Monday, December 14, 2009

Brew Day: Super Jim Lager

Today we're brewing our second lager, and are dedicating it to a good friend of ours who passed away. He loved his American lagers, and the very first beer we brewed over a year ago was an extract lager that we named after him, calling it Jim Style. Unfortunately, it was Kool-Aid beer - warm water, extract, sugar, dry yeast (the Cooper's kit). It wasn't all that great. Now we're doing it right, or at least better, with some all-grain action.

The recipe is based on the American Premium Lager recipe from Brewing Classic Styles by Jamil Zainasheff. As usual, we've upped the hops slightly to quench our hop teeth. The recipe only called for 1.25oz of German Hallertauer at 60 minutes, but since we have 2oz, we'll likely toss the rest in when there's around 20 minutes left in the boil.

Below we'll breakdown the brewing process:

5 days ago: Made a 2 liter starter of Wyeast 2007 Pilsen lager. Hopefully it's enough, our LHB only had one pack. It actively fermented the entire time (we added some yeast nutrient), so it should be good. We'd feel better using a starter with another smack pack (like last time, which worked very well), but oh well - we'll just have to see.

9:45am - Mash in. Hit our target temp of 152F (maybe 151F by the time we had the lid on, close enough). Now we wait 90 minutes.

11:15am - Only lost 1 degree during the mash - success! Now to set the grain bed and start sparging. We use the fly sparging method using a colander in the top of the tun (slowly sprinkling water over the entire grain bed). Our goal is to collect about 8 gallons, which will take quite a while.

12:15pm - Might be sparging a little too slow, not even halfway there, speeding it up a bit. Being very careful to not let the water level fall below the grain bed.

1:00pm - Sparge complete. Time to move outside to boil.

1:11pm - Shooting for a pre-boil gravity of 1.040, we got 1.039 - not too shabby.

1:22pm - We're boiling. Got to love the propane burner. When we were doing this on our stove-top it would take almost 2 hours just to get to a boil.

1:50 pm - Bittering hop addition: 1.35 oz. Hallertau.

2: 30pm - Added .65oz Hallertau. Also added wort chiller (to sanitize w/ heat) and whirlfloc (to help all the protein/break material settle to the bottom so it doesn't wind up in the fermenter).

2:40pm - Added yeast nutrient.

2.50pm - Turn off heat, and begin cooling. A reading for the Original Gravity (OG) showed we were off our target of 1.053, we had 1.046. Perhaps we didn't boil vigorously enough, which was intentional because we didn't want any carmelization to darken the beer's color. Regardless, it'll still be good. We scaled this beer to a mash efficiency of 75%, and we came out at 74%.

Below are some pics of our new cooling process. After cooling as much as we can with the garden hose hooked to the immersion chiller, we switch over to a cooler full of ice water (and snow this time of year) with a sump pump, and hook that into the immersion chiller. This works very well.

3:30pm - Temp down to 45. Sanitizing fermenter and letting break material settle to bottom of boil pot.

3:50pm - Transferring wort to fermenter. Decanted and pitched the starter at 46F. Most of the foam you see below is just from aeration - trying to get as much oxygen into the wort as possible to help the yeast reproduce. There a little Star San foam in there too. This will be our first time using the new fermentation chamber, a Sanyo SR-4912M with a Johnson A419 temperature controller. There was a soda can dispenser on the door, which we just cut out so we could fit our carboy w/ milk crate in there. You can't see it, but we also propped the milk crate up 3/4 inch with some boards we cut to fit under the crate, so that the lip on the door could slide under the crate and close wo/ issue. We'll ferment this at 50F for a few weeks before moving onto lagering at 40F or so.

Now for the hardest part - waiting for signs of fermentation, which was 3 days with our last lager. Wish us luck! Cheers.

Edit December 15, 2009: We had fermentation going in less than 24 hours, wooo-hooo!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stone Arrogant Bastard

One of the beers we really miss not being able to get in IL is Stone Brewing Co.'s Arrogant Bastard. We've had the pleasure of having this on tap in other states, but grabbed a bottle for review on our trip to Wisconsin.

If you haven't read the label on this beer, check it out as it's rather funny. They flat out tell you that you won't like the beer. Well...I guess they were wrong!

Aroma: Malty, slight chocolate, subdued hops.

Appearance: Pours a deep amber with a thick, foamy off-white head.

Flavor: To quote Matt: "Awesome." There's a prominent Chinook hop flavor, which makes it pretty darn bitter. But it's also got some toasty malt to it. Basically, it's a very complex and potent beer.

Mouthfeel: Creamy and easily drinkable. Finish is a little "hot" and alcoholic.

This is definitely not a a beer for the lighthearted. But if you're brave and can find it, never pass up the chance to sample the bastard.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Review: Three Floyds Alpha Klaus

I love Three Floyds beer - it's that simple. There's something about the hoppiness of their beers that always makes me smile. That being said, Alpha Klaus, their Christmas Porter, is my favorite of their brews.

From the bottle: "Alpha Klaus is Alpha King's festive cousin. A big American Christmas Porter brewed with English chocolate malt, Mexican sugar and of course, tons of strange American hops."

Very roasty, with a slight hint of chocolate and citrus hops.

Appearance: How much more black could it be? Moderate carbonation, topped with a thick, tan foam.

Flavor: An amazing blend of roasty chocolate malt and citrus hops, with a very bitter finish.

Mouthfeel: Very heavy and stout-like

This is indeed "Not Normal" as the bottle claims. If you're a fan of the sweet, malty holiday beers on the market, this may not be for you. Hop-heads - this is the holiday brew for you. Grab a few bottles, as the Alpha Klaus doesn't stay around for long.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Estate Brewers Harvest Ale by Sierra Nevada

Chico Estate IPA features malt and hops grown on premises by Sierra Nevada. Much like the wine industry, Sierra Nevada is trying their hand at growing everything that goes into their product. This experiment began in 2003 and we are seeing the first release in 2009.

Appearance: Red amber with a thick, tight off-white head. Good lacing - bit cloudy. Great looking beer.

Aroma: Clean, malty - not the hop bouquet I was expecting, maybe a little pine in there. I would be curious to try this on draft as I bet it would have more of hop nose.

Flavor: Very well balanced - features both the malt and the hops, has the unique Sierra Nevada taste. Clean, drinkable - hop bitterness is present but not overwhelming.

Palate: Very drinkable - not too heavy or light. Creamy, well carbonated - almost melts in the mouth. Not too sweet and has a lingering hop-bitter finish.

Overall, a great house ale that I could drink all night. Their Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale remains my favorite, but this was solid and a perfect compliment to the fresh kielbasa/vegetable bake we had that night.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Kiss the Lips IPA by Lake Louie Brewing

Another 'sconsin beer here, from Lake Louie Brewing. From the website: "KISS THE LIPS India Pale Ale: Old school version of an IPA. Still balanced; not a ‘one trick  pony’ pale. Named after the country song “It’s hard to kiss the lips at night that chew your ass out all day long.”

Appearance: Pours a cloudy golden yellow orange, nice foamy white head that clings to the glass.

Aroma: Malty, clean and crisp. Not much what I expect from an IPA.

Taste: This tastes like a balanced pale ale. It makes Meg think of a hoppy lager, which I can see. It's very clean and crisp - refreshing. Bit of lingering bitterness towards the end. This would be a great summer beer.

Mouthfeel: Bit of a malty and citrusy finish. I could really toss this back.

Overall, while this my fall within the style guidelines for an IPA, taste-wise I would put this more into the Pale Ale category. This would be great beer to serve with a meal, and would be my go-to lawnmower beer in the summer. As far as hoppy Wisconsin beers go, nobody's beat Ale Asylum yet.

Monday, November 30, 2009

O'so's Lupulin Maximus

"I'm going to sit here and sniff the cone for awhile," says Meg. That's right. Every bottle of Lupulin Maximus, a 9% Imperial IPA for O'so Brewing, has a whole hop cone in it. We did a careful pour so that the cone/sediment stayed in the bottle.

Aroma: Light, fruity, creamy.

Appearance: Solid amber colored, bit cloudy. Good, tight, off-white head.

Taste: Sweet and alcohol - bit heavy on the sweetness. Creamy - balances out the high-alcohol content. Slighly bitter finish. I expect this beer was a little past it's prime, as there's no big aroma or really that much of a hop taste. I get mostly sweet and alcohol, and don't really want to finish the beer to be honest (we wound up cooking with it).

Mouthfeel: On the heavy side, resiny and sweet.

If I were at the brewery, I'd try a sample of this because I bet it's totally different when it's super fresh. But the hop cone here comes off a bit gimmicky as the beer didn't live up to it's name.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Review: Capital Dark Lager

While in Wisconsin, we hit up the Capital Brewery, and picked up some beers to take home and try. Among them was this dark lager (5.4%) - from the bottle: "A German-style beer from a traditional Wisconsin lager brewery. Some things shouldn't change." 

Appearance: Pours a deep, dark brown with a good head. Wonderful lacing.

Aroma: The aroma really blossoms as it sits a couple minutes. Deep and malty, hints of raisin.

Flavor: Very malt forward beer with subtle hop balance. Raisin and plum fruitiness balance a pleasant bitterness. Lingering finish.

Mouthfeel: Clean, medium bodied beer. Goes down easy and before you know it, you're ready for the next sip.

We had the pleasure of meeting head brewer Kirby Nelson at Steve's Liqours, where he was promoting some winter beers and offering tastings. He's a fantastically nice fellow, and a Zappa fan (he names all their fermenters after Zappa songs - pics coming). Having studied with a German lager master, this beer definitely plays to Kirby's strong points. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wisconsin Beer Trip

I had the day off somewhat unexpectedly last Friday, so we took a quick trip to Wisconsin - specifically the Madison area. The Gods were looking over us when we decided to put a large cooler in the trunk of the car, as we loaded up on lots of good brews unavailable to us here. (We also loaded up on fresh sausage and cheese at this foodie Mecca.) Just look at our bounty!

Beers are represented by the following breweries:
Stone Brewing Co. (Yes, it's not WI beer, but we can't get it in IL.)
Lakefront Brewery
Capital Brewery
New Glarus Brewing Co.
O'So Brewing Company
Lake Louie Brewing
Furthermore Beer
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (Also not WI, but we haven't found the Estate here yet, so had to grab a bottle.)

Thus, visit back often over the next couple weeks for lots of beer and brewpub reviews.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Half Acre Daisy Cutter

We're lucky to live in an area with access to delicious local beer. One of the new breweries in town, Half Acre, is my favorite new brewery, and Daisy Cutter Pale Ale is my favorite beer of the moment. (Apologies to those outside of the City of Chicago, as Half Acre doesn't distribute outside of the city. Guess you'll just have to come visit!) We picked up a bomber last weekend while visiting their new store* attached to the brewery.

Aroma: To quote Matt, "This is the best smelling beer ever!" I have to agree. Tons of floral and grassy hops. I could sniff this all day.

Appearance: Cloudy, golden-orange. One of the Half Acre employees simply refers to this beer as "orange juice."

Flavor: A flowery little hop bomb with a crisp, citrus finish.

Mouthfeel: Soft and smooth. Lightly coats your mouth.

We had a party with a keg of this back in September. There were approximately 40 people in attendance, and we had no problem killing it in one evening. It's an extremely easy drinking beer, and not too strong. Even the non-beer drinkers, and non-hop heads, were loving the Daisy Cutter. It just tied for 3rd place at the Chicago Beer Society's Fall Tasting. And most exciting is there's going to be a Daisy Cutter Hot Dog coming soon to Hot Doug's!! Needless to say, we'll be there.

Never pass up Daisy Cutter if you find it - this is a fantastic beer!

*They also have a nice selection of other local brews. We scored bombers of both Two Brothers Red Eye and Three Floyds Alpha Klaus. It was a good haul!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dill Cheese Beer Bread

As you know, I have no patience for baking bread from scratch. That's why I love quick breads. No yeast = no waiting, rising, etc. This recipe, which I found on my favorite food porn site - Tastespotting, combines three of my favorite things: dill, cheese and beer. The couple times I've made it, I've used our Fuggles Ale, which is a slightly hoppy amber ale. Any light or amber colored beer should be fine, though I would shy away from dark beers.

Farmgirl Susan’s Beyond Easy Dill &Cheddar Beer Bread Recipe
Makes One Loaf
Basic Beer Bread Mix:
3 cups all-purpose flour (I use 1 c. wheat flour, 2 c. all-purpose flour.)
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon baking powder

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 2 teaspoons dried
1 cup finely grated sharp cheddar cheese (or cheese of your choice - I like the sharpness/funk of gorgonzola)
12 ounces beer
Glaze: 1 egg & 2 teaspoons water, beaten

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, dill, and cheddar in a large mixing bowl. Slowly stir in beer and mix just until combined. Batter will be thick. Spread in a greased 8-inch loaf pan , brush with egg glaze if desired (I think it's must), and bake until golden brown and a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. (My oven runs warm, so it's usually done in 30-35 min.)

Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool 10 more minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Alternate Version:
Replace dill with herbs de provence
Replace cheddar with parmesan
Add chopped kalamata olives
After egg wash, sprinkle a handful of parmesan on top
(We like this version even better than the original.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cheap FermWrap

I got a tip from a fellow homebrewer on how to easily put together your own FermWrap by ordering the parts individually from a reptile supply store. All you need is the wire/clip/insulator set ($5), and 2 feet of 11 inch Flexwatt heat tape ($6.50). Attach the wire clips and insulators to the 2 silver strips on the tape (I just used a pair of pliers), and you've got yourself a FermWrap that homebrew shops sell for $30 - $40. Plug it into your temperature control device, and you're good to go. Just tested mine out, and it works great - cheers!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Goose Island - Clybourn

Before I moved to Chicago I was "meh" on any Goose Island product. Their mass-produced beers are nothing to write home (or blog) about. However, their offerings at the Clybourn brewpub are way better than the standard Honkers. Typically they have at least a dozen or more beers on tap and 3 on cask. Also, they do a weekly beer release at 6:00 on Thursday evenings with free samples.

Free beer is usually enough to get me into a place, but GI-Clybourn offers an added bonus - a weekly "Recycled" Pig Roast. The pig is from a local farmer who uses Goose Island's spent grain as feed, and each week is roasted in a different fashion and served with seasonal sides. (Examples: BBQ pig w/ black beans & creamy corn, Tomatillo roasted pig w/ smoked mozzarella & eggplant ratatouille, Bourbon brined & smoked pig w/ baked beans & ginger slaw.) It's freakin' delicious! Pair that w/ a cask ale (preferably the Midway IPA) and it's heaven. Food*, otherwise, is solid. The cuban sandwich ranks as one of the best in the city.

If you have room after beers and food, be brave and try the Nightstalker for dessert. It's a well-balanced, ass-kicking imperial stout. (Much better and not as strong as the Bourbon County Stout.)

This is a very lively room, with a warm atmosphere. Also, parking is easy and free, a rarity in Chicago. We've made a monthly ritual of beer release/recycled pig, which has quickly become my favorite day of the month.

*If you haven't eaten there in the past 6 months, they have a new chef, who has taken this place to the next level.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Is It Safe to Leave Star San in My Keg and Beer Lines?

I couldn't take it anymore. After trolling various forums and listening to podcasts, I couldn't get a clear answer to this question. So I called up Five Star Chemicals (makers of Star San), and was immediately connected to a tech to answer my question (wish I got the guy's name so I can thank him here).

What I got out of it was the "ideal" way to clean and store kegs (and lines), based on what Five Star has heard from the various keg dealers that they've worked with. Here goes:

The Procedure for Cleaning Your Cornies and Beer Line
  1. Clean the keg as soon as you can. Rinse it and the lines out with water (for all line-rinsing steps, I pressurize and use the keg, run through the lines and into a bucket or something). Then, fill the keg with warm to hot water, add in the proper dose of PBW, and clean away (I reserve a clean, never used on anything else toiler scrubber for this, and a thin, long-handled dip tube brush). After some initial scrubbing, I let it soak for at least 20 minutes or so. I also take the keg posts, the black bev-out connector, and the lid, and soak them in a separate solution of PBW. I then dismantle the faucet, and let it soak in there too.
  2. After the keg has soaked, I give it another quick scub in case there was some grime that the PBW loosened up. Rinse and put the faucet back together, and rinse and put the black bev connector back on the line (quick disconnect models are a life saver here). Then I dump all the PBW from the keg except for a gallon or two, hook up the keg to the lines, and start to run the solution through the beverage line. I stop at some point, so the PBW can sit in there and dissolve any gook that's stuck in the line. Since PWB is a CIP (clean in place) cleaner, it's designed for this sort of thing.
  3. Rinse the keg with warm/hot water. Believe it or not, you should rinse with the same temperature water your PBW was in. For some chemical reason, it rinses better this way as it won't "scale" (a typical issue with hard water).
  4. When the keg is rinsed out, fill it with a gallon or two of water and run some through your lines to rinse the PBW out.
  5. Time to sanitize! Rinse and reassemble all keg parts. The ratio is 1oz of Star San in 5 gallons warm water (not too hot, like over 120F - typical hot water heaters are around 130F). However, I cut this in half. Put 2.5 gallons in the keg, then add the .5oz of Star San (always important to add chemicals to water, not the other way around). If you want it to foam, put some of the water in, then add the StarSan, and then pour the rest of the water in. 
  6. Seal up the keg, and shake it up. (Don't be surprised if some leaks out the lid, as the lid requires some internal pressure to get an air-tight seal - watch any carpeting here, I always use a towel on a non-carpeted floor). Let it sit a few minutes, maybe turn it over and/or let it sit on it's side for awhile (Star San actually only needs 30 seconds). From here, you have a couple options:

    1. Hook up the keg to the lines, and run all of the Star San through the bev line. Run it all through because you don't want any left in the keg or the line other than what's clinging to the sides. Do not rinse. Stainless steel should be stored with some sort of acid coating, as it helps it maintain its "stainless" state. As an acid sanitizer, Star San works great for this. Besides, if you rinse after sanitizing, then you're just ruined all that work - that's why we choose no-rinse sanitizers. As long as you mixed/measured properly, you won't have any problems (and the measuring device on the Star San bottle makes this brainless). When you're ready to fill the keg, just open up and rack the beer in and proceed as normal. When ready to serve, hook up the bev line, run a half glass or so through, discard, and you're good. Or (and this is where I was most surprised)...
    2. Dump the Star San, and pressurize the keg to seal it up. When you're ready to fill, mix up some more Star San, dump it in the keg, let it sanitize again, run it though the lines, and then fill with beer. If you're the paranoid sort (and you know who you are), and it's been awhile since you've originally sanitized, then this will neutralize anything that may have gotten into the keg/line. Since Star San doesn't sanitize indefinitely, it will loose this ability over time. So bottom line, if it's only been a week, you're fine. Any longer, and you want to be extra extra sure, follow step 'b' here.
  7. Relax and have a brew.
Now, this is the recommended way of doing things with Five Star Chemicals. (Actually, Five Star has products specifically for cleaning/sanitizing line cleaning - but I didn't go into that here.) Some guys use Oxiclean instead of PBW - I do this for some stuff. But it's important to realize the Oxiclean is not a CIP cleaner. Oxiclean is also missing a "surfactant" - which basically breaks down surface tension in water, which allows it to penetrate and dissolve all those nasty organic compounds in either hot or cold water. In short, PBW is designed for brewing equipment, not laundry. So for line cleaning, PBW is certainly better, and actually allows you to be lazier by letting the soak do most of the work.

Now, if you have your own way of doing things and it works, that's great. As with anything related to homebrewing, there are many ways to do the same thing. Cheers folks.

Update August 10, 2010:
I've since modified my line cleaning - I got one of those hand/line pumps and use BLC instead of PBW on the lines. I rinse with warm water, then BLC - letting it sit and recirculate. Then rinse again, and then run some StarSan through it, also with the hand pump. I just felt like I was wasting a lot of CO2, and the hand pump is quick and easy. I don't bother pressurizing the kegs for storage anymore, since I sanitize everything again just before I use it. Also, I take the liquid-out fittings apart now and soak them in PBW.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sierra Nevada Porter

Now that the weather's changed, Matt and I are into brewing some darker beers. Next up on the brew schedule is a porter. I'm pretty stoked for this, as Anchor Porter was my favorite beer in college (well, besides High Life). As prep for brewing, we thought we should sample another porter, so Matt picked up a sixer of Sierra Nevada Porter.

Aroma: There is very little smell to this beer. I mainly get a clean, malty nose. Matt thought he could smell some spiciness.

Appearance: Dark and cloudy, but slightly opaque at the bottom of the pour. Topped off with a thick creamy head.

Flavor: Chocolaty roastiness, a clean finish with a slight hop flavor.

Mouthfeel: Creamy, but not too thick and heavy. (As a porter should be.)

Overall, this is a nice example of a classic porter. I still prefer Anchor as it's heavier - I like chewing my dark beers. As ususal, we're going for a hoppier version for our brew, and plan on dry-hopping with Chinook and tossing in some grains of paradise for spice. Should be perfect around March when we're totally sick of winter.

Belgian Prankster Label in Zymurgy

On a whim, I sent one of our labels into Zymurgy magazine, and it got printed in the November/December issue! Many thanks to Gabe Patti for doing the original watercolor, which we scanned into the label.

In case you're wondering what the hell this is all about, this beer is named after a character in The Order Of Odd-Fish, by James Kennedy, which is one whacked out book. After reading it, Meg and I both decided we needed a beer called The Belgian Prankster. We then met James while he was doing a reading at The Hop Leaf, and turns out he's not only a beer fan, but loved the idea of a beer brewed for one of his characters. After laboring over the recipe for awhile, we came up with an interesting ale that pays homage to our Latino Chicago neighborhood by incorporating 1.5lbs of Pilloncillo sugar. We used Mosher's Belgian Pale Ale recipe as a starting point, but by the time we were done with it, the numbers tossed it more into the Belgian Specialty Ale category. I think we're still figuring a few things out, but after 2 batches we thing we're onto something good. It's one of those beers we miss after not having it for awhile.

I will say it was interesting to take a character from a book (and an evil one at that), and figure out what sort of beer he might be. It put a whole new perspective on the beer-as-art thing by putting us into a new mindset when working on a beer. It was a ton of fun, why not try brewing a beer for one of your favorite fiction characters?

Monday, October 26, 2009

New Crop O' Hops

We were at our LHBS (Perfect Brewing) over the weekend, and since we've been brewing quite a bit lately, we were discussing buying grains and hops in bulk. Billy advised us to hold off a bit, as the hop harvest is about to happen - so in the coming months we'll have both fresher and cheaper hops!

Then today, I see this great New York Times pictorial on the hop harvest - so beautiful. Enjoy.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fresh Cherry Crisp (with spent grain topping)

There's almost nothing better than fresh cherries in the summer. Matt and I got used to having plenty of sour baking cherries around since our old apartment in Logan Square had seven huge trees in the yard. Even though we planted a cherry tree at our new house, it has yet to produce more than a handful of cherries. Luckily, we live a close drive from a number of cherry orchards in Michigan.

So in July we made a road to trip to central Michigan to pick cherries. Our original idea was to make a cherry stout. However, after a trip to Bells, we decided against brewing the beer. (For me the only fruit beers worth drinking are the New Glarus Cherry and Raspberry ales and Dogfish Head Aprihop on tap.) Since we had made the trip though, we still decided to pick cherries.

The orchard we went to had so many ripe trees that there was an 11 lb. minimum for picking. Now, if you're brewing, that's not too many. But for baking...well, let's just say that I have a freezer full of cherries. (See photo. Yes, they had a pitting machine! It's truly an amazing thing.) Time for baking!

I've made this crisp many times over the years, but I think this alteration for the grains was my best yet. As with any spent grain recipe, use only DRY grains. (Here is my method for drying spent grains.)

Fresh Cherry Crisp (w/ spent grain topping)
4 c. pitted sour cherries*
1 1/2 c. sugar
4 T. flour

3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. old-fashioned oats
1/2 c. spent grains
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
1/2 c. butter-flavored shortening

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In large bowl, combine cherries, sugar, and 4 T. flour. Pour into 9x13 baking pan.

In medium bowl, combine crisp ingredients and cut in butter and shortening. (Use a pastry blender.) Blend until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over cherries.

Bake for 45-50 min, or until golden.

*No need to drain the cherries. The juice is delicious. If you have a lot, just add more flour to thicken the mixture.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Using a Paint Strainer Bag in the Boil

On a tip from another website, for our last brew session I used a 5 gallon paint strainer bag in the boil. I am always annoyed with post-boil straining - it seems to just take too long as the strainer gets clogged and has to clear. So this time, I kept all my hops in a cheap 5 gallon paint strainer bag, which you can find at about any hardware store (I got mine at Menards). It was clipped to the kettle using 3 small spring-clips:

To my surprise, the clips didn't really get too hot, so there's really no need to take off any rubberized handle material before using them, like I did. This worked really well, and made cleanup a snap too. I even transferred my wort into the kettle through the bag, so it caught any grains that got through during the sparge. Next time I'll probably just dump the hops, rinse, and reuse the bag (a pack of 3 was around $3). After the boil, all I had to deal with was break material. Before transferring to the fermenter, I let this stuff settle to the bottom of the kettle by leaving it alone for 15 minutes (have a drink, clean up, etc.). When it's below the ball-valve, most of it gets left behind in the transfer. Whenever I get my pre/post boil volumes ironed out, I hope to leave it all behind.

For transferring, I attach a really short hose to the barb, and let the wort slowly fall a good couple feet into the fermenter, which helps aerate it. When that initial foam dies down, I pitch and then aerate it again with a power drill mixer. Maybe someday I'll go completely crazy and get an oxygen tank, but for now this, plus a good yeast starter, plus yeast nutrient (in the boil), seems to work very well.

Cheers and good brewin'!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Save This Store: Drinks Over Dearborn

When it comes to purchasing alcohol, we're pretty much Sam's Wine & Spirits loyalists - huge selection, great prices, knowledgeable staff. Oh yeah, they also have a cheese bar. Although, I may have a new "go-to" liquor store: Drinks Over Dearborn.

DoD is located on the second floor of a building located at the southwest corner of Erie and Dearborn. You would easily walk right past without ever noticing. The second thing it has going against it is that you have to buzz to be let in. If you're like me, that would be the deal killer. (I always feel added pressure to purchase something if I have to be buzzed in.) Don't let this deter you, as you'll be missing out on a gem of a store!

Selection is small but impressive, and reasonably priced. The owner, Kyle McHugh, tries all of his wines before ordering, so you know he approves. (We had a great discussion about disgustingly oaky/buttery California Chardonnays.) All beers are all craft brews and sold by the bottle. I love this, as I'm often curious to try something but don't want to commit to a 4 or 6 pack. On my last visit I purchased a bottle of Dogfish Head's Palo Santo Marron, something I certainly don't need more than one of.

This economy, and the aforementioned location and buzzing issues, haven't been too kind to DoD. So please, take a field trip, buy some quality alcoholic beverages, and tell your friends.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Jamil on Fermentation

I admit, after reading Brewing Classic Styles and listening to his radio show, I'm going through a Jamil stage. This may be like playing drums and going through a Neil Peart stage - but either way, it's a good thing because the guy knows his stuff (he's the most winning homebrewer ever - while awards aren't everything, he's figured a lot stuff out along the way and is nice enough to share it).

Perhaps the most interesting thing he discusses is the importance of fermentation. He states that 95% of brewing is fermenting - from pitching enough healthy yeast, to temperature and time - you can mess up about anything else, but a solid fermentation (well, and sanitation) will save you. I know I've screwed up at least a couple beers by not paying enough attention to such things (mostly temperature).

The Brewing Network did a fantastic interview with Jamil back in 2005. You won't find it in their archives, but I somehow found the link to the mp3. I've listened to it once, and will probably listen to it again, check it out!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

On Cask: Two Brothers Heavy Handed IPA

Smoke Daddy, a small Chicago BBQ/Bar joint, had a special tapping last Tuesday. They had scored a "pin" cask (5.4 gallons) of Heavy Handed IPA. Cask beer is also called "Real Ale" - because before the days of being able to force-carbonate beer with CO2, beer was naturally carbonated in the cask by adding some sugar to the still active yeast, and allowing the beer to undergo a secondary fermentation inside the cask. CO2 is released during fermentation, which was mostly trapped in the cask - thus carbonating the beer inside (this is a very simplified version of what really happens, it's similar to bottle-conditioned beer). Cask beer has a much different mouthfeel to it - it's creamier, and the flavors are more rounded, and tend to blend together. It's "soft" - for lack of a better word, and served warmer than typical beers. I find strong, hoppy beers to be especially good on cask because the flavors transform in very interesting ways.

Anyways, being cask beer fiends, Meg and I were sure to be there - here's a picture of the cute little pin-cask:

We landed a table, and promptly ordered 2 glasses.

Notice the creamy white foam on top - it's lovely and a sure sign of cask ale. The first taste - yummers. Smelled great too. The beer went well with our dinner (Smoke Daddy has awesome pulled pork sandwiches, and great sides like mac n' cheese, pork 'n beans, even the slaw is great. Our friends had a good looking veggie burger.) A Two Brothers rep was there, and provided us with samples of the bottled version or this beer (which is force-carbonated) - it was very interesting to compare the beers side-by-side, you can really see how the cask rounds the edges and blends the flavors.

I ordered a second beer, and sort of wished I didn't. Many IPAs use Caramel (or Crystal) malt. This is a a sweet malt that adds to the body and head-retention of the beer, as well as color and sweetness. IPAs use it to balance out the hop-blast. I don't like it much, and when I use it in my own brews, I like to barely notice it. On my second glass, all the sweetness seemed to start building up in my mouth, so I didn't taste much else. IPAs need to be all about the hops, and this beer left me wanting more hops and less sweetness.*

*As a general disclosure, I tend to prefer Two Brothers' darker beers, like their Northwind Imperial Stout (available November through February) and Red Eye porter (coming in February).

If you're interested in learning more about cask beers, here are some great resources:

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lessons Learned: Recipes, Mash Efficiency & Fermentation Temperature

Last summer we brewed an Alpha King clone recipe out of Brew Your Own magazine. We had yet to brew an insanely hoppy beer, and this looked like just the ticket. To add to our excitement, the guys over at Half Acre gave us a bunch of their ale yeast to use (like almost a half gallon of it).

The brew day went well, we pitched a little over half of the Half Acre yeast, and that same night we were off to a very strong fermentation. The following day it was going bananas. We had it in the coolest room in the house, but the temperature was still around 68-70F in there. The second day, I checked the sticky-strip thermometer on the side of the fermenter, and noted that it was a good 5 degrees higher than the room's ambient temperature. WOW! I said. Look at that.

A couple weeks later, we racked to the secondary and dry hopped. A quick taste during the gravity reading was very nice. Excitement building!

After bottling and conditioning, it was time to sample the first bottle. Hmmmm... it's quite a bit darker and thicker than we expected, but dang - lots of hop goodness! Yet it's bordering on imperial. We're still quite pleased. But as time went by that hop flavor started to diminish, and other flavors started to come to the forefront - namely an alcohol burn. What the hell is going on here???

Since I brewed this I picked up a copy of BeerAlchemy - and plugged in my brewday numbers. Holy crap - this is an 8% beer! And wow, we got an 80% mash efficiency! Hmmmm... mash efficiency. Having only a handful of all grain batches under our belt at the time, this was something I wasn't used to. I wonder what Brew Your Own is assuming for mash efficiency? After checking it out, I note it's a paltry 65%. No wonder this beer is so strong! I should have scaled the grain bill down a bit, but we had no idea at the time. So that was mistake number one.

Mistake number two was fermenting at too high a temperature, which explains the solvent, rubbing alcohol type flavor - or "heat" of the beer. I had this issue in a previous batch, but didn't put 2 and 2 together because it was sort of an experimental batch anyways - so now I know. Fermentation temperature is key, and ales do better in the low 60's vs. the low 70's. I guess I knew this before, but now that I know what this mistake tastes like, I hopefully won't let it happen again.

For our next brew (a stout), I surrounded the fermenter with plastic bottles full of frozen water that I would swap out a few times a day as they thawed (I have a home office, so that's easy enough). I wrapped a big towel over all that to sort of make a fermenting-tipi. I kept the temperature right around 68, which was perfect for the stout, which I'm pleased to say turned out very well - phew! I'll have to see if I can get our second fridge to hold at 60F or higher (since we actually use the freezer, we can't hook-up one of those temp-control gadgets).

Now that winter is approaching, I'm looking forward to brewing some ales and more easily maintaining the proper temperature. I'll probably stick to belgians and lagers next summer.

So anyways, I hope these lessons can help someone out ;)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Lager Lag Time & Lessons Learned

We brewed our first Oktoberfest last weekend. It was the first lager we ever brewed - we used the Marzen Madness recipe straight out of Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew. The book recommends pitching cold - at or below the fermentation temperature of 50F. It also recommends pitching *a lot* of yeast, to ensure a clean fermentation with minimal byproducts the are associated with yeast reproducing (like fruity esters and buttery diacetyl). By pitching enough yeast, there is minimal reproducing to do, and the yeast can get down to the business of fermenting sooner.

The Classic Styles book is interesting in that it tells you how many "packs" of yeast to pitch. Lager recipes are all around 4 packs. I'd rather make a starter. I made a 1500ml starter in a 2000ml flask. Once that fermented out, I chilled, poured off the spent wort/beer, and added another 1000ml of fresh wort on top of the little yeast cake still in the flask. The day before brew day paranoia about having enough yeast set in, and I bought another Wyeast 2206 Bavarian lager to be extra sure.

Lesson learned: Since there is little krausen with lager yeast, next time I'll just make two back-to-back 2000L starters.

The night before brew day I put my starter and Activator pack (which I let swell at room temp for a day) in the spare fridge, which I had set at around 48F. On brew day, I cooled the wort down to just below 50F using ice water and a sump pump hooked up to my immersion chiller, much like described towards the bottom of this page. (I suppose I could have let the wort cool in the fridge overnight, but I really like my brew day to be a "day," and not have to aerate again.) After oxygenating the wort to the point the entire top of the carboy was filled with foam (by just trickling the wort through the funnel at the top), we let it settle about 5-10 minutes in the fridge while we cleaned up, then pitched the entire slurry and Activator pack. After a little carboy-shake, back in the fridge it went. I'd say the wort was around 52F, so I set the fridge a little lower to help cool it down below 50F.

The next morning, the fridge was at around 46F, and the temp strip on the carboy was around 48F. No visible signs of fermentation yet. I turned up the temp just a bit, so it was hovering around 52F. Roughly 24 hours after pitching, we had some small signs of krausen. 36 hours later we have this:

The temp is now stabilized around 50F, perfect. Of course, having only brewed ales we are used to seeing the fermenter bubbling like crazy 12-24 hours later. This was certainly a change of pace. I surfed this topic quite a bit, and guys were panicking after a day of no activity. I was ready to wait 3 days until I'd let myself worry about it, since the book said to pitch at around 45F and let it warm up to 50F over the next 2 or 3 days. I didn't pitch quite that low, but did chill it almost that low after pitching. So whatever that means, as long as you get your temps in the ballpark, aerate well, and pitch plenty of yeast... it's time to relax, have a homebrew and be patient!

We'll post a follow-up on how the beer tastes, in like, oh November? Jeez lagers take patience - cheers and good brewing!

UPDATE: Well, it was more like January when we served this, but mighty tasty! Our friends certainly drained it. Just a touch of diacetyl - an issue we're working on.  Going to try doing a diacetyl rest sooner and longer next time.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron

Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head is known for outrageous brews. (See the current chicha he's brewing.) Typically, I find them to be strange for affect and not that palatable, with the exception of the Shelter Pale Ale and Aprihop on tap. However, I couldn't help but be curious about the Palo Santo Marron after reading this fantastic article from The New Yorker about extreme brews. Seriously, this beer is conditioned in a $140,000 Paraguayan wood tank!

When we review beers on this site, we'll use the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) categories of Aroma, Appearance, Flavor, and Mouthfeel.

Sweet and slightly alcoholic

Dark, deep brown

I was really expecting to get a very strong woody flavor, but was pleasantly surprised to get a nice chocolate creaminess. The alcohol wasn't too present despite being 12% ABV. There's also a subtle hop finish. Overall, it has a very similar flavor to New Holland's Dragon's Milk Ale. (A good thing in my book.)

Medium thickness and viscosity. Coats the mouth nicely, but doesn't leave your chest burning.

Overall, it's a surprisingly drinkable beer: creamy, hoppy, and packs a punch. Palo Santo ranks as one of my favorite Dogfish brews, though I wouldn't quaff it often. If you find a single bottle, definitely give it a try with a friend.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Celebrating a Year of Homebrewing, and 3 Golden Rules Learned

Roughly a year ago, Meg bought me a Coopers Brewery Kit. If you can make Kool-Aid, you can make beer with the Cooper's kit. You pour a can of malt extract, a pound of corn sugar, and some hot water into the plastic fermenter and stir until dissolved (it all comes with the kit). Then you top with cold water, and add a packet of dry yeast. When it's done fermenting, you attach the bottling wand to the fermenter, and bottle away. We did this twice, the first batch was just drinkable (the "lager" it came with), the second batch (a dark ale) we poured out.

This lead to homebrewing lesson numero uno:
You have to boil something to make any sort of decent beer.

You may read reviews of the the Coopers kit where people are amazed at how good it is, and how easy the process was. If you drink a lot of commercial beer, this may very well be true. However, if you are a fan of craft beer, then don't listen. Pick up of copy of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian, and just follow his directions for making your first batch. Even if you buy a Cooper's kit (the fermenter is actually pretty nice), chuck the directions, the corn sugar, and the "carbonation drops." Go to your LHBS (local home brew shop) and buy some hops and liquid yeast. You'll be glad you did, trust me.

Now, when you're fermenting your ale, here's lesson number two:
Try to keep the temperature around 68 degrees (20C), or a little lower. Keep in mind that the fermentation process itself will raise the temperature at least a few degrees inside the fermenter. This is why cool basements are good for fermenting ales. You'll just get a cleaner tasting beer.

And the final lesson of homebrewing is: Relax - your making beer. It's supposed to be fun. As long as everything is clean/sanitized and you're following rules 1 and 2 - you'll get some good brew, and your friends will be glad to suck it down. Cheers.

Experiments with Spent Grain: Rats, Mold & Cookies

Since we switched to all-grain brewing, we've been experimenting with different ways to use our spent grain. Originally we buried it around the shrubs in our backyard as fertilizer. (Man oh man, did the hydrangea love it!) This seemed to be the perfect use for it, that is until the rats found it. In Chicago, the common alley rats are Norway rats. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, Norway rats "will eat nearly any type of food, but they prefer high-quality foods such as meat and fresh grain." Well, they found a jackpot of fresh grain in our yard! Unfortunately for us we had to find a new use for our grain.

When we're not brewing, I spend a good deal of my time baking. I know that many brewpubs (and homebrewers) use spent grains in their bread. Believe it or not, even as a homebrewer, I'm not a patient person, so that ruled out baking bread. (The rising, the kneading, the waiting - ugh!) However, spent grain adds a nice chewy texture to cookies and crisps.

There are two main things to remember when baking with spent grain:
  1. It must be DRY
  2. Use in moderation
Drying: Don't think you can just leave your grains out to dry - I tried that and got a moldy, smelly goop. After some trial and error, here is what I've found to be the best way to dry grains:
  • Spread a thin layer of drained grains on a microwave safe dish. (Use pyrex or something very sturdy, as you'll need to nuke it for quite a while.)
  • Microwave on high for 6 minutes. Stir and nuke for another 6 minutes. (If dried, the grains will stick to the dish.)
  • Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator
Use in moderation: remember that the majority of the flavor/sweetness in the grains is extracted during the mashing process. This leaves behind a fairly flavorless and very chewy grain; thus, you're using the grains for texture only. A little goes a long way.

To date I've only baked two things with the dried grains, both successes! Below is my recipe for chocolate chip cookies.

Spent Grain Chocolate Chip Cookies
1/4 c. butter, room temperature
1/4 c. butter-flavored shortening
1/2 c. dark brown sugar, loosely packed
1.5 t. vanilla
1 egg
3/4-1 c. spent grains
1 c. flour
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. baking soda
1 c. chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using mixer, cream butter and shortening until smooth. Add the sugar and mix until fluffy. Add vanilla and egg, mix until smooth. Add grains and mix until combined.

In separate bowl, whisk remaining dry ingredients. Add to the wet mixture until combined. (Do not overmix.) Add chips.

Drop by spoonfuls/scoopful onto sheets. Bake for 8-9 minutes until golden.

Feel free to make substitutions, although I think that nuts may clash with the grain texture. I've used butterscotch chips in place of the chocolate - delicious.

I'm always looking for new spent grain recipes or suggestions on drying. If you have either or both of those, please leave a comment. Next recipe: Fresh Cherry Crisp


Since Matt and I started homebrewing a year ago, we've learned a lot and drank even more. We've met other homebrewers, read books/magazines, and trolled the internet for as much info as we could find about the basics of beer and the homebrew process. As you can imagine, there's plenty of stuff out there, but unfortunately it's not often helpful. On this blog we plan to have a place for concise, easy to follow brewing tips for the homebrewer, reviews of the many ales (and occasional lagers) we consume, and miscellaneous beer tidbits of interest. We hope you enjoy - cheers!