When I started brewing about 3 years ago,I jumped right into all grain using 1 gallon kits then soon after bought a batch sparge setup with converted coolers for larger batches. I made many good beers, no doubt, but I found myself pining for a less complicated method, one that didn’t involve as much setup or clean-up but resulted in a finished product with similar quality. It wasn’t until a year or so later I learned about Brew In A Bag (BIAB) and, amid a run to win my homebrew club’s Homebrewer of the Year title, abruptly adopted it as my primary approach after buying a used e-BIAB system on a whim, sending me down a much simpler and less time consuming path.
As the popularity of BIAB continues to grow, and grow it certainly does, brewers are learning that particular variables, once accepted as convention, differ when using this modern approach. One such variable that has garnered quite a bit of attention lately is crush size, with the BIAB contingent contending the use of a fine mesh bag allows them to essentially pulverize their grain to the point of flour, much finer than the coarse grist required when fly sparging to ensure a proper lauter. Multiple anecdotal observations have demonstrated finer grinds seem to improve overall efficiency, a plus for those looking to get more out of their grain, but I still wondered– does crush size impact anything else?(more…)
As much as I appreciate cleanliness, I hate cleaning with a passion. It sucks. Unfortunately, it’s one of the more important aspects of brewing– dirty gear makes dirty beer. Over the years, I’ve settled on a few methods I’ve found make the arduous task of clean-up a bit less annoying. Obviously, this is based on my particular setup and may not necessarily be as helpful for folks using different gear or who are more/less anal than me. Also, I tend to focus more on ensuring my cold-side equipment is clean since there aren’t many beer spoiling critters that can survive a boil. With that, here’s what works for me!
Given my abhorrence for cleaning, I should note that “step 1” for each of the methods listed below is the same: pour a beer and enjoy.
| MASH TUN |
I always clean my mash tun immediately after collecting the sweet wort and waiting for it to reach a boil. I’ve heard horror stories of people discovering tuns full of stinky mold infested grain weeks after brewing, this is something I wish to avoid. I currently use a converted cooler MLT to mash my grains, often with a BIAB fabric filter that did simplify my cleaning process– pull out bag, dump grains, then spray the bag and tun with high pressure water from the hose. This takes no longer than 2 minutes.
I was recently honored to be asked to brew several beers for a relative’s wedding. After a round of sampling with the soon-to-be grooms, it was agreed one of the beers they enjoyed most and wanted served at their special occasion was a Witbier. This worked out great since I’d just acquired a vial of White Labs WLP410 Wit II, a Platinum strain with limited availability (May-June). Here’s how White Labs’ description of this strain:
Less Belgian-like phenolics than WLP400 and more spicy. Will leave a bit more sweetness, and flocculation is higher than WLP400. Use to produce Belgian Wit, spiced Ales, wheat Ales, and specialty Beers.
Right off the bat, I raised an eyebrow since one of the common descriptors for phenols in beer is “spicy,” often perceived as clove and/or pepper character, such as one might experience when drinking Bavarian Hefeweizen or Belgian Saison. Phenols abound throughout the natural world and their chemical composition makes for a very aromatic compound. They aren’t just spicy but can take on many forms and be experienced in a variety of ways including vanilla, mint, “barnyard,” smokey, band-aid/plastic, and medicinal, to name a few commonly used descriptors.
As you might have noticed, I’m rather easily distracted by nerdism. Since I was brewing a Witbier anyway, I thought it might be interesting to compare this limited yeast offering to the more commonly available WLP400 Belgian Wit Ale. Were they really all that different? Would the White Labs description be congruent with the experiences of blind tasters? Only one way to find out! (more…)
On average, I brew a couple batches every other week, all of which are for xBmts or The Hop Chronicles. A recent Saturday was one of these days, I brewed two 5 gallon batches simultaneously for a yet to be published xBmt. The next morning, I woke up early with my kids, made some breakfast, and did a few normal weekend chores. Right after lunch, my wife mentioned she had some errands to run, said she’d be out for a couple hours and would take my oldest daughter. My 2 year-old was napping at this point and my son wanted to ride his bike. That’s when the idea to try something I’d been thinking about for awhile struck– brew an all grain batch in as little time as possible. I set a goal for myself to be finished by the time my wife returned home, which she estimated would be approximately 2 hours. What follows is an account of how it went down, from grain to glass.
Apparently, Australia has water availability issues, something many us in different parts of the world can relate to given the paucity of rain over the last couple years. As we all know, homebrewing isn’t the most friendly hobby when it comes to water conservation. Even utilizing more efficient techniques and equipment, the process of cooling the wort is quite wasteful, motivating many a homebrewer to come up with ways to repurpose their chiller discharge to assuage the guilt. My own chilling process requires between 20-30 gallons of water depending on groundwater temps and batch size, I always collect the first 5 gallons of hot runoff to use for post brewing cleanup, while the rest usually ends up running down the drain. It’s a sad reality that nowadays ends up costing me more than the judgment of my neighbors, but actual money since my city recently transitioned to metered water. Leave it to them innovative Aussie’s to come up with a method to deal with this problem that wouldn’t hamper their ability to make beer.
Arguably not a “new” method, the no chill technique blasted onto the scene earlier this decade as a way for homebrewers to essentially eliminate the water wasted during the typical process of chilling with either an immersion or counterflow chiller. And it’s immensely simple, requiring only a plastic container that can tolerate high temps, usually referred to as a “cube,” which the wort is transferred to immediately after the boil is complete. The container is purged of any air bubbles via squeezing, sealed tightly, then left alone overnight or however long until it reaches pitching temp. Once there, the wort is transferred to a carboy and yeast is pitched. Like I said, simple. (more…)
Halloween is over, which means it’s time to transition from Pumpkin to Holiday beers, as well as start thinking about gifts for the homebrewers in your life. We put our heads together and compiled a list of some of our favorite brewing items we think any homebrewer would be thrilled to receive as a gift, whether novice or garage professional!
25 Great Gift Ideas for Homebrewers
1. CARBONATION CAP
This nifty little gadget allows brewers to quickly carbonate small amounts of beer as well as travel with carbonated beer under CO2 pressure, reducing the chances of oxygenation and losing carbonation. Simply fill a 2 liter bottle with however much beer you like, screw on the carbonation cap just as you would the original cap, connect your gas disconnect to the post, and give the bottle a good shake as the CO2 saturates your beer. Within a couple minutes, your once still beer will be nicely carbonated. When the foam dies down, you can open the bottle and sample your fizzy beverage, or store it in a cool place to take with you on the road. Available in plastic and stainless steel models, carbonation caps are currently only capable of being used with ball lock disconnects. (more…)
Conan. Barbarian. Burlington. Vermont. While each yeast producer refers to it in a different way, the allusion is the same for all– here lies the yeast The Alchemist uses to make the famed Heady Topper. Whatever it’s called, this strain is praised for accentuating fruity hop character while contributing unique stone fruit esters, particularly when used in hop forward beers.
As a resident of southern California, I have access to a yeast supplied by a relatively new local lab, Fermatrix, offering a plethora of strains in both homebrewer and commercial pitches. Interested in trying them out, I snagged a vial of their FX-150 Burlington yeast, which is purported to share the same source as the aforementioned yeasts.
When the BrewUnited Challenge came along with restrictive rules on wort composition but a brewer’s choice regarding yeast selection, I thought this distinctively fruit-forward yeast might give me an edge by imitating additional hop character in a Centennial heavy American Amber Ale. However, unwilling to risk the entire batch chance to win on a hunch, I decided to make this a split-batch comparison with the ever neutral, no-starter-required, Safale US-05 dry yeast. (more…)
An absolutely essential component for making beer, the brew kettle is a piece of gear many homebrewers spend hours pondering over before purchasing. My first kettle was a 4 gallon pot I bought for about $16. Barely big enough to contain the concentrated extract wort that ended up being combined with cold water in the fermentor, and long before discovering the magic that is Fermcap-S, many boilovers occurred. It worked, but it was a pain in the ass. As the brewing obsession took hold, I began to consider future steps and decided to transition directly to all grain, a method that demands a larger kettle in order to perform full volume boils. To the web I went to search for my best option. Anyone who has embarked on such a mission can likely relate to my experience– damn, there are so many, which do I get?! I figured it was probably safe to stick with a moderately priced kettle, convincing myself they all perform the same basic function. Stainless was a must, only because I have a tendency to beat shit up, with at least one place to install a valve. I ended up picking out a heavy-duty 10 gallon kettle with a single weldless ball valve fitting. When it arrived, I was impressed by just how heavy-duty it was. It only took a few brews before I was ready to start brewing 10 gallon batches, which would require more space. My newish kettle wouldn’t cut it, so I sold it and went another route, one that had become quite popular among my beer making peers. (more…)
Dry hopping is the primary method used by brewers to impart tantalizingly fresh hop aroma into styles ranging from Pilsner to Double IPA. Typified by adding a charge of hops to the fermented beer, dry hopping is also said to help prolong precious hop aromas brewers so strongly pine for. Almost as strong as the love for all things hoppy are the opinions regarding the best approach to dry hopping. So far, prior xBmts have shown that tasters are generally able to tell apart beers dry hopped with whole cone hops from pellet hops and, similarly, a beer dry hopped with a larger dose proved more reliably distinguishable than one hit with less dry hops. A variable yet to be tested that has received some attention lately, and the focus of this xBmt, is the impact time has on dry hopping.
When I first started experimenting with this technique, it was commonly recommended to add dry hops to the fermented beer then wait 10+ days before packaging, a suggestion echoed by John Palmer in his popular book, How To Brew:
The best way to utilize dry hopping is to put the hops in a secondary fermenter, after the beer has been racked away from the trub and can sit a couple of weeks before bottling, allowing the volatile oils to diffuse into the beer. (Ch. 5, section 1)
For years, people have relied on this advice to produce fantastic hoppy beers, I think most of us would agree that dry hopping for up to 2 weeks does indeed boost hop aroma. However, with our growing addiction to hop-centered beers has come more research focused on increasing the good qualities of the dry hop while reducing any potential undesirable elements, subtle as they may be, with a lot of talk about grass-like character purported to be caused by hops being in contact with the beer over a long period of time. According to hop-whispering Brewmaster of Firestone-Walker, Matt Brynildson, dry hopping should occur over a relatively short 3 days or less, while Russian River’s IPA aficionado, Vinnie Cilurzo, opts for a 12-14 day dry hop on for the famed Pliny the Elder (For The Love of Hops, pg. 216). A pretty drastic difference between 2 very tasty beers from world-renowned breweries. It was this that got me thinking… (more…)
I’m a tinkerer who enjoys the challenge of simplifying shit. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m cheap, as I see the value in high quality gear, but I hate wasting time and energy doing things that could potentially be done quicker and easier… while having a beer. I started kegging a couple years ago and found it solved all of life’s problems, so I gave away all of my bottles and never looked back. Burn the ships as one might say. As wonderful as this transition has been, kegging comes not without it’s fair share of annoying issues, and one aspect of homebrewing I enjoy is coming up with novel solutions for these problems. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the suggestions of others, I absolutely do, it’s just that I often find myself halfway down the path to a unique solution before I even consider looking into what others have done. Today I’ll be sharing a few techniques I’ve come up with that have simplified my kegging process and I think could be of use in your brewhouse. (more…)