New Year, New Brew

Last year my main resolution was brew more of the beer that I drink.  It was a simple resolution, and one that I achieved further than I would have believed.  With this added experience, I have gotten better at brewing and anticipating what a beer will taste like before it has finished.

As many of you who homebrew may know, there is such a joy in cracking open that first bottle of a batch to discover that all the hours of work and months of waiting have yielded something delicious, and in many ways, something better just because it was handmade.  While many of my beers this year have contained flaws, there are a few choice batches that come to mind that I will have a hard time forgetting.

So while I plan to continue to experiment, this year I am going to focus developing a set of recipes influenced by Belgian ales, utilizing the same yeast and implementing techniques and designs I’ve learned this year.  I’m brewing my first batch today of what is to be a brown session ale infused with hibiscus and orange peel.  From this I will use the yeast to brew another recipe, higher in alcohol.  And I will continue to step it up with these recipes.  Right now I am looking at a portfolio of 4-5 different brews, some being alterations of those I did this past year.

I will follow up on the recipe for today’s brew soon.  Now I must attend to the boil.

To a new year, full of new ideas, experiences, and joys!


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Anchor Our Special Ale Tasting

It’s two days before Christmas, and I have a quiet night and some time off, so I figured I would sit down and enjoy my favorite Holiday-time commercial beer, Anchor’s Our Special Ale.  Coming in at around 5.5% ABV., and jam-packed full of spices, it’s amazing both how balanced and delicious it is, as well as it’s reputation for handling age well.  Usually beers that people lay down for an extended time have nearly twice the alcohol content, or are infected with souring microbes.  I managed to save one bottle from last year to try this Christmastime to see what a difference a year makes.  Keeping in mind that the folks at Anchor change this recipe every year, here are some thoughts on the beer:

2010 Our Special Ale

Appearance:  Pours a deep mahogany with burgundy highlights and a tan head.  The head quickly recedes into still, beautiful lacing.

Aroma:  Smells sweetly of tangerines, dark chocolate, cola, clove.  It’s similar to Dr. Pepper, though more complex, warm, and deeper.

Flavor:  The cola comes through first, then following with a bright citrus twang.  It finishes long with a dark chocolate aftertaste.  Absolutely delicious.  Some cherry-pie like fruitiness comes through on repeated swigs, reminding me of something akin to a Gulden Draak Lite.  I could drink this for a long while.

2011 Our Special Ale

Appearance:  Very similar to the 2010, but the head stays atop the beer the entire time, thicker and creamier.

Aroma:  After tasting the 2010, I did not think these would be too different, however one whiff of this one tells me differently.  I get freshly ground cinnamon and dashes of mint, as well as some of the cola/clove from the 2010.

Flavor:  My first impression is that it’s roastier and earthier than the 2010.  These beers are of the same pedigree, though, as the cola and clove qualities come through.  Touches of wintergreen lighten it before the dark chocolate finish.  The body is fuller on this one also.

Overall impression:  I am surprised at how incredible the 2010 tastes.  I did not believe that a year would be this kind to this beer, but I guess I was wrong.  Of the two, it is my favorite, though the 2011 is great in its own right.  It’s creamy with a nice roasty presence.  I can’t wait to see how it does in a year, or two, or three.

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Thoughts on IPA (and Other Hop-Forward Ales)

I want to start this post off first by saying that I love hops and I love hoppy beers.  While the rest of this may seem like I am railing against IPAs, I am not.  I am fortunate to live in a great city for food and beer, a city that has largely taken the importance of local, wholesome cuisine and ran with it.  I realize that many are not so fortunate, but I also think there may be some other people out there that will agree with what I am about to say, which is this:

I have had it happen several times that I go into a local bar/pub, and when I sit down and take a look at the beer menu, I find that nearly 80% of beers listed are some sort of pale, American-hopped ale, many of those using similar, if not the same, varieties of hops and yeast.  I would venture to say that most craft beer drinkers wouldn’t be able to discern the difference between some if blindfolded.  With the rise of IPA, it seems more and more people are associating it with good beer.  Where it once was that Bell’s Amber Ale and Oberon were considered their flagships, Bell’s Marketing Director, Laura Bell, is quoted in the new issue of Michigan Beer Guide as saying “Two-Hearted could take over Oberon as our number one selling beer if we can ever make enough of it.”  And while I love Two Hearted, it shows the rising demand for more and more hops.

So back to the bar–I really just want more variety and more knowledge.  I get discouraged when I look at a menu and I have to search for something that is more balanced towards malt and yeast.

When people find out that I make beer, usually the next thing they ask is “So, do you make IPAs?”  And while the short answer is yes, I do, I immediately want to tell them about my Belgian Dark Strong in the works, or the 20 gallons of various sour ales I have aging/fermenting right now.  Just like there is more to beer than light American lagers, there is more to it than IPAs.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I need to figure out when I’m going to have time to bottle my pale ale.

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Bagheera Coffee Stout

A couple of months ago my girlfriend and I brewed up a coffee stout together.  The recipe was formulated with the idea of prominently featuring coffee from our local roaster–MadCap Coffee.  The malt bill was assembled with the idea of it blending with and complimenting the coffee flavors and aromatics so that the line between the coffee and the beer was blurred.  While many stouts are heavy on the roast, the goal for this one was to let the coffee provide many of those flavors, and allow the malt to mingle with deeper notes in the coffee.  As for hops and yeast, they play a very neutral role in this one.  Here’s the recipe:

Recipe Specifications ————————–

OG: 1.071

FG: 1.019

11 lbs Pale Malt, Maris Otter (3.0 SRM) Grain 1 73.3 %

1 lbs Wheat, Roasted (550.0 SRM) Grain 4 6.7 %

8.0 oz Special B (Dingemans) (147.5 SRM) Grain 6 3.3 %

1 lbs Oats, Flaked (1.0 SRM) Grain 2 6.7 %

1 lbs Special Roast (50.0 SRM) Grain 3 6.7 %

8.0 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt – 60L (60.0 SRM) Grain 5 3.3 %

1.00 oz Galena [12.50 %] – Boil 60.0 min Hop 7 36.8 IBUs

1.0 pkg Safale American (DCL/Fermentis #US-05) Yeast

Mash at 154F for 60 min.  Sparge with 180F water.

Before bottling, coarsely grind 6oz. of MadCap’s Oktoberfest blend and place into a sanitized muslin bag.  Place in a sanitized bowl with 3 cups of water and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.  Remove coffee grounds and let drip, then add the liquid coffee into your bottling bucket.

Review on 12/9/11:

Appearance:  Pours dark black with a tan, espresso-like head.  Very few highlights here.

Aroma:  Strongly of coffee, as well as notes of dates, molasses, some tobacco, raisins.  Slight alcohol sweetness.

Taste:  Expounds largely on the coffee, again with dark fruits and molasses, but not too sweet or cloying.  It ends with a nice roastiness that cleans the palate.

Mouthfeel:  Slick, and not as full as I would like.  Low carbonation leaves the ale smooth.

Overall:  This is one of the better beers I’ve had a hand in brewing, and one I’ve ear-marked to make again.  It’s very drinkable, but also delicious.  The complexities of it are subtle, but are certainly open for exploration.  I am very happy with how this turned out and feel it has come very close to hitting what was originally envisioned.  I can only think of a few tweaks to make, such as perhaps a higher mash temp to add a little more body.

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No-Boil Berliner Weiss no. 1

Last week I had a day off, so I decided to brew up a no-boil Berliner Weiss.   Not only was this my first try at the style, but it was my first attempt at decoction mashing.  Traditionally Berliner Weiss’ are very low in IBU’s, in the 3-7 range.  So, since this is a no-boil, I pulled 3.94 qts. (about a gallon) from the mash to boil for the decoction, and added the hops in with that.  Despite boiling for around 20 minutes, I undershot my target saccharification temp (154) by about 10 degrees.  Fortunately I had some hot water ready to add to get it up to temp.  I made a starter with WYeast Lactobacillus and a quart of apple cider a few days before brewing.  Lactobacillus loves simple sugars, hence the apple cider.  It also loves warm temps, so it sat next to my heating vent.  I let the wort cool on it’s own to 90 degrees, then pitched the Lacto starter.  The picture above is of some very active Lacto at work.  2 days later I pitched a packet of US-05 to finished out the fermentation.


3lbs. Weyermann Pilsner

3lbs. Wheat malt

SG: 1.032

Target FG: 1.006

1oz. Saaz added during decoction.

Here’s the mash schedule from BeerSmith:

Mash Steps

Name Description Step Temperature Step Time
Protein Rest Add 12.00 qt of water at 142.2 F 133.0 F 35 min
Saccharification Decoct 3.83 qt of mash and boil it 154.0 F 45 min
Mash Out Add 0.00 qt of water and heat to 168.0 F over 10 min 168.0 F 10 min

Mash Notes: Used in some authentic German styles. Attempt to draw decoction from the thickest portion of the mash. Profiles vary. Some traditional German mashes use a long acid rest at 40 deg C. Also some sources recommend the decoction amount be given a 15 minute saccharification rest at 158 F (70 C) before boiling it.


I’ll let you know how it turns out!


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Belgian Dark Strong with Date Sugar

Life over the past few weeks has been very busy.  Working overtime and staying active socially has led me to neglect this blog a bit.  But, of course, I’ve still been brewing.  I brewed this up this past Wednesday:

Harbinger (Belgian Dark Strong)


16lbs. Weyermann Pilsner Malt

2lbs.  Date Sugar

8oz.  Belgian Special B

SG:  1.082

Target FG: 1.015


0.7oz.  Chinook (120 min. boil)

Mashed at 148 for 75 min. and fermented with a yeast cake of WYeast 1762 Belgian Abbey II.  I have been fermenting it in front of a heating vent to keep the temp up in the 80s.  Many Abbey-ales are initially fermented at high temperatures, then crash-cooled.  These high temperatures cause the yeast to highly attenuate, leaving the beer dry and more digestible   Check out Stan Heironymous’ Brew Like a Monk for more info.  Here’s a glorious picture of the yeast in action:

Yeast in action

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Crazy Rare

I have not been able to update this blog as much as I would like due to being very busy, but as I prepare for my next post, I’ll leave you with this link from local Homebrew/Bottleshop Siciliano’s Market about the “lunacy” surrounding rare beer releases, in particular, Canadian Breakfast stout:

The phone started ringing a half hour before we opened (we open at 8am) and the calls continued throughout the day. When would we be getting CBS? How much would we be getting? Would it be possible to reserve a bottle? Do we have any left? Any idea where to find more? When one early caller asked if our three cases had arrived yet I asked him how he could possibly know that we were getting three cases.

Read the rest here.

I am not going to lie and say that I don’t care about these releases.  I have had some great times with releases like KBS, Dark Lord, etc.  It can be exhilarating waiting in line with friends and new-found friends, having some rare beers along  the way.   But each year, and with each release, I feel like I care so much less.  It gets to the point that I don’t care about the bottles–I’ll have a taste, but I don’t need to spend that much time and effort on a beer I don’t even know if I’ll like.  And that’s another thing:  it’s hard to live up to the hype surrounding these releases.  I more often than not feel underwhelmed because I hear people describing it in some life-altering way, and I come away with not much more than palate fatigue.

When it comes down to it, most days I’d rather have something drinkable and enjoyable, not necessarily challenging.  I’ve had enough strong beers to know that they’re special, to be reserved for special moments.  But we have so many of these beers on the market.  I guess the question is “How many is enough?”






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Two new beer books worth checking out

I love reading about beer.  Whether it’s a historical account of ales of olde, innovative and interesting recipes, or tales of other countries’ drinking cultures, I enjoy sitting down and taking as much of it in as I can.  Two beer-related book releases have got me pretty excited.  Let’s start with the first, released this past Tuesday:


That’s right–a whole book about Stone Brewing Co. and their history.  But maybe one of the most exciting and interesting parts is the amount of Stone recipes listed in it for the sake of homebrewing.  Here’s more from

Inside THE book

  • behind the scenes look at the 15 years of Stone Brewing Co., straight from co-founders Greg Koch and Steve Wagner
  • An in-depth history of beer through the ages, revealing how four simple ingredients combine to make liquid magic
  • Pointers on properly storing and pouring craft beer, as well as a primer on pairing beer with food
  • Recipes from the award-winning Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, including Garlic Cheddar and Stone Ruination IPA Soup, and the (in)famous Arrogant Bastard Ale Onion Rings
  • Never before released homebrew recipes including Stone Pale Ale, Stone Smoked Porter, Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine, and Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout
And then there’s a release that a lot of people have been waiting for.  Coming out October 7th (Tuesday) is The Oxford Companion to Beer edited by none other than Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery fame.
Yes, that’s right–960 pages of well-researched beer goodness.  It’s going to take more than a six-pack for me to get through it.  More info from


  • Most comprehensive reference work on beer ever published
  • Over 1,100 entries by renowned beer experts across the globe
  • Entries on every aspect of beer, including chemical, technical, social, cultural, and linguistic
  • Editor-in-Chief Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery, is the foremost authority on beer in the United States
  • Ideal resource for both practical information and engaging beer anecdotes
  • Foreword by Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio
So if anyone needs a gift idea, or a desire to learn and a need for beery inspiration, I would recommend either of these books.

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Rachel and Andrew’s Ginger Hibiscus Saison

My girlfriend and I brewed this one up this past summer, taking advantage of the high-heat to ferment at proper Saison temperatures.  This one was brewed with my sour-beer equipment, which most definitely has bugs living in it.  It was fermented with WYeast 3724 Belgian Saison, but many of the distinct characteristics of that yeast have been muted by the lovely wild yeasts living in my equipment.  First, the recipe, than a full review of the beer.







10 lbs

Pilsner (2 Row) Bel (2.0 SRM)



83.3 %

8.0 oz

Caravienne Malt (22.0 SRM)



4.2 %

8.0 oz

Vienna Malt (3.5 SRM)



4.2 %

1.00 oz

Styrian Goldings [5.40 %] – Boil 60.0 min



17.2 IBUs

1.00 oz

Styrian Goldings [5.40 %] – Boil 30.0 min



13.3 IBUs

1 lbs

Turbinado (10.0 SRM)



8.3 %

1.0 pkg

Belgian Saison (Wyeast Labs #3724) [125.00 ml]




4oz. of dried Hibiscus at 15 min

.5oz of dried Ginger at 5 mins

Mash details:

Single batch infusion–Mash at 148 F for 75 minutes.  Sparge with 170 F water. OG= 1.060 FG= 1.002 ABV= 7.6%


Appearance:  Pours with a small, frothy white head.  The body of the ale is a copperish red/pink, getting most of its color from the Hibiscus.

Aroma:  Slight coriander spiciness, hints of fresh rain, straw, and solvent.

Flavor:  Tangy with a hint of hop bitterness on the back.  Very little ginger character, but the hibiscus really cuts through built on top of a hay-like malt profile.  Mouthfeel is thin and bubbly.  The obvious brett/lactic presence adds some layers of acidity and rustic, barnyard characteristics, though at the same time muddling the spiciness that the WYeast strain is known for.

Overall Impression:  Drinkable and stronger than it would seem to be.  It’s a little underwhelming to drink do to some of the flavors just being muddled.  The ginger has little presence, and in future incarnations of this brew I would use fresh ginger, as opposed to the stale dried ginger I used here.  I would also not inoculate it by using sour equipment–I would either go one way with just the WYeast 3724, or the other way with a purposeful lab strain of Brett or a blend of bugs.  For now though it’s a drinkable brew, and a noble first attempt at the recipe.

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Strong Smoked Pale

On Sunday I tried my hand at my first smoked beer.  I wanted to go for something that had a large smoke component, but with enough support from other malt flavors to not be over-powering or one-dimensional.  Here’s the rec

6# 2-Row Pilsner Malt (1.0 SRM)

6# Smoked Malt (Weyermann) (2.0 SRM)

8oz. Melanoidin Malt (Weyermann) (30 SRM)

1.5# Honey Malt (25 SRM)

1oz. Northern Brewer pellet hops (8.9% AA) –Boil 75 Min.

1oz. Willamette pellet hops (4.6% AA) –Boil 75 Min.

1/2 gallon starter of Wyeast American Ale (1056) yeast

Mashed in with 17.4 qts. of water at 170 Degrees to bring the mash to 156.  Let sit for one hour, then sparged with 4.5 gallons at 170 degrees.  I ended up drawing a little too much wort into the kettle, and I also wanted to adjust the recipe to get a little more bitterness out of my hops, so I boiled for 75 mins.  My measured gravity was 1.070, which puts me at about 68% efficiency–slightly better then my typical 65%.  Cooled and pitched my starter.  It’s been fermenting strong for the past few days, but I’m a little concerned because Monday got into the 80s here, and since I don’t have A/C or fermentation temp control (hence “Primitive Brewing”), I know it will develop some off flavors.  I’ll post a review of it when it’s ready, but for now, here’s some pictures from the brew day:

Glorious glorious wort

Some deliciously smokey inspiration

All done and in the basement.



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