some S-04 on hand. So – win win.

When I skipped the pectic enzyme step, the last thing to do was take a gravity reading, and then pitch my yeast slurry and throw in the airlock bung. Done and done. The gravity of the cider was 1.052. Not bad. If you want to make your cider more alcoholic, you can add brown sugar or other sugar ingredients to up the gravity. Again – trying to keep this down to as few variables as possible, I opted to keep the gravity as is. If it ferments out to under 1.010, I’ll end up with a pretty decent cider.

Brew day notes:

  • Date: 10/27/18
  • Used cold pasteurized local cider from Louisburg Cider Mill
  • Actual OG: 1.052
    • Note – I didn’t add any sugar – that was the OG right out of the bottle!
  • Final OG: 1.000
  • Final ABV: 6.8%
  • Fermentation notes:
    • 10/26/18 – prepared a yeast starter using Fermentis S-04 and about 4 ounces of the hard cider from Louisburg Cider Mill. Within a few hours, you could see some activity in the mason jar, so that was very encouraging
    • 10/27/18 – poured the starter into the half-gallon jug of cider and put on my airlock.
    • 11/16 – cold crash
    • 11/17 – bottled at 1.000
      • Used 1 oz of sweet cider per 22oz bottle for priming
      • Tastes like hard apple cider – little on the dry side. I’ll break this out during Thanksgiving and let the family sample and render a verdict. All in all, not a bad first cider batch!

 

Have you ever brewed hard cider before? Please let us know about your brewing experiences. If you enjoyed this post, please like and share. Thanks!