Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cider: Another Interlude

In the past year I've become quite enamored with cider, or as some people refer to it: hard cider. Certain female friends of mine who drink cider helped to spur my interest in cidermaking and, as I had all the equipment already from brewing, I decided to try my hand at it. Working with pasteurized, store-bought cider is a definite disadvantage, but the results are still pretty tasty. They're certainly far better than the cloyingly sweet commercial ciders that most folks are used to.

The two gallons in the photo are an attempt to rectify a huge mistake on my part. I bought these fresh-pressed apple juices at Giant for a great price, and only upon getting home did I realize that they had preservatives, i.e. potassium sorbate. Potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate are two of the common chemicals used to preserve fruit juices because they inhibit yeast production, which is not good when you're trying to ferment the sugars in apple juice. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If life gives you sorbated juice, make the best darn cider you can.

I decided to try to overcome the potassium sorbate by pitching dry wine yeast, a packet of which is normally good for 5 gallons of must. My thought was that this would be essentially an overpitching of yeast and overcome the effects of the sorbate. Plus, potassium sorbate inhibits reproduction but not fermentation. So these ciders are an experiment. I started them three weeks ago and just transferred them to secondary today. One used Premier Cuvee champagne yeast, the other used Montrachet. The one with Premier Cuvee smelled amazing when I was transferring, kind of a spicy, cinnamony smell. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that these end up tasting alright. But I've definitely learned my lesson, no more grocery store fresh apple juice to make cider. Whole Foods seems to be the only place around here that sells fresh apple juice without preservatives, albeit at $5.49/gallon. I might have to check out Trader Joe's sometime.

Tomorrow I hope to write about today's 13-hour brew day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Brewing: A Primer

I realize that since I'm sharing all these posts on my Facebook page, many people who read what I post may not have any clue what I'm talking about, since much of the language I use is geared more toward fellow brewers. So with that in mind I'll try to provide a basic primer on how beer is created.

I brew in a method that is known as all-grain brewing. Basically I just use malted grain (malt), water, hops, and yeast to create beer. The list of basic steps of brewing are below, with descriptions of each step below that, and I'll probably go into greater detail in future blog posts by fleshing out each of these steps.

  1. Recipe Selection
  2. Crushing Grain
  3. Mashing Grain
  4. Lautering Wort
  5. Sparging
  6. Boiling Wort
  7. Hopping
  8. Wort Chilling
  9. Yeast Pitching
  10. Fermentation
  11. Secondary Fermentation/Conditioning
  12. Bottling
  13. Drinking (this is my favorite part)

Recipe Selection

I create my own recipes, but there are recipes available online too for various types of beers. You essentially just have to determine what type of beer you want to brew and then assemble the correct grains (malt), hops, and yeast for your beer. I create my own recipes using a freeware product called Qbrew, which is available through Ubuntu's Synaptic Package Manager. For those of you out there still using Windows or Mac, you can google it pretty easily and download the packages. Once you have your recipe and ingredients, you're ready to start making beer. The next step is crushing your malt.

Crushing Grain

The easiest way to crush grain is to buy a malt mill. I have a Barleycrusher malt mill, which I think runs somewhere around $125-150. It has two knurled rollers, one of which can be powered by a hand drill (hurray for labor-saving power tools!) Get the mill and hopper set on top of a 5-gallon bucket, add the grain to the hopper, and crush away. You don't want to crush too coarsely because you won't have enough grain surface area for the water to act on in the mash, and you don't want to crush too finely because you don't want to end up with lots of flour and crushed pieces of husk. Either one of those would make the next step more difficult, which is mashing the grain.

Mashing Grain

In mashing the malt, you are creating a mash. Most people when they hear "mash" used as a noun think of distilling, e.g. sour mash, corn mash, etc. This is essentially the same principle, in which hot water is added to crushed malt to activate the enzymes present in the malt to convert starches into sugars. The yeast that will be used in fermentation convert the sugars to ethanol and carbon dioxide, among other compounds, giving us the wonderful fizziness and alcoholic buzz we all know and love. Once the mash is completed and the starches have been converted to sugar, we can begin the process of lautering.

Lautering Wort

Lautering is the process by which the wort, which is the sugary water resulting from mashing, is separated from the grain. My mash tun is a 10-gallon kettle with a valve at the bottom. I hook up a piece of hose to a barb that is screwed into the valve and open it up. The first half gallon or so will contain pieces of grain, husks, etc., so that is drained into a small pot. Once the wort is relatively clear, I let the rest of it drain into my 10-gallon boil kettle. The first half-gallon gets dumped back into the mash tun to filter through the grain bed. Once all the water has been released, I close the valve and begin to sparge.


Sparging is the addition of more hot water to the grain bed to filter out as much of the remaining sugars as possible. I do two batch sparges, which is where I add a quantity of water to the grain bed all at once, wait a few minutes, and drain that water as I did for the initial lautering process. After my second batch sparge I generally aim to have around 8 to 8.25 gallons of wort ready to boil.

Boiling Wort

Boiling wort is relatively simple, just put your kettle over a heat source and bring to a boil. You have to make sure that you have enough headspace at the top, though, because if the boil gets too vigorous it could boil over and create a real mess.


Beer recipes call for hops, which aside from their preservative function also provide bitterness, flavor, and aroma to the beer. Depending on what the recipe calls for, hops can be boiled with the wort for 90, 60, 30, 15, 10, 5 minutes, or anywhere in between. 60-90 minutes of boiling provides the most bitterness, while 30 minutes or less provides the most aroma and flavor.

Wort Chilling

I boil for 90 minutes, and lose 1.625 gallons of water per hour. The rehydration of the hops absorbs some additional water, and coagulated solids in the wort lead to even more water loss. Once my boil is completed, I have about 5.5-6 gallons of wort ready to be fermented. I expect at least a 5% loss of volume in transferring to the fermenter, a 5% loss after primary fermentation, and a 5% volume after secondary fermentation, ending up hopefully with 5 gallons of finished beer.

Once the boil is completed, the wort has to be cooled to a low enough temperature that will not kill the yeast. While yeast can survive at up to 100 degree temperatures, starting your beer off that hot can lead to a lot of off flavors. Generally you want to cool the wort to around 70-75 degrees for ales, and 60 degrees or so for lagers. Once it's cooled, you transfer it to your glass carboy (6.5 gallons is the best size to use) to add your yeast and start fermentation.

Yeast Pitching

There are two major types of beer yeast, ale yeast and lager yeast. Ale yeasts ferment at higher temperatures and ferment on the top of the wort, while lager yeasts ferment at cooler temperatures and at the middle and bottom of the wort. There's also a choice between liquid and dry yeasts. There's a greater variety of liquid yeasts, but I've always used dry yeasts. I just cut open the top of the little 11.5 gram packet of dry yeast and sprinkle the yeast on top. It will rehydrate and begin the process of fermentation, converting the sugars in the wort to ethanol and carbon dioxide.


Once the yeast has been added, the mouth of the carboy is sealed with a rubber stopper containing an airlock. To the airlock I always add vodka because of the disinfectant qualities of alcohol, so that in case any liquid gets from the airlock into the beer it won't cause an infection. After the wort has been boiled, sanitation becomes incredibly important. Any bacteria or wild yeasts that get into the beer can completely spoil it. The airlock allows carbon dioxide from the carboy to escape, while keeping outside air from getting into the beer.

Secondary Fermentation/Conditioning

After one or two weeks I transfer my beer into a 5-gallon carboy for conditioning. As time goes by, the yeast clean up any waste compounds they may have produced and they eventually fall out of suspension and end up at the bottom of the carboy. The more yeast fall out of suspension, the clearer the beer gets. I don't filter my beer, I just let the yeast fall out naturally.


After two weeks of conditioning it is time to bottle my beer. I boil 5 ounces of corn sugar in a cup of water, add it to the bottom of my (sanitized) bottling bucket, transfer my beer on top of it, and proceed to fill up the bottles I had sanitized. The beer is normally carbonated within a week, but it tastes best and gets to peak carbonation after at least two to three weeks in the bottle.


I hope this section is self-explanatory. :)

And there you have it, brewing in a nutshell. I think I'll definitely delve into each of these sections in more detail in the future. Hope my handful of readers are enjoying this blog!

The Mother of all Sparges

Well, for whatever reason, my bad luck with rye brewing continues. At first I threw in 10 huge handfuls of rice hulls (later added 3 more handfuls) but that wasn't enough to keep the sparge from sticking. I'm kind of at a loss as to why this is happening. It seems as though the grain bed is particularly dense, although as the picture shows, the bazooka tube is not plugging. I'm wondering if next time I shouldn't just keep my rollers at 12 o'clock to minimize the amount of flour/dust that might cause a more compact grain bed.

The initial runoff from the sparges came pretty quickly, but the flow rate slowed down substantially, and eventually stopped completely. No idea how much sugar I left in the mash tun, but according to my calculations I lost at least .222 gallons per pound of grain, as opposed to .181 for my last rye beer. Preboil Brix was 10.6, postboil was 13.6, which left me at 1.055 SG as opposed to the 1.058 I was shooting for. Lower volume and lower sugar, not good. I'm going to have to dial it in better for the next batch, maybe do a Roggenbock so that the rye is a smaller percentage of the grist.

This beer was hopped with one ounce of 3.5% Hersbrucker for 90 minutes and 1/4 oz. for 15 minutes. Chilling went off without a hitch but transferring to the carboy was a little slow due to the thickness of the wort slowing down the flow rate through the hop residue and the funnel filter. But it's in the carboy now and has a nice little kräusen going after only two hours. Good think I went down and checked just now, because I had forgotten to put vodka in the airlock. Whoops!

Now it's just a matter of weeks to allow it to ferment, condition, and then bottle and drink it. I'm hoping this one will be ready by Christmas.

Citra Pils: An Interlude

Despite only being in the bottle for 6 days, I just had to try the Citra Pils that I brewed at the beginning of October. It's a relatively light beer, ended up at 5.2% ABV with 9# of Weyermann Pilsner, hopped with 0.5 oz. of Citra for 90 minutes, and another 0.5 oz. at flameout. It has a really nice, smooth bitterness, and just a hint of citrus aroma and taste but not too overpowering. Qbrew estimated the IBUs at 30, compared to the 33 of the APA I brewed back in August. I openend a rump bottle that only had about 11 oz. in it, and while the carbonation was a little flat, it was still pretty good for 6 days. Another week or so and it will be just perfect. It's still a little hazy since the yeast are probably still working, a definite change from how clear it was in the carboy.

The APA used Cascade as a bittering hops with Citra as the aroma hops, and there's definitely a more pronounced bitterness with the APA. It's a good thing Citra has such high alpha acids, it could be a very good dual-purpose hop. Too bad it's a proprietary hop and so hard to find, it looks like the 2011 crop is almost completely sold out already. That said, I still think I prefer Ahtanum. The nice orange/tangerine taste of Ahtanum is preferable in my opinion to the grapefruit/citrus of Citra.

Rye Beer

Today's brew will be a rye beer, a Roggenmünchner Dunkles. Rye with Vienna malt was excellent, rye with Pilsner malt was underwhelming, so now I'm trying rye with Munich malt. 5# of Weyermann rye malt with 6# of Weyermann Light Munich.

I'm thinking that the rye pilsner was so tasteless because of my mash procedure. Because of previous mash problems with the beta glucans tying up so much water and creating a very sticky mash, I mashed most of the rye with a little bit of pilsner malt and left it for a 30 minute beta glucanase rest followed by a 40 minute saccharification rest. Then I added the rest of the pilsner malt and a little bit more rye and added tap water to get back down to around 100 degrees for another 30 minute beta glucanase rest, followed by a 60 minute saccharification rest at 152F.

This was based on what I read about Markus Hermann's mash schedule for hefeweizens here: I used that mash procedure for both my last Hefeweizen and the rye pilsner, and both beers were underwhelming, which other tasters agreed on as well.

So today I think I'll go back to a standard double infusion mash. I'll mash in all the grist at around 104 for the beta glucanase rest, and probably let it sit for at least 30-45 minutes. Previously I'd only been waiting 15 minutes, and I think that's way too short. I really don't want a huge gelatinous clump of grain, so I'm thinking 30-45 minutes is the way to go. We'll see. Then I'll shoot for 154-155 for the saccharification. My best ryes were at 155 and 158, with the last one at 152 ending up too thin. I really enjoy the syrupy thickness of a good rye beer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


After a long hiatus I figured I would get back into blogging, only this time I thought I might blog about one of my passions: beer. I'm toying with the idea of starting a brewery or a brewpub due to my upcoming unemployment and all the comments I'm getting about the quality of my homebrew, and I thought this might be an interesting creative outlet. Beer posts and photos to come!