Thursday, April 30, 2009

Brewing Sour Beer with Acid

So you wanted to brew a sour beer, you pitched the requisite microbes, waited a year or more for them to do their job, and and when you finally give it a taste it is just mildly tart. Pro-brewers take this opportunity to blend, but what if you don't have any acid beer to blend. Can you just take some acid and use it to sour up your ale? Wild Brews claims that you get a "harsh and medicinal" flavor if you just add food grade lactic acid (the main acid in sour beers), but it sounds to me like the author is talking about adding acid to a clean base beer (not to a beer that already has some acid and funk).

To answer some of these questions for myself I decided I would give acidifying a bottle of the Temptation clone I brewed 18 months ago that never got sour enough.

88% Lactic Acid - Lactic acid makes up between .18%-.52% in Gueuze (according to Wild Brews). This would work out to about 2.4 oz of this lactic acid in 5 gallons to get .3% lactic acid. A few drops in a small sample gave a classic sour twang, but there was also a hint of butteriness. I wonder if they use pediococcus in the production and some diacetyl makes it in. If it is the diacetyl , then adding this acid early in the secondary fermentation to give the Brett time to deal with it would be a good idea. When I added enough to make the beer really sour there was a lingering aftertaste, but it was hard to put my finger on exactly what it was.

Sherry Vinegar (7% Acetic Acid) - Acetic acid makes up between .06%-.12% in Gueuze (again according to Wild Brews). This would work out to about 5.5 oz of this vinegar in 5 gallons to get .06% acetic acid. I don't like my sour beers to have too much acetic acid, but I found that the lactic acid tasted better when there was a touch of acetic acid to give it a bit more bite. Of course you could use distilled white vinegar if you don't want any other flavor contribution.

With the two "standard" sour beer acids out of the way I wanted to try some of the other acids available at the homebrew store.

Acid Blend (Malic, Tartaric, and Citric Acid) - Acid blend is granular and usually used to adjust the acidity of wine and mead. It took a rather large amount of this to get noticeable acidity and it never tasted quite right, sort of like sweet-tarts. In small amounts blended with the lactic/acetic blend it complements the other acids (sort of like a fruit lambic).

10% Phosphoric Acid - This is the acid in sodas and in the bottle almost smells like a Cocoa-Cola. The sourness is certainly potent, but the character just doesn't taste quite right (the sourness didn't linger like a sour beer).

I was impressed by the results enough that I'll be giving this a more formal (measured) try the next time I have a sour beer to bottle that isn't sour enough.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Book Review: Barley Wine

Published in 1998 Barley Wine: History, Brewing Technique, Recipes is one of the last in the Classic Beer Styles Series (#11 to be precise). It was written by Fal Allen and Dick Cantwell two pro-brewers from the Pacific Northwest. The book covers the general styles of American and English Barleywine with most of its advice based on the style as a broad term rather than as the specific BJCP styles.

Content: The first chapter is an interesting look at the history of strong ales loosely in the English tradition. The authors claim that parti-gyle brewing was the genesis of the style (although I find it hard to believe that ever brew day resulted in a portion of 10%+ alcohol beer, it seems like many brewers would have blended the runnings to make lots of moderate gravity beer). While these strong ales were made for centuries the the term barleywine didn't come along until Bass started using it in the early 20th century. English taxes on high gravity beers nearly eliminated the style by a few decades ago, but new English and especially American breweries took up the style again and made bigger/bolder/hoppier versions. The book is 10 years old, so its analysis of the American barleywine scene is a bit dated, but gives a good impression of how much the industry has changed even in the last decade.

The second chapter covers the various aspects of barleywine flavor. The overview of flavors is pretty generic without much discussion of the huge varieties of flavors that can be found in barleywines (particularly among the examples of English and American styles rather than between the two categories). This chapter also includes a brief overview of the different "families" of barleywines (The barleywines made on the East Coast being part way between the malty English and hoppy Pacific Northwestern). The authors add a short bit about big doppelbocks and their similarity to barleywines, but this is never mentioned again.

The third chapter covers the ingredients used in producing barleywines, but also wanders into the fermentation/aging process. For the malt bill the general message is to keep it simple with a high quality pale malt and just a couple specialty grains. There is a short section on sugars (mostly to say don't load the beer up with simple sugars), but they really don't give many specifics/details on the interesting sugar options available. For hops there are general instructions for American and English style beers, but not many specifics on which hops work best or in what combination.

For yeast strains there are general guidelines, but not specific examples of which yeasts are the best choices for a barleywine. There are some notes on pitching rates and aeration, but the way the information is presented makes it more useful to pro-brewers who know how many L/min they are running O2 or what cell count their yeast is. For aging instructions it suggests a long primary fermentation followed by a warm secondary fermentation before cold aging. At the end of the chapter there is a brief note on aging barleywine on oak (including the traditional place of wild microbes), but again the details are pretty lacking.

The forth chapters covers the brewing process. Most of the tips here could be applied to brewing any big beer. This chapter really doesn't provide any revelations because for the most part brewing a big beer is exactly the same as brewing any other beer. Sure you might opt for a longer boil, and you need to pitch more yeast, but these changes are pretty once you are aware of their necessity.

The fifth chapter covers commercial examples of barleywine. Like BLAM each beer has a short profile with OG/FG/IBUs, malts, hops, and some other details. Some recipes have loads of info (Brooklyn Monster) while some have hardly any (Anchor Old Foghorn). It was interesting to read through the specs for beers that I had had, but much of this information is available on the breweries' websites, and might not be up to date anymore anyway. The English beers are some of the more interesting to look at because many of them either don't make it over here (Fuller's Golden Pride) or are no longer produced regularly (Bass No. 1). The most interesting note is that they were told that Thomas Hardy's is fermented warm with a lager yeast (or at least was at the old brewery, not sure if it still is at the new brewery).

The sixth chapter contains the recipes. After the recipes there are a few appendices that cover things like festivals, troubleshooting, and a list of commercial barleywines. The troubleshooting is nice, but the other two sections are pretty badly outdated at this point (Beer Advocate and Rate Beer both have replaced these sorts of listings in books.)

Recipes: The recipes were written by a variable who's who of homebrew authors (Greg Noonan, Randy Mosher, George Fix, Charlie Papazian, and Ray Daniels) as well as some pro-brewers. This is nice for variety's sake, but it can be annoying because you can't make generalizations (for starters although not listed the efficiency seems to vary considerably between the recipes).

The recipes range from English to American in style, with some oddballs like Adambier, dark barleywine, and German barleywine. The recipes look pretty good for the most part with some interesting ideas, but some of the recipes have issues, like one that calls for peated malt as the base (20 lbs in 5 gallons). Having just used .5 lbs in 3.5 gallons I can say that much more than that wouldn't be too tasty to me. I would have liked to see more notes on how the beers turn out (flavor, color, peak age to drink etc...).

A couple of the recipes have extract equivalents, but for the most part they are all-grain or a moderate mash with an extract boost. It would have been nice to see all of them as all-grain with extract equivalents. Having the extract boosters on some means that everyone needs to do some conversion (it is easy enough to take an all-grain recipe and swap out some pale malt for extract).

Accuracy: Overall there are very few cases of things being incorrect, but many cases of information simply missing detail. In general it just feels a bit outdated (for example I don't think they ever mention making a starter).

Readability: My main complaint is that for whatever reason the same topics are covered in multiple places. For example in the chapter on flavor the alcohol section talks about the Free Mash Act of 1880 (which started taxing beer based on OG), why isn't that in the history chapter? There is an especially large amount of overlap between the chapter on ingredients and the chapter on process, combining the theoretical with the practical would have made reading this book much easier.

The book reads more like something that was written for pro-brewers doing their first barleywine more than as something aimed at homebrewers. Dealing with all that extra malt/hops/yeast seems like a bigger problem on that larger scale than it does at home. The book also seems to assume a good deal of knowledge on the part of the brewer (like how to get 30 million cells per ml of wort) that I think might bare repeating for the homebrewer.

It is a pretty quick read, well written (very few typos or editing mistakes), but there is a lot of filler in there giving it a bland generality.

Overall: Not a bad read, but most of the information is available other places. If you have never brewed a barleywine before and Designing Great Beers doesn't have enough information on the style for you this might be worth picking up. I could also see this being a good buy if you are really interested in recreating commercial barleywines as there is quite a bit of info on that.

Friday, April 24, 2009

How long does your average brew day take?

Extract Batch

Over 2.5 hours 7 - 14.5%
Under 2.5 hours 41 - 85.5%

All-Grain Batch

Under 4 hours 10 - 5.2%
4-5 hours 66 - 34.6%
5-6 hours 71 - 37.2%
6-7 hours 34 - 17.8%
Over 7 hours 10 - 5.2%

That is a pretty interesting spread of results for both categories. I’m surprised that more extract brewers aren’t under the 2.5 hour threshold, without a mash/sparge and often with a partial boil I assumed that more brewers would be down in that zone.

Most of the variation probably comes down to equipment (hotter burners and better chillers help cut time off), and choices (longer boils, complex mashes, sparging rate/technique, and lower pitching temperatures would all add time). The "choices" are partially more a result of the sorts of beers people like to brew, but there are still many choices to be made for any type of beer.

I am pretty deliberate with my brewing so it often takes me pretty close to 6 hours from grinding the grains to pitching the yeast. I pretty much always do a 60+ minute mash and a 90+ minute boil, and neither my stove nor my chiller are particularly effective. Taking that much time doesn’t bother me much as I generally enjoy the leisurely breaks during the process to relax and have a beer.

As much as I enjoy my long weekend brew days sometimes I need to get a beer brewed faster. When I need to cut time I will shorten my mash a bit (although I have yet to try anything under 45 minutes), shorten my boil closer to 60 minutes, and speed up my sparge a bit at the expense of some efficiency.

If anyone else has tips on how they shorten their brew day I’m sure people would like to hear them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Big Funky Ale - First Tasting

I had a request to review my Big Funky Ale, so even though it is a bit young (~10 months) for such a big funky ale I decided to do a review as a baseline for later tastings.

Tasting - 4/21/09

Appearance – Nearly opaque dark brown with just a thin ring of tan bubbles around the edge (and that was with an aggressive pour). When held up to the light there is a bit of amber at the edges, but this is one dark beer.

Smell – Big aroma of syrup drenched dark/dried fruit (plums, raisins, figs etc...). There is a bit of oak, some alcohol, and just a hint of fresh leather. Overall the aroma is like a combination of port and a slightly funky old ale.

Taste – The flavor is a rather sweet, dessert like, but not cloying. The sourness is mild, and there is not much bitterness, so it is not what you could call balanced in the way a beer traditionally is. The flavor is similar to the aroma, with layers of fruit, wood, and mild earthy funk. There is some alcohol presence, which helps to moderate the sweetness, but it is pretty well hidden beneath the layers of flavor. The finish is either toasty or oaky, I can't really tell.

Mouthfeel – Thick, coating, viscous body. There is still basically no carbonation, this one may need to be reyeasted despite the champagne yeast I added a few days before bottling. Many kinds of beer would be pretty unpalatable without carbonation, but I think something so big and complex isn't hurt that much.

Drinkability & Notes – This is the sort of beer that should be split between a few people after dinner. It is so rich that I may end up using many of the bottles for blending into sours that end up too dry/bland. What really amazes me is how aged this already tastes already despite having been brewed less than a year ago. Hopefully I get it carbonated eventually which will help to dry it out a bit and give it a bit more lively mouthfeel. I won't venture a guess at what I would change next time until I taste it with a bit more carbonation and age.

My Beer Nerd (Nerdy Beer) Friends

It is nice to have friends that make you feel like your level of beer nerdery is just average.

Dan, one of my beer buddies, has just started up a homebrew blog called City Brewer that is worth checking out. He is another aspiring funk-head brewer with some interesting ideas (for example he is brewing an Oat wine with Brett, and a 100% Brett L wheat with vanilla and wine).

Nathan (who you may remember from various sausage, bacon, and barrel posts) has also recently started a beer blog named DesJardin Brewing. Right now he only has a couple posts up with pictures and notes from a few beer-centric trips he has taken. He has some very cool content in the pipeline (like a video he took while Cantillon was running their ancient brew system) so make sure to check back there in a couple days.

I think the prize for most nerdy beer friend goes to Noah (who you may remember from the Orange Rosemary Dark Saison brew day). He has a youtube video of him controlling his pimped out brewery with an iPhone application (an application he designed). His system is the opposite end of the spectrum from my cooler/stove-top operation. That is one of my favorite things about homebrewing, almost no matter what you are interested in you can apply it.

All three are contributing to the two barrel aged beers we have aging now. I have plenty of other beer nerd friends, they just don't have anything online that I can point you towards (that I'm aware of anyway).

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Book Review: The Homebrewer's Garden

If brewing your own beer is the next logical step for many people after realizing that they love drinking beer, then growing your own ingredients in the next step for many people after they learn that they love brewing. That's where The Homebrewer's Garden comes in. I think the idea of growing hops at home has been really boosted by the hop shortage (which makes growing hops seem like a real cost saver) and the popularity of fresh hopped ales (something that is only possible if you have a very local source for hops). Growing grains and herbs for brewing doesn't have the same popularity, but there are some homebrewers out there doing it.

Content: The book is divided into three main sections covering the growing, processing, and use of hops, herbs, and grains.

Hops: This is the section I think most homebrews will be interested in. The chapter does a good enough job covering the subject that someone who doesn't have any/much experience gardening can do a pretty good job. It starts with simple topics like what type of hops to choose, where to plant them, and how to plant them. It then moves onto more complex topics like soil pH adjustment and trellis design. There are plenty of good drawing when it comes to something like trellis design that are very helpful.

The book was written more than 10 years ago so it may be a bit lacking on some of the newer varieties of hops. That said I think most people start out growing something classic like cascades before moving on to sterling or sunbeam (plus whoever you are buying the rhizome from should be able to give you some basic information).

The next sections is on identifying pests, diseases, and nutritional deficiencies and how to treat them if they occur. Most of the treatment options are do-it-yourself organic (using soap to deal with insects for example), I would have at least liked to hear briefly about the commercial organic options. Using the advice from this book I have two pretty strong healthy hop plants they don't get much yield but I blame that on the medium sun stop where I planted them (against the suggestions of this book).

The end of the chapter covers the harvest and post-harvest treatment of the plants and hops (drying and storage). There are instructions for building an oast, but I've had pretty good luck with my small harvests just laying them out on screens or using the microwave.

Herbs: The instructions for growing herbs are much more general than the chapter on hops because there are so many types of herbs used in brewing. It starts with general directions for starting the plants from seeds, divisions (that is dividing an already growing plant), root cuttings, hardwood cuttings, and offshoots. It then gives some basic tips for caring for, harvesting, drying, and storage that can be applied to most herbs.

Next is a section where about 40 herbs are featured with a page featuring information on what growing conditions it prefers, approximate usage rate, and any other relevant growing information. This section is more what Sacred Herbal and Healing Beers should have looked like. This section is helpful in couple ways. If you are thinking of growing herbs for brewing this is a great reference, but even if you aren't interested in growing the herbs yourself the suggestions could be put to use when using bought/gathered herbs. Many of the herbs also have culinary applications, so if you want to grow your own sage/basil/chamomile this wouldn't be a bad book to have.

Grains: Barley is covered first in great detail. The instructions cover everything from soil preparation, through planting, care, harvest, threshing, malting, and kilning. The more complicated and difficult part seems to be the malting and kilning. The process is explained in enough detail that it seems doable on a small scale, but I haven't tried it so I can't vouch for how complete/accurate the instructions are.

Next comes a section on the various other grains that can be grown and used in beer. I was surprised to learn that it can be dangerous to malt rye or oats at home due to the possibility of poisonous butryfying bacteria, so the author advises against trying it. Some of the grains covered include corn, sorghum, and wheat. For each grain there is a list of some of the available varieties, each one has a short paragraph of basic information along with the days to maturity.

Even if you aren't willing (or don't have the space) to grow your own grain you might consider making some crystal or toasted malt from store bought pale malt. I have made some toasted malt before, but I have never tried producing crystal malt. Playing with your malt seems like a pretty easy way to give your beers a unique house character that no one else will have exactly. I'd suggest making batches big enough that you can save some and adjust your usage based on your first try using it.

The recipes themselves are all geared towards using the homegrown ingredients discussed in the rest of the books. Some of the recipes sound like tasty ideas (Honey Basil Wheat and Spruce Ale), while others sound pretty out there (Quinoa Bitter and Rhubarb Ale). I haven't brewed any of the recipes as is, but most of them look solid to my eye and there are certainly some interesting ideas in there (especially considering that it was published long before Radical Brewing and other "interesting" homebrew books).

The recipes are mostly given as extract plus steeping grains, but each has an all-grain equivalent listed as well. Clearly some of the recipes were all-grain originally and couldn't be easily changed to a steeping grain version (one recipe calls for 1/2 lb of quinoa in the extract recipe and 6 lbs in the all-grain). In general there is a lot of steeping of grains that need their starch converted (toasted malt, oats, rye etc...), so if you are an extract brewer watch out for that.

Accuracy: I don't have any major issues with the accuracy of this book. That said, I am not even close to a competent gardener, so I cannot be as exacting as I normally am in my critique. That said, some of the amounts for the herbs seem a bit high (and the ranges are very broad in general). The rosemary in particular seems very high (1.5 oz) after trying just a few grams in a flavorful 11 gallon batch and getting enough resiny flavor for my taste.

Readability: It is a well designed book, and the reading is pretty easy. Really it is more of a reference book, something you can grab when your hop leaves look a little yellow, or to find out how much dandelion you might want to use in a spring saison you are planning.

Overall: I think this is a very worthwhile book if you are planning to grow hops, and might even be worth it if you just want to play with making your own toasted/crystal malts or adding herbs. I certainly will be referencing this book often for the 20 rhizomes I recently planted with a few friends at a local community garden.

If you can't come up with the $10.17 to buy this book, and all you want to do is grow some hops here is a free hop growing manual by Rebecca Kneen.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cable Car Clone - First Tasting

My Cable Car clone has been the batch that has generated some of the most interest on the homebrew boards (including a surprising number of ISO requests). I was even told that that there was a rumor going around that it was better than the original Lost Abbey beer (before anyone else had even gotten a taste).
I have yet to open my bottle of the original, so I haven't found out just how far off I am yet. Eventually I'll post my tasting notes on it, but for the moment I am pretty pleased that the three batches and year plus of aging resulted in a highly drinkable, fruity, peppery sour ale.
The first picture is of my initial pour, the second is after the carbonation had a chance to kick the yeast back into suspension.
Tasting 4/15/09
Appearance – Perfectly clear golden body with racing carbonation piercing through it. The head pours big and creamy, but fades to a thin covering in about 5 minutes. Certainly one of the more attractive sours I have made. The second pour is a bit cloudier, but no less appealing.

Smell – Big peach-apricot nose at first whiff. Once it has a few minutes to breath I get a bit of damp oak and some biscuity malt notes as well, but the big fruit stays. Not much funkiness in the nose.

Taste – Moderate lemon/citrus like tartness takes the lead. It is balanced by a touch of residual sweetness that is again reminiscent of ripe stone fruit. I wonder if the stone fruit character is from the lager portion (lager yeast produce a bit of sulfur which is associated with stone fruit). The finish has a bit of rustic peppery saison quality to it. The second yeastier pour covers up some of the sourness and makes it taste more like a slightly sour Fantome-esque saison.

Mouthfeel – The heavy carbonation is really great in this beer. The body feels pretty light, but it is not chalky or super thin like many lambics end up.

Drinkability & Notes – A really well balanced, drinkable sour beer. It isn't quite as sour as I would have liked, but I can forgive that. I'll be interested to see if it picks up some more funk/complexity with a bit more time in the bottle.

If I had this to brew again I would probably add some funk to the saison portion at least going into primary. I would probably also combine the Biere de Garde and pale lager portions to make this a two thread instead of the three thread recipe (I just think there was any advantage on this scale to brewing the two lagers separately).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Beer Wars: Brewed in America (Rant)

I realize that this isn’t the sort of topic I usually cover on this blog, so if you couldn’t care less about my thoughts on a movie about the American craft brewing industry which hasn't even come out yet, just skip over this and I’ll be returning with homebrew content shortly.

Beer Wars is a movie about the “fight” of the small independent craft brewer against the evil macros breweries. It is a one night only event (although I'm sure there will be a DVD) on April 16th followed by a live discussion panel that will be beamed to the 400+ theaters nationwide showing the movie.

First off it bothers me to see a bunch of people who run pretty big businesses (Sam Adams, Stone, and Dogfish Head) drumming up anti-corporate sentiments about larger corporations (Bud, Miller, Coors) that they compete against. Could you imagine a movie with great wine makers taking shots at Thunderbird, or great cheese makers making fun of Kraft? I understand that marketing is important, but I think there are better ways to go about it.

Watching the trailer a chuckled a little when I heard Sam (the owner of Dogfish Head) rail against the use of adjuncts in macro lagers. This is a man who uses so much refined sugar (or as he calls it white malt) in his beers that you might guess that he staffed the brewery with oompa loompas.

After seeing the trailer I simply didn’t have much interest in going to see the movie. As a five-year veteran of the craft beer scene I just assumed the movie would end up preaching to the choir (how many non-beer nerds will go to this?) and retread things I had already heard (beer is more than just American light lagers, the macros are trying to maintain their market dominance through marketing, beer store/distributor shenanigans, and lobbying etc...).

What really prompted this post was an email I received Saturday from Chandra Karp who is “working with” New Century Brewing Company to promote the movie. The basic idea I guess is to convince me (and other bloggers) to publish their press release in exchange for a pass to the movie. I found this odd as I had never heard of the brewery, and the other people featured are all big names in the industry (Greg from Stone, Sam from Boston Beer, Author/Historian Maureen Ogle, Todd from Beer Advocate etc…).

It turns out that New Century is based in Boston, but contract brewed by Lion in Wilkes Barre PA (nothing wrong with contract brewing per se, Sly Fox brews some fantastic beers for Southampton). New Century makes two beers, Edison, is a 4% ABV light lager sold in clear bottles and Moonshot ‘69 a caffeine infused golden lager (which has a 1.44 score on Beer Advocate). Are these really great examples of “creative and passionate” craft beer? I have nothing against a light/crisp lager on a hot summer day or a rich caffeinated coffee stout on a cold winter night, but a light beer in a (skunk prone) clear bottle and a pils with 69 mg of pure caffeine added? Come on.

Why the CEO of a small, boring, contract brewery is featured in this movie and following discussion panel is beyond me. These are exactly the sorts of marketing driven beers that I expect from Bud/Miller/Coors, not the flavor driven beers from the great craft brewers of this country (Lost Abbey, Russian River, Surly, Firestone Walker, Tröegs etc…). Here is what the press release has to say about her “Well-recognized as a female pioneer in a male-dominated industry. But it was Kallman’s energy and tenacity however, that caught the attention and inspiration of Baron.” If they just wanted to get another woman passionate about beer on the panel how about Tonya Cornett from Bend Brewing (which recently won small brewpub of the year).

The film maker’s main cred (according to the press release) is from being the general manager of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. I wonder if Sam Adam’s ownership of (and recent settlement with the TTB over) Twisted Tea will come up?

And don’t even get me started on trying to figure out why Ben Stein was chosen to be the moderator for the 30 minute discussion panel after the movie. I loved Win Ben Stein’s Money as much as anyone (and his classic delivery of "Bueller... Bueller"), but in his current roll as a spokesman for creationism I have a hard time believing much he says.

Sorry for the rant, if anyone goes to see Beer Wars on Thursday let me know what you think of it.

To take a look at my impressions once I finally actually watched the movie, take a look at my review.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Book Review: Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers

Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation by Stephen Harrod Buhner is a book that takes a devotes more than 500 pages to the ingredients and techniques that were once apart of beer brewing before the pale European lager conquered the world. It covers some beers that most beer nerds will have heard of and a few will have brewed, gruit, kvass, and sahti for example, but for the most part it talks about things that very few people will have heard of (let alone brewed), nettle beer, oak bark ale, and saffron beer for example.

To being truthful I have not read this entire book. Large sections are not so much about the flavor/technique of using these ingredients as much as they are about the history and supposed health benefits of the different herbs/spices discussed. I do not see enough evidence to support the health benefits of self medicating with plant material, so these sections just did not hold my interest.

Content: The first chapter starts out with a nice story about the trek into the rain forest to taste a primitive beer. A beer which given the rapid spread of "culture" and mega-breweries is now in danger of being a forgotten relic of the past. The tale and the rest of the first chapter provides the framework for the rest of the book: tradition, respect for nature, and the healing powers of plants.

The second chapter covers honey and mead. The author claims that traditionally mead makers would simply put the entire hive (angry bees and all) into the water to extract the honey. He claims that this technique lead to getting a much better nutritional punch from the mead as it contained such ever popular folk remedies as royal jelly, venom, and propolis.

The third chapter talks about yeast. I had heard some similar stories of how people originally preserved their yeast between batches (drying it onto a stick, vessel, or cloth), but it was interesting to read about this in more detail since wild yeast is something of a passion of mine. The author makes an attempt to talk about wild yeast, but ends up referring to several strains of bacteria as yeast (clearly microbiology is not his strong suit).

The fourth chapter looks at "sacred" indigenous beers. This is one of the more interesting chapters as it covers different styles that you may have heard of, a couple of which are still produced commercially. I have gotten the chance to try some of these beers like Sahti, and while it was not to my taste I could see someone actually wanting to brew a full batch of it.

The next chapter is a pretty short chapter looking at the role of alcohol culturally and on the body (through the eyes of native people). The author's main point is that alcohol has a long standing role as an important additive to human life and culture, and is inseparable from the alcoholic beverages we enjoy.

The six chapter discusses the different grains used in brewing. It makes you appreciate just how lucky we are to have malted grains so we don't have to use the amylase enzyme in our saliva to covert the starches in grains to sugar. The chapter does a good job discussing the fact that the barley we consider to be the basis for brewing is really just one of many different base grains used through the history of beer.

The seventh chapter looks at "highly intoxicating" brews. This may be the chapter that some of you are the most interested in. That said given the low level of "modern" (that is to say reliable) sources sited I would be worried about throwing in some of the proposed ingredients into one of my brews.

The next two chapters talk about the wide variety of brewing ingredients that come from trees and other plants. Each section talks about how a particular herb/spice/bark/extract was traditionally used in beer making, its purported health benefits, and a sample recipe to try. The outlandish health benefits that are claimed for many of the ingredients often make you laugh, as do the calls to arms against the modern treatment of disease.

The appendices cover such things as basic (and I do me basic) brewing technique, mead making, and sources for some of the stranger ingredients mentioned. The brewing instructions are so lax that they make Charlie Papazian look like an uptight process nerd. I understand that ancient people did not have star-san (or germ theory) and still made passable beers, but I doubt many batches hung around for more than a week after brewing.

Recipes: The recipes are pretty much all over the place. Many of the recipes appear to have been plucked directly from old texts, so they should make for pretty authentic beverages. That said for the most part they seem like they would taste terrible. Many of the recipes contain no malt (lots of sugar/molasses based recipes).

I often feel like the herbs/spices used are also in ludicrous amounts (1/2 oz of saffron in a 1 gallon recipe? Granted he is trying to get a psychotropic effect, but that's $132-$230 at Penzeys). Things like this make me doubt whether the author tried brewing many of the recipes in the book. It would have been very interesting to see the tasting notes for some of the recipes at least.

As a result I don't feel confident using them as a guide when designing my own recipes.

Accuracy: My major complaint is the author seems to take anything that was written before 1900 and assume that it is accurate. If a claimed health benefit or recipe sounds a bit off, the author should make a note to let the read know. Citing several hundred year old references for the aphoristical qualities of gruit ale as if they were from a recent issue of JAMA seems irresponsible to me.

In general this book is written by someone who doesn't seem to care about science. He calls yeast a plant for example (a kingdom level mistake is pretty embarrassing).

Readability: Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers is a pretty dry read unless you are interested in more than just the brewing information. If you have an interest in a particular additive or historic beer that section would be a decent reference, but in terms of a casual book for the average homebrewer it is close to unreadable.

Overall: While it has some interesting parts, overall it is not a great brewing book. If the historical recipes section of Radical Brewing really caught your imagination this would be a worthwhile read, otherwise you probably don't need a copy.

Monday, April 6, 2009

No-Sparge Brewing Session Ale

Every once in awhile I get the urge to brew, but don't have a full weekend day to devote to brewing. So I end up brewing on a weeknight after work. I get home around 5, so my "standard" 5-6 hour brew day (including setup and cleanup) takes up my entire evening.

To shave off some time I have tried a couple different techniques, starting the mash early (either in the morning or on my lunch break), and doing very small batches. This time around I decided to give no-sparge brewing a try. I simply mixed the grist with a high proportion of water (2.31 qrts/lb) let it rest for an hour and then ran off the wort. This technique worked pretty well it seemed, my efficiency only dropped 20% (worth the hour savings in sparge time to me).

I am planning on brewing an Adambier in the next couple weeks so I wanted to build up a big healthy slurry of Scottish ale yeast. This "starter" beer is a general session ale. The grainbill is along the lines of an English Mild, but for the hops I went with Nelson Sauvin. Nelson Sauvin come from New Zealand and purportedly have a piney white wine character that is pretty unique. It is pretty hard to get them here in America, but lucky I am friends with a pro-brewer who had a big box of them. The amount I needed for this batch (.75 oz) is probably less than they spill during while weighing out the pounds of hops each batch requires.

International Session Ale

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
Batch Size (Gal): 3.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 7.34
Anticipated OG: 1.045
Anticipated SRM: 22.8
Anticipated IBU: 25.5
Brewhouse Efficiency: 50 %
Wort Boil Time: 65 Minutes

5.50 lbs. Maris Otter
1.25 lbs. Wheat Malt
0.25 lbs. Crystal 55L
0.19 lbs. Carafa Special II
0.16 lbs. Pale Chocolate Malt

0.25 oz. Nelson Sauvin@ 60 min.
0.50 oz. Nelson Sauvin @ 4 min.

0.50 Whirlfloc @ 15 Min.
0.25 Tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 Min.

WYeast 1728 Scottish Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
65 min @ 154 (2.31 qrts/lb)

Brewed 4/01/09 by myself

Very thin mash, stirred several times to ensure good enzymatic distribution.

Did a no sparge, collected 3.5 gallons of 1.040 wort, diluted with ~3 qrts of filtered DC water pre-boil.

Fermentation was going well after about 12 hours.

4/11/09 Racked to secondary, full 3 gallons.

4/14/09 Down to 1.010, good flavor, nice fruitiness with a bit of toast. About ready to bottle when I find the time.

4/18/09 Bottled (ISS) with 1 5/8 oz of cane sugar (aiming for ~2 vol CO2). Smells pretty good, a mix of toasty and citrus.

5/05/09 First tasting

6/13/09 Scored 31/33/33 in the SoFB. The judges liked it, but the consensus was that there was too much dark malt and an incorrect hop character for a Northern English Brown.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What brewing software web sites do you use to help with brewing and formulating recipes?

Beer Designer PRO 0 (0%)

Beer Replicator 3 (2%)

BeerAlchemy 8 (6%)

BeerMeister 0 (0%)

BeerSmith 34 (28%) 11 (9%)

Brew Wizard 0 (0%) 0 (0%)

Brewsta 0 (0%)

Brewthology 0 (0%) 0 (0%)

CyberBrau 0 (0%)

Homebrew Calculator 3 (2%) 7 (5%)

ProMash 31 (26%)

QBrew 17 (14%) 2 (1%)

SUDS 0 (0%) 19 (15%)

Other software or web site 18 (15%)

None 14 (11%)

Looks like ProMash and BeerSmith are neck and neck for most popular brewing software. I've always used Promash, but at this point it has been more than 6 years since an update (not that there are that many things that it needs). I also tend to use to screw around with recipes when I am on a computer without ProMash.

I was surprised how many people use QBrew (a free program). I used it for a few batches when I started out, but haven't taken a look at it in a couple years. I honestly hadn't even heard of many of the others when a reader suggested the topic (and gave me most of the options)

I would be interested to hear what the people who answered other or none use/do. Also feel free to post any ringing endorsements for your favorite software.