Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bulgarian Brews

Looking at my pageview stats the other day, I noticed one access from Bulgaria.  I decided to see what the brewing situation was in Bulgaria, as you don't generally hear anything about it in our press or online media.  I did some basic Google searching and of course ran across which provides a listing of the eleven of the thirteen breweries in the country.  Most are owned by large brewing conglomerates like InBev, Heineken and Carlsberg.  I checked each name, (Almus, Ariana, Abtika, Boliarka, Burgasko, Kamenitza, Ledenika, Pirinsko, Shumensko, MM Varna, and Zagorka), in to see others' comments.  Beer only came to Bulgaria in the mid 1800s, brought by immigrants from France, Switzerland and Austria.

The highest rating was a 58 out of 100 (within the style) and 3.06 weighted score (where the mean is 2.75) for Stolichno T’mno (Bock) from Zagorka.

Some nice comments about it, but one thing that I noticed about many of the reviews of the brews from Bulgaria, was that there was often a comment about a metallic taste.  I looked for some pattern, as for Stolichno, the comment came from an Israeli drinker, so perhaps it was due to the canning and time in transit or on the shelf.  Although, other reviewers in Norway and Denmark didn't report it.  I then went down the list and looked up Kamenitza T’mno, a dunkel, from the oldest commercial brewery in Bulgaria.  Again an Israeli finding a metallic taste, but at least this brew had a lot of reviews, many very positive.  Finally scrolling through the reviews, someone from New Zealand, then some from Sweden, Ontario, CA, Finland and Wisconsin, US reporting a metallic taste.  Overall the comments were very complementary, the weighted rating fairly average and one reviewer brought up the point that dark beer had only been introduced in the mid 1990s to the Bulgarian brewing scene.  Having just lagered a dunkel over the summer, I can sympathize with the brewers' difficulties with it.

Next I checked Pirinsko Svetlo Pivo, a pilsner from the Pirinsko brewery owned by Carlsberg.  Again, Israeli and Finnish reviewers reported metallic tastes.  I checked back to see if they were the same reviewers as before.  Neither the Israeli or Finnish reviewers were the same as reported the metal in the Kamenitza.

If Kamentiza was delivered in a bottle as shown on Ratebeer, then the metallic taste isn't from the canning.  However on the Bulgarian Beer site, it shows both bottles and cans, so who knows how the reviewers received the product.  Back to the reviews.  Aha - the reviewer from Wisconsin got the brew in the bottle, as did the reviewer in Finland.

Next I Googled "water quality in bulgaria" and reached the site which has a very detailed analysis of the water in Bulgaria from 2007.  Phew, the analysis certainly seemed like the water itself could be at fault - some parts of the country have natural lead, chromium, manganese, nitrates (which have a twangy taste), and iron.  The water treatment systems in the country don't remove these metals, so I imagine in many cases they end up in the beer, unless the brewery specifically treats the water.

It would be interesting to see if the water is treated at the breweries, given the sizable backing most of the breweries have.  I don't think this would be enough for me to not sample Bulgarian brews, given the chance and the many positive reviews I've seen.  Perhaps the viewer from Bulgaria will fill us in on the breweries' filtration systems.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Brew 12 - Belgian Wit..sort of

My son is a big fan of Blue Moon's Belgian White Ale, although sometimes he'll grab a Shock Top.  some folks are quick to point out..."YOU KNOW ITS MADE BY MILLER/COORS?" 

Yeah, we do, and you know those guys have been making beer a long time and their brewers maybe hamstrung by the guys in the marketing department, but they do know their stuff.  Blue Moon is actually a separate craft beer division a couple layers removed from the mass produced Coors and Miller Genuine Draft divisions.  They have their own brewery, brewmasters, etc. and have come up with some really good brews - red ale, pumpkin ale. farmhouse ale, various wheat ales and an abbey. 

So since my Saison is almost gone already, the next brew on my list was a Belgian Wit, to see if I could make something my son would like.  I wasn't trying to exactly duplicate Blue Moon, but wouldn't complain if I did.  Should have looked deeper before starting, since I didn't realize they use oats in the brewing too.  I found a Belgian Wit on from some brewer named Brad.  I found several others and combined the recipes and altered the ingredients a bit to use up some of the stuff I had on hand.  Well, a little more than a bit.

I had a bunch of small batches of hops laying around - .2 ounces of this, .4 ounces of that.  Remember I only brew 2 gallon batches, so I end up with lots of odds and ends, half packets of dry yeast, half bags of specialty grains, etc.  I did some comparisons on the hops and substituted my .3 oz of Hallertau US hops for Saaz to use as the aroma hops. 

I picked up a regular naval orange and zested it; probably some other orange you're supposed to use. I used SafeBrew WB-06 yeast instead of WLP400.  I did have enough Kent Goldings on hand, pale ale malted barley, some light crystal malt and some flaked wheat.  I still needed a little higher SG so I found half pound of honey.  Okay, so we are way off from Blue Moon I suspect, but there should be enough wheat - 1.6 lbs - to make it taste like a wheat beer.

Went through the normal process, sanitizing, heating up the mash. 

Found out an interesting tidbit from a plumber that came by to flush my water heater.  He said that the resin based water treatment system I have only removes chlorine and particulate, so my water still should have enough carbonate and magnesium for brewing.  That's not what the water treatment guy said, but I'm sure he's just giving me the company line so I don't freak out that there's still calcium in my water.

While the mash was cooking, I took the coriander in a zip lock bag out to the garage and crushed it with a hammer.  Tough little buggers.  Have to do the same with Chocolate malt when I use it - can never seem to get it to go through the mill at the homebrew store.  Almost seems oily.

Kept the mash at 155 instead of the multiple steps I usually do.  Didn't seem to matter, did an iodine test after 60 minutes and it was fully converted.  So started sparging with a grain bag in the fermenting bucket to avoid having to rack the wort:

Then on to the boil for 60 minutes with the Kent Goldings going in as soon as the boiling started.
Turned off the heat after the 60 minutes and threw in the Hallertau hops, coriander and orange peel and let those sit for 5 minutes while I filled up a cooler outside and the sink with cold water.  This is the part I really dislike, trying to cool this stuff down.  Fortunately the weather has gotten cooler at night and the water in the cooler really helped bring it down relatively quickly, with the help of a few ice packs.  I used the grain bag again to sift out the hops, seeds and peels.  I also poured the wort back into the fermenter and kettle a few times to oxygenate it, plus let it splatter pretty well into the glass jugs.  I had started the hydrating the yeast with some of the wort during the boil, so it was good and ready by now. 
Here's all the jugs, hoses and towels ready in the cooler to start fermenting.  Twice a day I soak the towels in cool water to keep the jugs at 70 degrees.  The starting gravity came out to 1.055, which is about what I was targeting.
We'll see in a month what I end up with.  Should be fairly drinkable.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Delta King and River City Brewery

Sometime in the early 90s I worked a contract for this insurance company in the LA area.  Notwithstanding some very bizarre management staff and some real characters on my staff, I had several very memorable experiences there.  The first one was on the initial interview - I flew with the IT management team up to Sacramento on the company jet, formerly owned by an Arabian prince, complete with mahogany trim, sleeping space for 4, and a stocked wet bar.  Eventually I was hired and we made several trips to Sacramento.  Later when I worked for a Big 5 consulting firm I also spent the better part of a year in the Sacto area.

One time we were having strategy meetings...<yawn>..very forgetable.  But the best part was that we held the meetings and stayed in staterooms on the Delta King.

The food was out of this world and the interior of the ship was very elegant.  The staterooms were so-so - looked like the original furniture and the mattress felt like it from the 1850s. Kind of a musty smell too.  The IT director had the captain's quarters, so he was living large.  The Delta King is docked at the end of K Street and the whole wharf area has dozens of craft shops, restaurants, bars and is just a great place to spend the evening.  K Street itself is closed off and turned into a pedestrian mall.  Not far from the wharf is the River City Brewing Company.

River City Brewing Company

River City Brewing is a brewpub and one of the first I'd ever seen.  I wandered in not realizing that they actually brewed right there. The fermenting tanks were a very visible part of the decor.  I took a quick scan of the board and was fascinated by the implications of an Oatmeal Stout.  I'd had settled for plenty of Guinness in the past and knew that there had to be more to stout from what I'd had in England. In the States, it was usually the only dark beer on the menu.  I was really looking forward to the difference that the addition of oatmeal would make.  I wasn't disappointed.

The head was dense, tan and lasting; the taste was out of this world.  Thick layers of coffee and roasted grain flavors and that distinct hint of oatmeal comprised the complexity of its taste. Nice medium body and silky mouthfeel...just the perfect example of the style.  From then on I was hooked on stout. Whenever I had to go back to the downtown area, I made a point of stopping in for one.  It's not on their menu now, but they now have a Black River (dry) Stout, that I'm sure is made with as much quality.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Iron City Brewery...changing with the times

I used to travel quite a bit with work, oftentimes returning to the same city for a week or two every few months.  I visited places like Lynchburg, VA, Windsor Locks, CA, Andover/Tewksbury, MA, Sacramento, CA, Phoenix, AZ, Dayton, OH, Houston, TX, and Pittsburgh, PA several times.  This was mostly from the mid 70s to mid 90s.  I'd often tried to sample the local brew when I hit those towns, although during the early part of those travels there weren't a lot of breweries to sample.  By 1977, there were only 40 breweries left in the country.  Among those left, was the Pittsburgh Brewing Company, brewing Iron City lager.  Whenever I travelled to Pittsburgh, that was my brew of choice...mostly because I liked the name and wanted to support a local brewery, as the brew itself wasn't really distinctive.  Actually it seemed to pick up some of the metallic taste of the can, or maybe iron really was one of the ingredients.

Draft beer packaged in cans
Iron City Brewing Company goes back a long way to 1861 to its founding by Edward Frauenheim on 17th Street.  You can read the whole story there, but it quickly grew and took over many other local breweries and eventually by the end of the century became the third largest brewery in the U.S as the Pittsburgh Brewing Company.  In the 1980s the company started going through a period of hard times, in spite of having come out with a lite beer in the late '70s that boosted sales for awhile.  In 2007, the bankrupt remnants of the company were bought once more and the name returned to the Iron City Brewing Co.  Their product line is much more diverse now and their namesake brew is a Pilsner, but is joined by a couple of Munich Dunkels, a Vienna lager, fruit beers, a pale ale, a brown ale, several other lagers and malt liquors.  I look forward to getting back there to give them another try.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Saison uncapped.

Well, probably like most homebrewers, I get impatient.  It's only been a week since I bottled my Saison, but heck, it's just one bottle.  I threw it in the fridge for a few hours and took off on a bike ride with no particular destination, just east.  Headed for Sunrise Mountain and snaked my way through railyards, industrial parks, petrol dumps. around Nellis AFB and came to realize that the road that the map showed going toward the mountain was inside the base.  Headed up to LV Speedway, checked the map and couldn't see any reason why I'd want to go further north, except to see more flat, trash filled desert.  So turned around and took a different way home on larger streets.  Pretty uneventful, although Nellis has some pretty nice buildings on it, including the Federal hospital that's across the street.  About 16 miles round trip, mostly flattish.

Went home and cracked open that Farmers' Ale. Nice pffft when I lifted the cap.  It's only been a week sitting on the floor at 80-85 degrees, which should be perfect for that Belgian Saison Ale yeast.  When I poured it the resulting head was beyond expectation for just a week.

Love that color...about an SRM 14.  The head was as thick as any I've seen and really stuck to the glass in thick strips.  Very dense.  Mouthfeel was good and moderate.  Definitely some peppery aftertaste from the peppercorns and the yeast itself.  Not much malty flavor coming through, rather a bit bitter from the dry hopping of the Goldings.  Last time I dry hopped I used Cascade which has much less alpha acids than Goldings.  Be interesting to see how the taste develops overall during the next few weeks.  Next time I might eliminate the dry hopping and spices just to see how the base brew comes out.  Still a pretty looking brew.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Brewing White House Porter for new brewers

The news that the White House had started its own homebrewing operation and the subsequent FOIA release of the recipes has gotten the attention of a lot of folks new to brewing.  Even experienced homebrewers are taking a go at the recipes from what I've heard in the home brew shop and local homebrew meetings.  Most of the experienced folks have converted it to an all-grain recipe.

So a new brewer was asking for advice last night on Twitter regarding brewing the White House Porter.  He had all the ingredients gathered, and fortunately hadn't started before asking for assistance.  Upon reviewing the instructions again, as I'd gotten the recipe a few days back, I noticed some gaps that would trip up someone new to brewing.

The recipe assumes you know how to brew.  First off - there's no mention of equipment needed.  It is easy for a new person to miss pulling together things like a spoon, funnel, measuring cup, can opener.  Planning ahead can be crucial to the brewing process so you don't end up in a pickle when you need something and don't have it at hand or clean and sanitized when you need it.  The recipe also doesn't mention sanitizing, which means you better know what implements you are going to need, so you can sanitize them before you start.

One of the things I told him was to pay lots of attention to sanitization and if he uses bleach, to rinse everything three times with tap water; including all the pots, hose, racking cane, thermometer, spoon, measuring cup, funnel, strainer, everything.  If he was going to use StarSan for sanitizing, he wouldn't have to rinse as much.  They claim you can leave it on, but I don't.   

I also told him to practice with the siphon hose.  It is one thing to get the flow going, it's another to get it to stop and start again without spraying the floor, yourself, counter and everything in between.  I told him that I've used a hemostat with much better success than the kit-provided clamp.

The recipe calls for just dumping the honey and the LME into the wort.  It is a lot easier if you warm them up first so everything comes out of the can or bottle quickly without having to use a spoon or stand there for 15 minutes waiting for the last thick drips to stop.

Although the recipe calls for adding cold water to help bring down the temperature of the wort, it will still need a lot of chilling to get down to 70 degrees. I told him to think about how he was going to move 50+ lbs of hot wort splashing in a kettle from the kitchen to the bathroom to chill it.  Also, did he remember to get enough ice to fill the bathtub.  The wort needs to be chilled in about 30 minutes in order to avoid any off flavors.

The instructions also don't mention prepping the water by either boiling it or letting it stand overnight to remove any chlorine.  That could be especially bad for the water used to hydrate the yeast.

Finally, again with the sanitization, it doesn't remind the brewer to sanitize the racking cane, hose, pot, bottles and caps before the final step.

The final advice I gave the brewer was to pay attention to sanitization and rinsing, temperature and timing; and he would have a great chance of success.


Sunday, September 16, 2012


Ballantine...haven't thought of that word in years, then I just read it last week somewhere. 

At one time Ballantine Ale was the third largest brewer in the U.S. (ahead of Budweiser) and one of the oldest. It was founded in 1850 by Peter Ballentine and later when his sons joined, the company name was P. Ballentine and Sons.  The original brewery site in Newark, NJ was used as a brewing site since 1805.

This was one of the brews we had in our house when I was growing up.  Heck, we had to, they sponsored the Yankees.  I remember Mel Allen, the sportscaster for the Yankees announcing "Baseball and Ballantine" and "Hey, get your cold beer! Hey, get your Ballantine!...Just look for the three-ring sign/And ask the man for Ballantine." After which Allen would advise, "You'll be so glad you did" (from  Interesting that Ballantine wanted to cut costs, so they cut Mel Allen and put in Phil Rizzuto (aka the Scooter) a former Yankee.  I got his autograph on my mitt outside the stadium, along with Jim Bouton the Yankee pitcher who wrote the expose about Yanks on and off the field, and Spud Murray, the batting practice pitcher.  Spud was funny - he said, "I don't know why you kids want my autograph, I just throw goofballs."  Hey, he was walking into the clubhouse door and he was bigger than life.  Mantle and Maris breezed by, not daring to stop.  But I digress.

The genius of Peter Ballantine was evident in his coming up with the three ring sign when he saw the condensation rings on a table.  Anyone who put down their brew of any kind would imitate that and immediately think of Ballantine.  Then to add a bit of meaning to it, they put "Purity, Body, Flavor" each in one of the rings.

I remember the taste of Ballantine and asking about the difference between ale and beer, with the usual answer that ale was stronger.  Few knew the difference between top fermenting and bottom fermenting yeasts.  Ballantine Ale had a very distinctive and strong hop flavor.  It's a shame that they didn't hold up through the 60s, but it has been a long time since then that strongly hopped brews have come to the fore, like today's IPA fever.  Ballantine even brewed an IPA aged in wood casks, a Porter; a Brown Stout; a dark lager; and a Bock beer.  They also brewed higher ABV specially aged ales and barleywines for internal distribution, much like our craftbrewers do today.  It's a shame that this diversity in U.S. brews was blown away by the lager producers.

It's is now owned by Pabst, but brewed by Miller under contract.

Some descriptions of the taste of the current brew are at:
I remember the taste being as what the last 2 posters, CaptnJack and the one before him, described, especially the tinniness and hoppiness.  I'd have to taste it again to see what other flavors they describe correlate to my memory.

Lots more of great info and pictures at:

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bad news, good news.

So off on my quest for truth and the meaning of life, I printed out one of my India Spiced APA labels, stuck it on a bottle, filled my hydration pack with Gatorade, stuffed the APA bottle and an ice pack into the hydration pack and pedaled the 14 miles to Vegas Homebrew for answers.

There were a couple of customers there and Steve was explaining the extra equipment needed for all grain brewing to one.  Right after I walked in, another guy came in with a cooler.  We both set our bottles down on the counter.  His still had the Sam Adams label on it.  Guess he missed the part in the book about soaking off the labels for sanitary reasons.  Steve rang the customer up and was happy to see some cold brews come in for a change.  He broke out the cups and I explained I wanted his opinion on whether I should enter it for best use of hops.  He quickly responded as he started pouring, that the judges are really looking to be knocked over by the smell of hops and that he should have already started smelling them at arm's length during the pour.  So that's the bad news. 
The we talked about the style I was going for and he seemed to think that an APA was a pretty close fit.  So that was the good addition to the fact that now I had one more bottle of my APA at home that I could drink. 
The other guy broke out his sample and Steve explained that he was a newb and this was his first brew.  Steve was the first to pick up the metallic taste in it.  He said that it was from the can that the LME came in and that it couldn't be helped.  Also a bit of oxidation taste.  I'm not sure if he thought that was also a result of using LME.  I asked the guy next to me if he ever tasted canned spinach; I don't know how Popeye handles it, but talk about the metallic taste of a can!  This brew wasn't anywhere near as bad.  Actually very drinkable.
I got into a discussion with one of the other guys about a new malt on the shelf - Crisp Black - apparently a black patent malt that they have debittered to some extent, so you still get the color and a bit of the roasted flavor without all the bitterness.  He said he was all set to brew the White House Honey Porter and had all the ingredients lined up and realized he didn't have any yeast.  He picked up good old Safaele S-04, although the recipe calls for Windsor which was right next to it.  We both agreed that Safaele was really reliable.  He had also converted the recipe to all-grain.  He had gotten the recipe by signing the FOIA petition.  The White House actually emailed him both recipes.  Pretty funny.  I wonder how many others are doing the same.  He wanted it ready for Election Day.  I think he has plenty of time.
When Steve rang him up, he brought up the SNAFU meeting tomorrow night.  The guy had joined ages ago and never picked up his card.  So he didn't get his discount.  Aces and Ales is going to open up another place at Sahara and Rainbow...pretty close to Big Dogs.  Supposedly they are going to make it a brew pub too.  Steve said he was hoping that one of the brewers meeting held at the current location would move out here to be closer to us all on the north and west part of town.  Steve also asked to keep my bottle with the label, so now Blind Dog Brewing is proudly on display in Vegas Home Brew's counter display.

Brew Eleven - bottling time

Took a gravity reading and no further change and it's down to 1.01..low enough to get me a 5.2% ABV which is just enough for the BJCP Saison guidelines.  The color looks awesome too, I'd expected it to be more golden, but it has a reddish tint to it for an SRM about 12.  I think it will be less cloudy after sitting in the bottles for a few weeks.

One good thing about testing recipes with small 2 gallon batches, is that you lose about 2 quarts in the process and don't have to wash so many bottles.  Still, when you do create a winner, it's kind of depressing to drink that last one, knowing you have to start all over to get more.

The lautering bucket has come in so handy.  It held all the bottles, caps, etc. for sanitizing, then works great for bottle filling.  Using a racking cane and siphon is so messy.  I usually end up with ale all over the floor, counters, outside of the bottles, and in the drip pan I put the bottles in to try and limit the mess.  Even with using the hemostats, which pinch off the hose really well, it's a juggling act.

After filling, I leave the caps on top loosely to start the outgassing of the bottles to replace the oxygen with CO2.  There's no way to test if this really works, but the ale does seem to foam more, so hopefully carbonation has started.

I cleaned up everything while this was going on to give the bottles some time to themselves.  Then I started crimping the caps.  Got down to the third from last and the cap wouldn't go on.  Popped it off and sure enough it was one of those darn Blue Moon bottles that had snuck into the pile.  Fortunately I'd sanitized more bottles and caps than I needed.


I think I'm going to love this Saison yeast.  Just put the bottles back in the case and set it on the floor.  No fussing with temperature control, since the house is around 82 degrees anyway, which is tolerable for .the Belgian Saison I Ale yeast (White Labs WLP565).  I'm not sure why White Labs pegs the optimum temperature lower, but from peoples' experiences it seems to work well in the 80s too.

I hope I'm right, since this will just barely be ready for the entry into the contest and if I'm wrong and have to drop the temperature, it won't be.

Going to bring my last available bottle of American Pale Ale over to Steve at to see if he thinks I should enter it in the best use of hops category.  I think the dry hopping came out perfect, but I'm biased.  Looking at prior years' results, the IPAs carry the category, so I might be wasting my time.  I'd surely rather drink it myself than enter it in a losing horserace.  I'll update this with Steve's comments later.  I'd bring it to the SNAFU meeting tomorrow, but with so much brew flying around the room, I'd rather him taste it with a clear palate and focus.

Made up a new label for this Saison, starring Brooke.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Brew Eleven...might need a do-over

At one of the SNAFU meetings, since Aces and Ales is nice enough to let us host it there, drink our homebrews and discount our orders, I felt that I should at least patronize Aces and Ales by buying something from their vast beer and ale menu.  My eyes landed on a Farmer's Ale aka Saison, which sounded interesting.  It certainly didn't disappoint, mildly hopped, very malty, slightly cloudy, firm head, moderate mouthfeel.  I knew I had to add a Saison to my recipe list.  Especially since it used a hot weather yeast - White Labs WLP565.  This brew was dry hopped also, this time with 4.8% Goldings.

I found a recipe on that fit the bill, although I'm thinking now I should have left the spices out and kept it generic.  The recipe called for ginger, peppercorns and anise to be added at the end of the boil.  After reducing the recipe to fit my 2 gallon capacity, my scale couldn't even measure the tiny subgram measurements of the anise and ginger, so I may have added a bit more than needed.  I picked up some Irish Moss too to help clarify it a bit more than the isinglass alone would do.  Added some lactic acid per the recipe and given that I didn't start the mash as low in temperature as usual, that may have helped lower the pH to where it needed to be.  Although I've never paid any attention to pH so far.  Probably should since we have a resin based water softener that is supposed to take out the carbonates, calcium and magnesium.  But until I actually get it tested, there's no sense trying to improve it one way or the other.

Even at 70 degrees, the fermentation took off well.

After seven days and things calming down, I reracked it.   Tasted a bit weird and I wonder if I didn't over spice it.  For one of the jugs, I only had a half inch hose and an airlock to put it on, instead of a 3/8" hose and a jug cap with a hole in it.  So when I figured I could just use the airlock without the hose for the secondary, I tried to pull the hose off the airlock.  Wouldn't budge.  So instead of just cutting off the end of the hose, I just pulled harder.  Pulled the inside right out of the airlock..SNAP.  So for that jug I just used a solid cap and opened it every now and then to let out the pressure.

Was down in Henderson this week and there's another homebrew store down there called U Bottle It.  I'd wanted to drop in, since the owner, Heather, also attends our SNAFU meetings.  Very nice store.  They have a couple Ruby Street Brewery 10 gallon rigs for sale that are really sweet.

So I picked up another airlock, 3/8" tubing and another jug cap with a hole in it.  Heather graciously gave me the grand tour and she's done some really smart things with her specialty grain packaging.  Took all those parts back and replaced the solid cap.  Have kept it at 80-85 degrees in the secondary, and it has been working well..

Couple more days to bottle it.
While I've been waiting, I worked up the labels for the Dunkel.  Since our now older dog, Brooke is also going blind, I used her as the model.  She's wearing the latest fashion in Lederhosen.
Here she really is.  Bailey had glaucoma and went blind in one eye within hours.  Brooke has retinal atrophy, so she's slowly going blind in both, but you'd never know it.


Big # Ten...mess with success

After the collander incident, I went back to Vegas Home Brew and asked Steve if he had a solution - of course...a grain bag.  I'd also managed to break my hydrometer, so got another.  After sanitzing everything with bleach, I lay the stuff I'm not using right away out on paper towels.  When I put the measuring cup on the towel, it stuck.  When I picked it up again the hydrometer went flying....apparently a not uncommon component to break in that or a similar manner. 

Everyone, including me liked the porter so much, I decided I better make it a regular and make some more.  No changes to the recipe, except that this time I threw the licorice into the boil for 15 minutes instead of 5 and I used Centennial hops instead of Cascade.

The new grain bag stopped any mishaps and really made for a much clearer wort.  Couple of bungee cords kept it in place.  Still used the collander to spray the water and wort during sparging over the whole grain bed. I actually used more water than I planned to sparge it and ended up with 2 and a half gallons after the boil.  So I called up Steve and asked him if he thought I could ferment it in the bucket even though it would be less than half full.  He said to go for it, so I just popped an airlock on it since the lid already had a hole and grommet to accommodate it.  Worked out great, although I missed being able to see the kreusen.  At least I didn't lose a quart blowing out through the hose like I usually did.

The result was terrific again, using the bucket as a fermenter and wrapped in towels and later the bottles in the cooler again.  The Fermentis Safale S-04 dry British Ale Yeast has proven to be very reliable.  This time the brew tasted much stronger due to the extended boiling of the licorice.  Maybe too strong for some people's taste, but I really enjoyed it.  Might try 10 mins next time.  Or something different.

Had another annoying problem when I was cleaning up.  Trying to dry the racking cane, I decided to get the water out, and shake it down like a thermometer.  SNAP.  Broke it right below the elbow.  Another trip back to Steve and I got one long enough to fit in the 6 gallon bucket instead of just the glass one gallon jugs.

During July, my wife, son and I went to the third Saturday's tour at the Joseph James Brewery in Henderson, NV.  Very inventive guys, and Matt give a great tour and great brews.  They had just gotten in a bunch of old bourbon barrels that had some leftovers in them.  They used them to brew a monster Russian Imperial Stout that had an extra kick, plus an anniversary brew for Aces and Ales pub, both of which were absolutely kickass.  After we left, we had to spend a while at the Subway in the complex for the effects to wear off.

I also contacted Anthony Gibson over at Tenaya Creek Brewery.  They don't have regular tours, but he gave my son and I a personal tour for over an hour and a half.  By now with all my reading, I peppered him with bunches of questions.  Great guy and a much more controlled process than Joseph James, but some of that is due to zoning issues.  Tenaya Creek has a grain silo outside that feeds right into their mill and on into the mash tun.  Joseph James' guys have to lug the bags of grain into the tun.  Anyway, an absolutely fascinating tour and he treated me to their seasonal Oatmeal Stout, that was totally off the hook.  They have a pub attached to the brewery, so soon they want to expand the brewery into a new building so they can also get a brewery license instead of a brewpub license.  Otherwise in NV they are subject to a 15,000 bbl limit.  Problem is that when they split the two, they will have to bring in a distributor just to move their kegs from the brewery to their own pub.  Another weird NV law - no doubt from lobbying by the few distributors in the state that have a lock on the business.  Not saying NV government is corrupt or anything....<ahem>.

Ninth Brew - on a roll!

At the SNAFU July meeting one member brought in his latest pale ale with a twist.  He had brewed two batches and dry hopped one of them.  What an amazing difference!  Now I had read Randy Mosher's "Radical Brewing" and was determined to make a good American Pale Ale.  Besides the Pale Ale malt, I used rice, munich malt, crystal malt and three different hops from the collection I'd now accumulated.  Calculated the IBU at 37 and the ABV at 7%.  I decided to add coriander to the boil and try the dry hopping using 3% Cascade pellets.

While I was at Vegas Home Brew picking up the grains, Steve had gotten in a bunch of 6 gallon fermenting buckets.  I figured it was time to make sparging easier on myself so I snagged one.  This really made the sparging easier, until my collander slipped and fell into the bucket, causing it to splash all over the cabinets, blinds, counter, etc. and dump the grains back into the wort.  So I threaded the siphon hose through the handles of the collander to hold it on top of the bucket and started sparging again.  By 8/6 this brew was in the bottle.  OMG!  It was phenomenal.  7.07ABV, strong head, nice carbonation, very clear and golden.  I couldn't really taste the coriander, but the dry hopped Cascade pellets made a huge difference.

Also asked my friends what I should call it.  Someone thought that coriander comes from India and suggested India Spiced Ale, but since the style is more like an American Pale Ale, I called it India Spiced APA.  Of course coriander doesn't come from India, but who cares.  Dressed up Bailey to look the part.

Eighth brew...porter redux

With the Dunkel languishing, I needed something to drink, so time for another porter.  By now I'd read Ray Daniels' "Designing Great Beers."  Vegas Home Brew has a nice little selection of herbs and loving licorice, I decided to add some root to the boil for this batch of porter.  I actually did a grain and attenuation calculation, thanks to the Android HomeBrew calculator, plus I found the Brew Timer app and entered my brewing schedule.  Later, I found the Brewing Assistant app and entered a couple recipes, but haven't actually tried using its timer.  Based on the calculations and a target ABV of 7%, I bounced up the quantity of pale ale and specialty malts and the amount of honey.

In June, Steve had given me an article, the time I was in with the Dunkel, that explained how to deal with the Vegas heat when using top fermenting yeasts.  Simple magic with evaporation, coolers and ice packs till you get to the temperature you want.  After the mash, I decided to use a collander for sparging, as the strainer wasn't big enough to hold all the grains.  The collander almost wasn't either but still was adequate.  But trying to do all this with my assortment of pots was getting difficult.  But the evaporation technique kept the fermenting jugs at a nice solid 70 degrees, with the house AC set to 80 or so.

I bottled it on 6/21 after only a week of fermenting.  I put the bottles in the cooler too with ice packs on either end of the cooler and covered the top of the bottles with a wet towel. This brew was finally ready for drinking on July 12th.  The licorice didn't come through as strong as I expected, but it was only in the boil for the last 5 minutes.  Still a fabulous result. 7.59% ABV, thick creamy head, nice mouthfeel, very malty.  I gave my daughter's fiance a six pack for a party they were having and he only let his guests share one bottle.  Since other people were going to see my brews, I came up with the Blind Dog name, after our older cocker, Bailey, who was blind in one eye, passed away the previous October.  I also named this brew after him...Bailey's Honey Porter.
Just hope Big Dog's doesn't think I was copying them.
Here's the original picture of Bailey.

Seventh brew...or how not to lager

As we got into April, the temperature started rising and I knew I wouldn't be able to ferment in the garage anymore.  With all my reading, it seemed logical that now was the time to switch to bottom fermenting yeast and lagering in the refrigerator.  I did some digging for recipes and ran across one for Munich Dunkel, in of all places, but Dave Miller's book,"Brewing the World's Best Beers".  

Tried a Dunkel just to be sure.  Or rather 6 of them.  In the name of research...okay, can't use that again, but pays to be sure.

After the mash, I kept it at 46-50 degrees for 9 days and it seemed to do just fine. Started with a 1.043 gravity and ended with a 1.012 for a little over 4% ABV.  A little low by .5% for the style, but I later realized that none of Dave Miller's recipes have enough grain specified. 

After bottling, and scouring the web for specs on the Wyeast #2038 and its finnickiness, I held it between 36 and 39 degrees.  After a couple weeks, I sampled a bottle...flat, barely 1/4 of head pouring straight down the middle of the glass.  Good retention though.  After a month I sampled a bottle...same, after two months I sampled a bottle...same, after three months I sampled a bottle...same.

Didn't help that everyone I spoke to at the SNAFU meeting just raised their eyebrows with, "Lagering?  I gave that up after one try." I took one over to Steve at Vegas Home Brew and when he pulled off the cap, he said, "Using screw top bottles?"  I hadn't even realized that a bunch of the bottles I'd been using were Blue Moon bottles.  Probably wasn't getting a good seal.  So I went home and suffered through drinking all the ones in Blue Moon bottles and promptly threw out about three cases of bottles.  Tried one that was in a Sam Adams bottle and it really wasn't any more carbonated than the ones in the Blue Moon bottles.

Finally, down to my last four bottles, I took one out and put it under a Shamwow in a cooler and soaked it every day in cold water.  Kept it a little below 70 degrees.  I left it that way for three weeks...and poof...carbonated finally.  Did the same with the last few bottles.  So with our Las Vegas Memorial Competition coming up, I have just enough to enter the contest and enjoy one for myself.

During this time, I'd attended several SNAFU meetings and tasted some great brews, both the May and June meetings had great raffles and home brews.  At the June meeting there was a case of Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut Down being raffled off.  What a crazy story that goes with it.


Sixth brew...Eureka!

After reading Papazian's book I had a much greater appreciation for what I needed to do, and a killer recipe for his Silver Dollar Porter.  I went back to Vegas Home Brew ( and bought my ingredients.  I also decided to increase my brewing capacity to two gallons.  So I picked up another one gallon jug, an airlock and some hose.  It was only April, so it was still cool enough in the garage to ferment out there, as the temperature hovered in the high 60s, low 70s.
I lost quite a bit of wort in the fermenters as you can see how much ended up in the cups in the video and how low the wort is in the jugs.  I made the mistake of adding water to make up the difference, which diluted the result down to 3.4% ABV.  But at least I knew where the problem lie this time.  Still, I came up with a good tasting brew and something I knew I could build upon.
I took a bottle back to Vegas Home Brew and shared it all around.  They told me about the local home brew club SNAFU (  If I joined, I'd get a nice discount from Vegas Home Brew on my future purchases.  So I went to their next meeting in May, and I joined up.  I expected maybe 10 people to be there at, where they meet.  The beer menu is mind boggling there - 30 taps, 88 different brews in bottles from all over the world.
The side room was packed with about 50 people and the pool tables were covered with brews and equipment that was going to be raffled off at the meeting:
I won 4 bottles of great brews, joined up, and ordered one of their new T-shirts.  After the raffle, people passed around their home brews for discussion.  Good thing they have a breathalyzer in the bar.


Fourth and Fifth Brews..or Damn you Dave Miller

I don't even remember how I ended up starting with Dave Miller's books, but somewhere I saw that he was the end-all, be-all of brewing.  Little did I know how dated his stuff was.  Probably can't blame it all on him, but for the life of me, I still haven't figured out what happened to my next two brews.  I thought I'd return to a pale ale, perhaps an American pale ale, not overly hoppy, just something simple and drinkable.  I picked Miller's Pale Ale recipe - 1.4 lbs of Pale Ale malt, .2 oz of crystal malt, for a one gallon brew. One third of an ounce of Fuggles for the bittering hops and 1/5 of an ounce of UK First Gold for the aroma hops.  Safaele S-04 Dry Yeast. 


I picked up all the ingredients at Vegas Home Brew ( and got a hydrometer so I could check the gravity, having learned the need for that from the book.  Besides the 3 gallon brew kettle, that was my first additon to the original kit.  I had been scrounging stuff from the kitchen - a measuring cup, a scale, funnel, spoon, strainer, pots for heating water, lautering and starting yeast, a pair of hemostats that I used to use for clamping soldering projects, now used for clamping the siphon hose (the clamp that came with the kit was worthless), and a cup for catching the kreusen when it blew out the hose.

Everything seemed to go fine.  Of course I had not done any calculations on the expected gravity or IBUs, since I hadn't gotten that far in my studies.  Miller didn't cover those little technicalities, and I'm not so sure I was ready for them anyway.

The first gallon came out very bitter and low in ABV - 3.9%.  I eventually managed to finish all 10 bottles, but surely didn't share it with anyone.  So I tried again and increased the crystal malt to .4 ounces.  This time the ABV only made it to 1.3% and tasted so nasty that I managed to down two bottles and dumped the rest.  This after babying it through reracking into a secondary, adding isinglass finings to get more stuff to settle out, carefully racking into bottles and controlling the temperature. 

Seriously, I needed to do some more studying, so I got the Kindle version of  "The Complete Joy of Home Brewing" by Charles Papazian.  I also needed a more forgiving recipe.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Second and third brews

So in reading Dave Miller's Homebrewing Guide, I found out there was something called extract brewing.  Digging around on the web, gathering all kinds of brewing supply store sites, I got a hankerin' for some Oatmeal Stout.  I had been dreaming of a thick creamy headed oatmeal stout like the one I'd had at River City Brewing in Sacramento back in the 90s.  So I dug around and found Mr. Beers Sticky Wicket Oatmeal Stout HME.  Ordered it and waited about a week.
I still only had a one gallon capacity, so I could only brew one can at a time.  I had already started to realize that brewing 9 or 10 bottles per month wasn't going to cut it.  So I started collecting more bottles.  And of course pick up an Oatmeal Stout for <ahem> research purposes.

And thinking ahead some Porter since I knew that would eventually be on the horizon.
And just to be sure what I wanted to do next, pick up a bit of a selection.
Well, finally the first Oatmeal Stout was ready on 3/1/12, good thing too, because I had already finished off the 3 bottles of the other Christmas present.  Mr. Beer didn't disappoint.  I wasn't crazy about the all extract process...just seemed a bit too easy...kind of like the TV Dinner version of brewing, without the TV Dinner taste.  Definitely, no complaints on the results.

Moving on to Dave Miller's other book - "Brewing the World's Great Beers", I decided I'd go back to an all-grain recipe, having had such great results so far.