Tag Archives: homebrew

Home Smoked Grains: Comparing Applewood Smoked Rauchbier to Hickory Smoked Rauchbier

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Collaborations can really be the best thing sometimes.

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Besides brewing beer in my Brooklyn apartment, I have also spent the last 15 + years attending underground hardcore shows.  One of the bands that I still get the chance to go see is a Brooklyn based band called Indecision.  Now, this is a band that played my very first local hardcore show and I have had the opportunity of playing alongside of them with various bands.  I have also had the chance to get to know them as individuals.  Bago, the bass player, is a man who also has another fantastic hobby, smoking incredible meats! He has been an avid BBQ man for some time now and has worked his craft to an awesome level. He is currently smoking under the name BAGOCUE and is starting to put out a line of delectable food, though not professionally as of yet.

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Knowing that he had a substantially sized smoker, it wasn’t long before I asked if he would be willing to help smoke some grains for me to brew a rauchbier.  A kickass perk was his readily accessible access to a variety of different woods to use in smoking.

We began deciding on a day for me to come on over to his place, drink some homebrew, eat some BBQ, and smoke some grains.  Working with someone who already has experience with smoking really made it easy to land on 2 types of wood to use.  First up was Applewood, which is very common when smoking meat, particularly Bacon. Secondly, we decided to go with Hickory, since oak can have a very strong/tannic character.  Both types of wood created beer that is great to drink, but drastically different in flavor and aroma.

Procedure:

Smoking grain really doesn’t seem hard to do, and in many ways it isn’t challenging, however, being that this was my first time going through the process, mistakes were definitely made that impacted the end product of my beer.  But that is what this was all about, learning how to smoke grains myself, instead of relying on pre-smoked grains that I had no control over.  My main mistake was not allowing the grains to completely air dry before storing them for brewing.  I must officially apologize to Brooklyn Homebrew for gumming up their grinder for a good half hour.  I really thought mildly moist grains wouldn’t be a problem, turns out it mushes in a weird dough consistency and sticks to everything. Whoops! Sorry guys!  I ended up grinding about 5 pounds of grain by hand, which absolutely blew and I hope no one has to spend that much time with a rolling-pin, ever.  Girlfriend Karen suffered through it with me, helping along the way  Also, if grains are left wet, in a dark and moist area, mold grows on them.  I lost nearly half of my grains to this problem and felt like a complete waste of life.  That being said, I can only harp on the point more clearly: MAKE SURE YOU LET THE GRAINS DRY COMPLETELY BEFORE STORING!

Here is what we did:

1.  Get a very small, low heat fire started with only about 5- 6 small pieces of wood going in a smoker

2.  Soak all of the grains in water for a least 15 mins.

3.  Lay window screen down on top of the top metal grill. Window screen is very cheap and easy to find at any Home Depot type store.

4.  Pour the now moist grains (ditch the water) directly on top of the screen.

5.  Cover and let smoke for approximately an hour, maintaining a very low but consistent smoke

6.  Remove from the smoke and let completely dry (cough cough)

7.  Let the grains calm down for a week.  This is crucial, because the scent is tremendous when the grain is freshly smoked. My whole apartment smelled like a bacon campfire, which my vegetarian girlfriend really loved, for at least 5 days.

8. Grind up the grains and brew away!

The beer I chose to make is a rauchbier recipe that really lets the smoke shine.  I find it reminiscent of the Aecht Schlenkerla Racubier Marzen.  It’s a pretty straight for smooth rauchbier, with a lovely smoke character that really makes the beer stand out.  I used only 1 type of smoked grain in each version of this beer.

Recipe:

Home Smoked Malt (Applewood or Hickory) 7.00 lb (71.4 %)
German Pilsner Malt 1.00 lb (10.2 %)
German CaraMunich II 1.00 lb (10.2 %)
Belgian Caramel Vienna Malt 0.70 lb (7.1 %)
German Carafa II 0.10 lb (1.0 %)

Mashed at 150 for 60 minutes

Hops
German Tettnang (4.5 % alpha) 2.00 oz Bagged Pellet Hops used 60 Min From End
German Tettnang (4.5 % alpha) 0.30 oz Bagged Pellet Hops used 5 Min From End

Yeast: Wyeast 1728-Scottish Ale

The outcome really blew me away with how drastically different the beers came out.  The Applewood reminded me completely of ham or bacon.  The Hickory really tasted like a campfire (in a good way).

Left: Hickory Smoked Grain Right: Applewood Smoked Grain

Left: Hickory Smoked Grain
Right: Applewood Smoked Grain

Applewood Smoked Rauchbier

Appearance: A light amber brown color with a slight hint of orange.  Clear with very thin layered head

Nose:  A slight metallic hint to the overwhelming ham aroma. No significant hop character, but sometimes hops remind me of metal. A sweeter scent underneath the smoke

Flavor:  A slight bitterness smooths out into a slightly wet grain flavor.  It finishes with a smoke that is very reminiscent of smoked meat.  A bacon vibe but some clinging tannin flavors

Mouthfeel:  Very thin bodied but a smokey dryness that lingers on the tongue.

Overall:  I enjoy the smoke flavor of the beer, but there are some definite flaws coming out in the balance and mouthfeel.  4.5/10

Hickory Smoked Rauchbier:

Appearance:  A very similar clean brown color with moderate low carbonation

Nose:  A pleasantly balanced nose of hickory shines through the beer.  Mild caramel undertones support the smoke with no significant hop aroma

Flavor:  A wonderful blend of Hickory, tannin, smoke, and malt.The smoke lends to a perceived bitterness or sharpness but with no hints of astrigency.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied for a lighter ABV beer. A long lasting flavor stays on the tongue

Overall:  This beer is significantly better that the Applewood, however it is much more reminiscent of a campfire than of smoked food.  This beer rests comfortably in between smoke and smoothness 8/10

 

Big thanks to Bago for taking the time to play with some beer!

Cherry picking my keepers: A Brown Ale to develop

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A good friend of mine has figured out a great recipe for an American Brown Ale.  Last year we ended up running some of his batch through a barrel and it came out great.  This year I have been brewing it to keep pushing the recipe where it can go.  It’s not there yet, but its a great start.

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American Brown Ale:

Appearance: Very dark brown to black, but a reddish hue when held up to the light

Nose:the initial roastiness is met with dark chocolate.  Mild hop aroma

Flavor: Very balanced chocolate and hop bitterness.  No real roastiness, but a very smooth taste

Mouthfeel: A wonderful creamy body, but a slight bitterness from the dark grains

Overall: This is a delicious brown ale.  The chocolate flavor sends my mind into a head spin. 8.2/ 10

Building a sleeve to my chest freezer: A. K. A. having the best retired dad ever!

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One of the most challenging aspects of homebrewing is temperature control.  There are many DIY ways to control fermentation temperature, but using a chest freezer with a temperature control themostat is really the best.  Once this system is running, space becomes the limiting factor.  I’ve had this chest freezer for over a year, but finally expanded it to hold 6 kegs.  I really can’t wait to start my lager brew days!  A billion thanks to my  retired father for assembling such an awesome expansion of the freezer.  Here is what he did, in his own words.

Written By John Lovrich (my dad)

    To raise the height of a chest freezer, you basically make a box around the outside diameter of the freezer to reach the desired height. The one I made was made with 1″ by 8″ clear cedar boards cut to the correct lengths. An extra length was cut to connect to the inside of the side in which the freezer hinge was to be attached creating a rabbit joint. This piece is attached to the outside piece with 1″ stainless wood screws making it stronger and permitting the back section to be attached from the back and the side. After the wood has been cut , apply four coats of spar varnish to all sides.
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 Light sanding is required between each coat, but in the end, a well sealed frame has been made protecting against moisture and mold. 2″ stainless steel screws were used to attach all the pieces, but remember to pre-drill the holes so the wood doesn’t split.
Once the wood is thoroughly dried, assemble the frame and be sure it fits properly on the freezer.
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If all is okay, attach Super-Tuff R insulation board to the inside of the item. Be sure that the aluminum vapor barrier is facing into the freezer. Do not glue the insulation board because the varnish prohibits good bonding. Attach the insulation board to the wood by using 1″ #8 stainless pan head screws with the largest stainless washers available. Insert screws at all four corners and across the top and bottom every 10 to 12 inches apart. Once completed, buy a roll of foil tape and seal the top and bottom of pacer by folding the tape and covering the top of the insulation board, extending down the board about a 1/2 inch and stretching across the top and attaching to the wood. This creates a nice seal. But be careful, the tape is very sticky and once it is on, it is on. Do a dry run without removing the backing paper before you assemble. You only get one shot when assembling.
To attach the spacer to the freezer, buy a roll of industrial grade velcro. The freezer door must be disconnected by this time. This material is also extremely sticky. This material is attached to the freezer side as well as to the bottom of the spacer. Again, I advise doing a dry run with the velcro before final assembly. Place the velcro on the freezer first, and then after it is placed on the bottom of the spacer, carefully drop in place a press down for a few seconds. That’s it. The spacer is firmly attached. Place the freezer door on top of the spacer and be sure it is alined. Make sure the hinge is flush to the wood, pre-drill the holes and attach with 1″ #8 pan head screws, or larger or smaller if necessary. Drill any holes for the tubing to be used from the outside toward the inside. Use a thin paint brush to coat the inside of the hole just drilled with spar varnish. The spacer is now complete and ready for use.
WOW! what a guy!

DAD

DAD

The Final Version: the completion of a session pale ale (recipe include)

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Over the past year, I have been developing an ale that started out as a big, citrus IPA.  Overtime I kept dialing back the amount of bitterness and the IBU’s until I found a really nice balance.  This is my second time brewing this beer exactly the same way, and it has turned out to be a homerun. Easy drinking, and everyone keeps refilling their glasses. Try it out! Cheers

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Here is the review:

Appearance: a clear orange brown with a few hop particles floating around.

nose:  The galaxy citrus aroma shines through with hints of melon and grapefruit.  There is a malt sweetness underneath the floral characteristics that reminds me of biscuits and toasted bread.

Flavor:  A mild but assertive hop bitterness that finishes easily, but with a noticeable hop finish. Very easy to drink

mouth feel: Medium bodied and a very balanced experience

overall:  This tastes like it came from a brewery! looking forward to entering it into a competition in the future. 9/10

Here is the recipe:

10 lbs 2 row

1 lb crystal 40

.3 lb Honey Malt

.3 lb Vienna Malt

.3 lb Caramunich

.3 lb aromatic

stepped at 152 for 60 min.

.8 oz galaxy hop for first wort hop

1 oz cascade with 10 minutes left of boil

.5 ounce galaxy at flame out

.7 ounce galaxy for dry hop

British Ale yeast at 67 degrees

fucking with saison

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Fucking with saison
Using cucumber, banana, white nectarines in saisons

I’ve been a member of the beer of the month club for a few years now.  Every month, two bangers of weird beer show up.  My room-mate and I have had many great unique beers, many of which were weird saisons.  I was able to try a cucumber saison from cigar city and was pleasantly surprised, the flavor of the cucumber went very well with the spicy character of the saison yeast. So I decided to try it for myself, along with some other ideas that I have been waiting to try.

All the additions were put into 1 gallon of beer after fermentation.  Usually they were only aged for 10 days before being kegged and conditioned. For the cucumber saison, I used one large cucumber that was a few days past ripe. I froze it then thawed it before i chopped it up, skin and all, and placed it into one gallon of saison.  The banana saison got 6 overly ripe bananas that I did the same thing as the cucumber.  For the white nectarine, I used 2 lbs of fresh, chopped, frozen then thawed nectarines for 2 gallons of saison.

Base Saison

Tastings for all three:

White Nectarines

white nectarine saison:
I made this beer twice, once was way to fruity, the other was way to wacky (I used a fermentor that had some lingering Brett in it).  It won’t be till next year, but somewhere in the middle is what I am shooting for

 

Cucumber saison:


Appearance:light orange brown color with some haze, but mostly clear
Nose: pickles, cucumbers rinds, and spice
Flavor: The saison is overpowered by the cucumber rind flavor, but still acts as a compliment
Mouthfeel: big bodied and clawing chlorophyll flavor
Overall: eh, awesome idea, but under achieved. 4.5/10 more to come

Banana saison:
Appearance: A bit more cloudy than the Cucumber
Nose: Pretty bad smelling, phenolic but a little banana undertone
Flavor: This was surprisingly nice, the banana gave a weird flavor to the saison, making it a much more round flavor
Mouthfeel: pretty thick and full bodied.
Overall: Cool, but wrong style, I would like to try this in an English Brown Ale or a porter real soon

A trip to the Hop Farm: Brewing “Wet Hopped American Summer”

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Harvesting hops and brewing up an all grain all wet hopped pale ale

SPACE OUTSIDE!!!!

About half way through September, I took a trip to visit my friend Dave’s uncle’s James farm where he had been growing 20 hop plants.  Of the hops that were planted, only the Zues and Cascade hops had any significant harvest.
Harvesting the hops was fun, but the vines caused a mild reaction with my skin.  Next time I wont treat the vines like a necklace.

Fashion week!

From this harvest, we had enough hops to brew a 10 gallon batch of pale ale.  The Zeus was used for the bittereing, cascade for the flavor, and a blend for aroma.  Zues was also used for dry hopping.

Here is the tasting of my Wet Hopped American Summer:

Wet Hopped Pale Ale

Appearance: Amber to orange and clear enough to see through it.
Nose: A lovely biscuit bread malt sweetness with a calm citrus hope aroma.
Flavor:A medium bitterness with a sweet malt backbone holding the pale together. A bit too estery in the mid mouth. But an easy finish makes this beer a real easy drinker.
Mouthful: Medium bodied with a long lasting thick head
Overall: This is a damn good pale ale. I really love it.  8.5/10

Oktoberfest Again!

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It was the fall of 2005 when I first walked into a beer tent in Munich.  It was an experience of excess and awesomeness.  People were everywhere and absolutely everyone was drinking copious amounts of delicious beer.  Oktoberfest is much like a carnival for adults, and I was lucky enough see it.
Later that year, I began home brewing, with a goal being to recreate the beers that I drank at the festival.  This has been a very frustrating process.  When I first began brewing, I was like every other home brewer out there, not very familiar with proper sanitation practices and lacked any form of temperature control.  I also didn’t understand the basics of pitching rate.  Needless to say, I have made many Oktoberfests that have tasted like absolute crap.
Last year I put a lot of time working with this beer style.  I made 3 batches of Oktoberfest, each through a different process.  The first was a triple decoction, which is a very long process of taking some of the mash, boiling it, then throwing it back into the mash tun, which raises the mash temperature.  Just add 3 hours to your brew day and you can do a decoction. The next approach was single infusion, using only 1 water addition to reach mash temp, and the last was extract.  I found that a triple decoction made the best beer, but took forever for a very minimal gain. The single infusion brew was the smoothest with a very light malt character. Of course the extract example tasted the worse.
This year, I attempted to fuse the successes from the past. Instead of the triple decoction approach, I did a double step infusion, holding the grain bill at 146 for 60 minutes, then raising the mash to 158 for 20 before sparging at 160.  Next time I plan on a double decoction, with a more diverse grain bill.

The beer ended up being a damn good lager, even though I am still working on the balance between Vienna malt and Munich malt. This style is finally being made well in my brewery, just a few more tweaks until I get to a finished beer!

Oktoberfest Bier

Appearance:Perfectly clear with an amber brown color
Nose: sweet caramel nose with a slight toasted quality
Flavor: Smooth and sweet, big Munich malt flavor with a late noble hop finish
Mouthfeel: medium bodied and wonderfully carbonated
Overall: This is the first time I can even come close to being satisfied with my Oktoberfest, I give it a 7.5 / 10

The Brett Tasting: comparing Brett types, pre/post fermentation additions

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Blind tastings are fun with friends

Here is another section of my journey into souring beers.  For this part, I really wanted to focus on Brettanomyces and the impact it can have on beer.  While Brett is not the main souring organism in sour beers, I have heard far too many different opinions, so I decided the only way to really grasp what this yeast does is to try it myself.  I decided to make 5 one gallon batches (X, Y, 1, 2, 3). Of these 5 batches; Y was the control with only Saccharomyces, X was Brett B added after Saccharomyces fermentation was complete, 1 was only Brett L, 2 was only Brett B, and 3 was both Saccharomyces and Brett B pitched together at the beginning of fermentation.  All Brett was from Wyeast.

tastings:

Y (control): a mild flavor with light chocolate, roast, and fruit flavor. some bread character with a slit astringency. big bodied

X and Y

 

X (Brett B added after Fermentation): a light cherry citrus nose with hints of strawberry, some cardboard in the taste but the flavor stands out more. chocolate in the front and a solid head. mild astringency

1 (Brett L only) Smells like sour strawberry and Worcester sauce.  The taste was reminiscent of ketchup and chocolate. no head retention

2 (Brett B only) An acetic hint in the nose with the same citrus cherry character.  Tasted very chocolate and was mild and balanced. best beer!

1 and 2, 3 was so gross that there is no pic, just bad memories

3 (Brett B and Sacc pitched together) smelled and tasted like vinegar. sharp acetic. ack. vinegar!

These beers were vastly different, more than I would have thought.  I can still run through this experiment two more times, can’t wait to see what changes.

Citrus IPA: version $#!@

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My.p.a.

This is a style of beer that I have been working on for the majority of this year. I think I am finally honing in on a very smooth IPA that focuses on late hop additions to give wonderful aroma but doesn’t hit very hard with bitterness.  A very hoppy beer that you can also double as a guzzler.  I’ve really fallen in love with using Galaxy hops for bittering hops, then a melody of Citra, Cascade, and Galaxy in the last 15 minutes.  Dry hopped with 2 ounces of Citra to really bring out the citrus, grapefruit, and lemon character.  I used British Ale 1 from Wyeast, which is my preferred yeast for IPA’s, due to its ability to emphasize hop characteristics in a beer.

Citrus IPA Tasting:

Nose:  The scent comes up in the front with Citra characteristic, big lemon and citrus scents with some grapefruit underneath.

Appearance:  Very cloudy with an amber brown color.

Taste: The beer begins with a smooth round bitterness that blends into a lemon/grapefruit flavor.

mouthfeel: medium bodied, more bitter than not, but very easy to drink.

overall: This is the way it should taste.  Easy drinking citrus fruit that is mild enough to drink a few pints.    8.3/10

Growing Hops: Dipping Our Hands Into Agriculture

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Written By The Van Houte

the hops are coming

Thanks to the forced entry into the homebrew hobby by the main author of this blog, I like most have continued to advance this passion over the 5+ years that I have been brewing.  Transitioning from extract to all-grain to larger batches etc., it wasn’t till I left NYC that I got the opportunity to add the next phase of homebrewing:  hop farming.

The growing man: uncle James

I have always loved to grow things, but my current location fortuitously puts me 15 minutes from our family farm in Schaghticoke NY (it is the correct spelling) and the current location of our new business of growing 4 varieties of hops:  Cascade (2nd-year), Sterling, Mt. Hood, and Zeus (all 1st-year).

new girls

Two years ago we decided to devote a small plot out of 4+ acres available to growing hops.  The first plantings were 6 Cascade hop rhizomes purchased from Northern Brewer.  I knew cascade hops would grow well with little fuss in this area and chose them to start.  That first year we had better than expected cone development considering the first two years are really devoted to developing the root system of the plant, with full yields happening after the 2nd year.  With these I made a dry-hopped, estate bottled IPA with mixed results (mostly because it was my first time actually making an IPA).  Needless to say, it was a good learning experience and we wanted to plant more varieties to expand our portfolio.

Last year we bought 3 new varieties: Sterling, Mt. Hood, and Zeus.  We were debating whether or not to actually buy the “Noble” hop varieties as we brew mostly lagers, but ultimately decided on hybrids knowing that they would still grow well in NY climate and be more resistant to pests.  They also have larger yields, which is always nice.  I also wanted a high alpha acid hop and settled on Zeus although never actually brewing with them.  In addition we trumped our original trellis system and constructed 22-foot tall trellises using maple saplings.

The Trellis system

22 feet high is the normal standard for hop fields and we were excited, except for the fact that our 2nd-year Cascades grew at an astounding rate: 2 feet in one day was our maximum growth rate that we have calculated thus far!  The 2nd-years grew so fast that they outgrew their original 14-foot high trellises that they were trained on and before we could train them onto the new 22-foot trellises. This proved disastrous in terms of our yield, as the plants will begin to grow downward in search of a new line and then back up.  It’s a learning experience right?  We still have more cascade cones than one brewer would need.  The first year plants didn’t grow as well as the cascade plants did in their first year with the exception of the Zeus variety.  The Zeus plants are on par with the cascade plants.  We did have a scare regarding pests.  We have seen aphids and caterpillars, along with what might be certain fungi, and during one check-up, our hops did not look happy.  As newbies to hop farming, we didn’t know what exactly was negatively impacting our plants.  We had a very dry July, and luckily August has had more precipitation and the plants have bounced back.  Therefore it seems that pests or lack of nutrients were not the cause of our plants being unhappy, especially since we try to be as organic as possible.

up, up and away to 22 ft

The Sterling and Mt. Hood varieties have been more troublesome and they don’t seem to want to grow upward.  We were confused by this but basically have concluded that these varieties just might be a bit slower the first year than the other varieties.  We see no issues with pests, or water, nutrition, etc. at this point.  No matter how often/hard we tried to train them to strings, they just remained “bushy”, with a few exceptions.  Hopefully they will be happier next year and demonstrate more “typical” upward growth that we saw in the cascade variety.  Sadly, it doesn’t look like we will see cones from the Sterling or the Mt. Hood this year.  Of course there is still time left.
Growing hops now for 2 years has been an interesting journey.  Obviously its great in that we get to use our own hops, dried or fresh, straight from the farm, but it is also a lot of work to train and maintain the plants.  We continue to educate ourselves in this practice and try to consult with professionals in the field.  We are also in contact and are following those pushing to make NY State #1 again in hop production.  We are very excited about the new Farm Brewery Law (http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S7727-2011″ http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S7727-2011) that will help push hop production and homebrew/craft brewing in NY even farther.  Maybe even be able to sell our beer straight from the beer garden located at the farm, much like a winery!  In the end it has been great to use the land to benefit my hobby and we look forward to our third year and hopefully a full yield out of our Cascade plants.  We most likely will expand and double our plot next year so if anyone has any good suggestions on particular varieties/favorite varieties, let us know.  Initially I wanted to plant really rare and unique varieties, but being rare also means not finding the rhizomes.  Regardless we will plant more of these varieties and perhaps round out the portfolio with the other “hybrid noble” hop varieties.  Lastly, harvest is right around the corner and Chris is hoping to help out this year and take some home for everyone to try.  If anyone has any suggestions or interest in helping out or a visit someday, let us know!  More to follow soon about harvesting, drying, and packaging.