Thursday, 29 December 2016

20th Brew-versary Extravaganza!

This post is one part of a two-part piece (the other being a video) I've put together as part of my 20th anniversary as a home brewer - a milestone I hit a few weeks ago - December 5, 2016 to be exact.

To celebrate this milestone I set myself three goals - to prepare a video looking back on 20 years of brewing (embedded below, or available at my youtube page), to brew a 20% ABV beer to drink on my 20th brew-versary (recipe/brewday here, detailed brewing and tasting notes below the fold), and the biggest challenge of them all - I rebrewed the first beer I ever made, applying my 20 years of experience, to see if I could make a palatable version of that venerable brew (the brewing of which can be found in the video embedded below, tasting notes to follow sometime in early 2017).

Ironically, somewhere along the line I lost track of the true date of my brew-versary, and in many previous posts listed it as December 9...turns out the true first brew day was on a loose-leaf piece of paper jammed in the back of my old log book - a page I found with only weeks to spare, and containing a completely different (yet equally cheap) canned-malt kit beer.

If you don't want to listen to me ramble on for 20-ish minutes about brewing, that take home from my retrospective video is:
  1. The on-line brewing community has grown dramatically, and for the better.
  2. Ingredients are better and more plentiful.
  3. Equipment and techniques have evolved, generally for the better.
Without further ado, the video...
Brewing and tasting notes for the 20% beer can be found below the fold...I'll post a followup detailing my attempt at re-brewing my first beer early in 2017.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Mike's Export - Recipe & Tasting Notes

Glass of export in the
winter sunset
As readers of my blog may know, I occasionally brew with 'Mike' - my wife's uncle. Mike is a BMC lager fan who also doesn't mind some forms of craft beer. Brewing with him has been an adventure on my end, as its forced me to explore some of the lighter ale and lager styles I normally wouldn't brew - and in doing so, I've become rather enamoured with some of the maltier German lagers.

While leads me to today's post/beer, a Dortmunder-style lager ('German Helles Exporbier' in the new style guidelines) that Mike and I brewed a little over a month ago. I brewed this beer using the fast-lager method I've developed (based on Brulosophy work) over the past year, using another vial of the W34/70 frozen down in my "Freezing Yeast" video. The "warm lager" method I've settled on works as follows:
  1. Pitch a healthy dose of a warm-lager-comparable (e.g. W34/70) lager yeast into cellar-temperature wort (10-16C).
  2. Ferment ~ 1 week at cellar temperature, then warm beer to 20C for another weeks fermentation.
  3. Keg after 14 days fermentation, or transfer to secondary and age further at cellar temperatures .
This has turned around 5 lager beers, most in 2-3 weeks, all of which tasted excellent and without significant flaws. This is now my go-to method of brewing lagers. This Dortmunder was no exception - a fantastic beer whose only notable flaw was a mis-balance in bitterness and maltiness, due to a higher-than-expected starting gravity.

Recipe, brew-day notes and tasting notes can be found below the fold...

Friday, 16 December 2016

Tasting Notes - Vinland Kveik

Kveik in the Winter Sunset
My last post on my blog was the brewing of my advent beer for this year - a Norwegian-style Kveik, "reimagined" using ingredients that would have been available (minus the malt) to the Vikings who set foot in Canada over a thousand years ago.

Last night was this beers "turn" in my brew-clubs annual advent exchange, so its time for some tasting notes.

Appearance: Pours with an effervescent light copper body and a thick white head.

Aroma: A spiciness that is hard to describe - vanilla, pepper, and a bit of a generic "spice".

Flavour: When young the beer had a notable orange ester character, alongside a spiciness that had discernible vanilla, pepsi and allspice-like notes. As it aged these flavours mellowed into a more generic spiciness (still good, but without the dominant & discrete flavours) and a more subtle citrus-ish ester character. This spiciness was built on top of a malty backbone with a low-level hop bitterness. Balance is malt-forward. Aftertaste is a lingering malt sweetness and spiciness from the spruce.

Mouthfeel: Moderate-to-high body, creamy and smooth, but highly effervescent. A lower level of carbonation would likely have been better for this style of beer.

Overall: I really enjoyed this beer, both young and aged, but with a preference for the younger beer. When young, the beer had several flavour notes that stood out - vanilla, all-spice, and orange. Combined with the maltiness, these flavours created the ultimate Christmas beer with a character similar to that of a spice cookie. As the beer aged these distinct flavours blended to a more generic citrus & spice character - still pleasant and nicely balanced, but without the distinct flavour notes of the younger beer. When (not if) I rebrew this beer I'm only going to make a few minor tweaks:
  1. I'm going to further enhance the orange character by pitching less yeast and fermenting a few degrees warmer (in the range or 39-42C)
  2. I'm not going to bother tracking down native north American hops (hop character was minimal and I doubt you'd notice much of a difference with any other hop being used)
  3. I'm going to keg it much younger - traditional Kveik is usually brewed for 3-4 days before transferring to the serving vessel, whereas I kegged after 14 days.
Hopefully the warmer ferment and shorter fermentation cycle will capture more of the orange character and preserve those unique spice notes.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Kveik - It's Advent Season!

The end of November is upon us, and for members of my homebrewing club this means one thing - our annual advent beer exchange. This year we had 25 brewers exchanging beers, which we will enjoy starting today and running through to December 24th. A much better advent calendar than those crummy chocolates!

My contribution to this years exchange is a Kveik, a Norweigian Farmhouse Ale, with a goal with this beer was to “reimagine” what the vikings who settled the north-east coast of Canada a millennium ago may have brewed. So in place of traditional Norweigian ingredients (juniper, European hops) I used instead spruce and wild hops native to Canada's far north.

Recipe and various notes & ramblings can be found below the fold - I'll post full tasting notes on the official day for my beer in the advent exchange.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Black Adder

This year marked the fourth year of my hop farming experiment. I added two centennial plants this year, to go with my cascades and goldings. Over the past few years I've brewed a variant of a black IPA, which I've called the black mamba (year 1, 2, 3). While I've enjoyed playing with that recipe, the new centennial hops plus a desire to try something new led me to develop a new beer for this years hop harvest.

Sticking with the snake theme, this years beer is the "Black Adder the 1st", although that should be taken more along the lines of Rowan Atkinson than of a scary big snake. This beer is still a black IPA, but with a lot of changes from the black mamba of yesteryear. Gone are the rye and wheat malts, with the beer brewed to be drier and more hop-forward. This beer contains 225g (a half-pound) of centennial and cascade hops, and even more oddly, was brewed using a Kveik yeast kindly sent to me by a Norwegian brewer. The vision of this beer was to emphasise the citrus notes of the hops with a yeast strain with a reputation for orange-like esters.

This didn't come out exactly as I had envisioned, and the hop character faded awfully fast, but I did learn two things while making this beer. 1) I am probably drying my hops incorrectly, which would account for their slightly different than excepted character and poor in-beer stability. Apparently I should dry them using a dehydrator or over at ~55C/130F (link). 2) Kveik yeast kicks ass in dark beers. The orange character blends nicely with roast malts, giving a character similar to orange-infused chocolate. A future stout will be brewed with this yeast!

Recipe and tasting notes can be found below the fold...

Friday, 14 October 2016

New Video...and a New Video Series

I am happy to announce a new "initiative" here at Sui Generis Brewing, specifically a new video series titled "Beer on the Brain" - short (5 minute) videos on various topics about the science and methodology of brewing.

Here's the series trailer:

And here is the first video in the series, about a myth that Starsan cannot kill yeast:

I hope you enjoy!

Saturday, 24 September 2016

One brew day - several sour(ish) beers

Random "helper" captured while preparing the fruit for this beer
This is a big post, providing information on three very different beers, all brewed from a single wort a little over a month ago. This has been (and continues to be) a pretty exciting series of beers - from a single wort I made a dry hopped berliner weiss, an experimental beer with the yeast Lachancea thermotolerans, and a fruited/bretted beer using wild grapes and the flora of those grapes!

At the heart of these three very different beers is an incredibly simple wort - a 44L (11.6 US gallon) batch of a no-boil Beliner Weisse, based loosely on the Milk the Funk Berliner Weisse recipe. Rather than post my recipe, I'd direct you to the previous link. The only modifications I made were in my procedures:

  1. I mashed at 62.8C for 75 minutes, to get a drier final beer than the MTF standard recipe.
  2. The wort was not boiled; instead I heated it to ~90C, and let it sit at this temperature for 10 minutes prior to cooling to 45C for pitching of the Lactobacillus.
  3. No hops were used in the mash or boil.
Once the wort was prepared 4L was pulled off for the experimental Lachancea thermotolerans beer, the remaining 40L kettle-soured with a fantastic wild lactobacillus available only to my home brewing club, and once soured, split into two batches - one dry-hopped upon completion and the other bretted and fruited with wild grapes.

The details of each of these beers, and tasting notes for two of them, can be found below the fold. Its a bit of a read, so you may want to pull yourself a pint before you proceed.

Friday, 16 September 2016

It's Back

A few of my past exchanges.
As many of my long-term readership knows I used to offer access to my extensive yeast bank on an exchange basis. Due to a mix of personal and professional reasons I lacked the time over the past year to engage in yeast exchanges, and took the bank off of the interwebs.

The drought is over.

Both my commercial and wild banks are back open for exchange (with some exceptions, where I've promised to not exchange certain yeasts). As in the past, all exchanges are trades - you give me something new and I'll send several your way.

The link to the exchange can be found at the top of the page, or by clicking here.

I use a system of mailers which makes exchanges cheap and easy. Details can be found on the exchange page, or at this link.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A Great Review on Sour Beer Bugs

Mat "Dr. Lambic" Miller, author of the Sour Beer Blog, just posted one of the best and most comprehensive reviews of brewing organisms used in sour beer production, as well as the myriad of ways that they can be applied to the production of sour &/or funky beers.

Whether new to the sour scene, or an old hand, its a post worth reading.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Imperial Pale Lager...with Frozen Yeast

A few weeks ago I posted a video about freezing yeast. While many people were quite excited about that video, I did have a few doubters. Well, I'm going to let you into a little secret - I shot that video back in March (yes, that is how slow I am at editing videos), the yeast I froze down in the video was a product of February's "Uncle Mikes Pilsner". One jar of yeast saved from that batch was re-pitched (without a starter) to make Aprils Vienna lager, another jar (this time with a starter) made the Helles and Raddler brewed in May. And at the end of July I thawed one of the frozen tubes of 34-70, ran it through a starter, and made an IPL...and it is f~#&ing delicious!

The recipe is below the fold, but lets start with the tasting notes.

Appearance: The picture to the right says it all - dark copper in colour, crystal clear, and pours with a creamy white head that leave Belgium lace down the sides of the glass.

Aroma: Citrus, citrus and citrus. Not a surprise given the recipe (again, below the fold), but regardless, the aroma is fantastic. The mild lager character of the yeast really lets the hop character shine through.

Flavour: I like my IPA's/IPL's on the bitter side, and this recipe doesn't disappoint. The beer has an upfront bitterness, clean but lingering. Behind it is a nice maltiness; pilsner-malt graininess with a bit more oopmh provided by Munich malt. Beside it there is a strong hop flavour - citrus, some resin, bit of tropical fruit. After the sip is complete all of that fades quickly to a resinous hop bitterness with a touch of sweetness to balance it out.

Mouthfeel: Dry, effervescent, but still somewhat whetting. The wetness fades to a dry hop bitterness as the mouthfeel fades.

Overall: A very enjoyable beer. I would up the whirlpool by another 30g (1 oz) or so to bring a little more hop character to the forefront. Other than that, I wouldn't change a thing. As with many IPA's/IPL's, the hop character fades quickly with time, so rapid consumption is a must.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Fact or Fiction? Can Pathogens Survive in Beer - Mould Edition.

The topic of pathogens in beer is a persistent one; two years ago I wrote an extensive post on the topic (the answer is, yes, pathogens can survive in beer, but is a thankfully rare issue). More recently a similar theme consistently comes up in the various brewing forums I participate in. The new theme regards moulds (molds, for my US readers). There is no question that mould can grow on beer - indeed, most of us have seen them at one time or another. Rather, the question is if they are dangerous and whether they can be prevented.

What Exactly Is Mould?

Contrary to what many people believe, moulds are not bacteria - evolutionary speaking they are far closer to us than to bacteria. Rather, moulds are the close cousins of yeast, both of which are fungi. Yeast and moulds are very similar in their genetics, cell structure, and even some aspects of their lifestyles. There are two major features which separate yeast from moulds. The first is that moulds are almost exclusively obligate aerobes - meaning they only grow in the presence of oxygen. Some yeast are also obligate aerobes, but the yeast we use in brewing are capable of some degree of anaerobic metabolism - AKA fermentation - and thankfully so, or there'd be no alcohol in our beer. 

The second difference is how mould versus yeast cells assemble. Yeast cells are individually living cells, meaning that each cell is its own fortress and takes care of itself and no one else. Even when yeast form into filaments, they are merely "glued" together. Moulds are the opposite - moulds always form filaments, with each cell in the filament connected to its neighbouring cells such that they can share nutrients, energy, and waste.

Are Moulds Dangerous?

The answer here is "often, but not always". Moulds were (and in undeveloped areas of the world, remain) a serious issue in food safety. Even in the brewing world, moulds were an issue upto the 1930's, and its only because of our food safety measures that they've remained a historical issue. Historically, the primary fungal issue brewers faced was ergot, a fungal infection of barley (and other cereal grains) which can cause an oft-fatal disease called ergotism. This toxicity is caused by the production of an LSD-like molecule by the fungus, which when ingested could cause issues ranging from mild digestive discomfort, through to convulsions, gangrene, and far too often, death. Today this is largely a non-issue as improved grain production and harvest methods have eliminated ergot from the food chain, outside of a few small scale producers and the developing world. Ergotism was a frequent complaint (and/or preferred feature) of many beers in early European history. It was a common problem in the Anglo-Saxon era, and may even have been a "feature" of shamanic beers produced by the vikings.

Another serious historical issue, although it was not appreciated at the time, was other, more insidious mould infections. Many moulds (as well as some yeasts) produce toxins - biological products with poisonous effects. Mould-derived toxins (mycotoxins) are very different from those made by bacteria; most bacterial toxins are proteins and are readily destroyed by factors such  as the boiling, acidity and alcohol present in beer production. Mycotoxins are very different - most are small stable organic chemicals which are impervious to conditions encountered in beer production. Some of these toxins even have cumulative effects, meaning that multiple exposures to levels with no immediate toxic effects could ultimately be deadly. This often manifested itself as cancer - indeed, until the widespread use of refrigeration, stomach cancer was the most common cancer in the western world - a cancer caused almost solely by fungal toxins in improperly stored foods. A combination of refrigeration and antifungal pesticides has purged this scourge from our food supply, albeit, not soon enough to save my grandfather who fought (and ultimately lost) a 15-year battle with stomach cancer that was almost certainty caused by fungal toxins.

In terms of the toxins themselves, how long they take to form and how toxic they are is extremely variable. Gliotoxin, produced by Aspergillis (as well as other fungi and even some yeast) is produced almost immediately upon initiation of cell division. Other toxins may even be present in the spores, while yet others won't be produced until significant amounts of fungi are present. Aflatoxins,one of the most common types of fungal toxins, and commonplace in many grain (and home) loving fungi, is the predominant toxin responsible for stomach cancer. Other long-term effects of mycotoxin exposure can include immunosuppression, liver and kidney damage and reproductive issues.

So fungal toxins are dangerous - but how common are they? The answer there is complex; of all fungi, those which produce mycotoxins that harm humans are relatively rare. However, the toxins are common in the fungi which tend to thrive in our foods and in our homes. If you see a mould in your home, chances are better than 50-50 that it makes a toxin which can harm you. As a general "rule", pigmented fungi are more likely to produce toxins than are unpigmented (white) fungi, but that is not a universal rule. Indeed, the mould used to make blue cheese is intensely pigmented and yet is harmless to us (unless you are allergic to penicillin), whereas nonpigmented fungi are responsible for 2/3rds of fungal eye infections.

I Have Mould In My Beer - What Should I Do?

What should be done if there is mould on your beer is not an easy question to answer. Mould is not uncommon when brewing fruit beers; fruits often carry mould spores, and since fruit tends to float, it carries to mould to the top of the beer where it is exposed to oxygen and can grow. A small amount of growth under this situation is probably harmless, and can be easily managed (see section below). Mould on a non-fruit beer is more problematic, as it indicates that the beer was contaminated at some point after brew-day, and that the beer has been exposed to significant levels of oxygen. Some mould growth is not uncommon in the first few weeks of a wild ferment; mould lasting past that point, or appearing a any time point in a conventionally brewed beer, is something I personally would consider to be a sign that the beer should be dumped.

Preventing And Managing Mould

Preventing mould in conventional brewing is easy - normal brewing practices should kill any spores present in the grain or hops, and limiting oxygen exposure once primary fermentation is complete will prevent the germination and growth of any spores which enter the beer after brew-day.

If adding fruit, "punching down" any floating fruit (keeping the fruit below the level of the liquid), only adding fruit to secondary in an oxygen-impermeable fermenter (e.g. a carboy with an airlock ), and purging the airspace with CO2, will prevent mould from growing. As an added precaution, fruit can be washed in a mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide prior to adding to beer. To do this, add ~1/4 cup of 3% peroxide (from your local pharmacy) to a sink full of cold water. Soak intact fruit for ~5 minutes, then rinse, freeze/puree (or whatever you do prior to adding fruit to your beer), and add to the beer as normal.

For wild ferments (coolship ales, etc), preventing mould is equally simple. Ferment in a carboy or other oxygen impermeable container, using an airlock once primary fermentation is complete to exclude oxygen. Purging the headspace with CO2 after any transfers or sampling will further limit any mould growth, and has the added advantage of preventing acetic acid formation. In simple terms, if you can prevent Acetobacter from turning your beer into vinegar, and Brettanomyces from turning your beer into nail polish remover, than you can keep mould from growing.

If mould begins to form your options are more limited Fruit beers with mild contamination can be punched down and the headspace purged; if the mould doesn't return you should be OK. For other beers any mould growth should be considered a serious problem - simply removing "floaties" will not help as a small mould island will be connected to an extensive network of near-invisible fibrils which will remain behind and continue to grow. Personally, I would dump any conventionally brewed beer with mould on the surface (after confirming it is mould and not yeast or trub islands). Again, prevention through limiting oxygen ingress is a better choice than trying to remove it later.

Barrels can be particularly hard to deal with, as their higher oxygen permeability aids in mould growth. Suflating empty barrels, keeping them properly filled, and using either a tightly fitting bung or quality airlock, will prevent mould growth in most cases. Commercial brewers and vinters will usually toss barrels that develop mould; a practice we homebrewers should emulate.

In Conclusion

Long story made short, you cannot tell whether a mould is toxic or not, short of subjecting it to laboratory identification. Given that mycotoxins can have cumulative effects, the ease of preventing mould growth, and the relatively low costs of homebrew-sized batches of beer, best practices are simply to dump any mouldy beers...with the possible exception of fruit and wild beers, as discussed above (and even then, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure).

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

New Video - Freezing Yeast

After 8 long months I have finally completed the next video in my "Your Home Yeast Lab Made Easy" series - this one on using refrigeration and freezing for storing yeast. Both methods use materials readily available around your home.

There is not much to add in this post to complement the video. If you have any questions or comments, post them here or on the video.

My YouTube Channel
Your Home Yeast Lab Made Easy Series

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Helles a good radler

My wife is not a beer fan. This is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing as my beer lasts longer, but a curse as I cannot share the fruits of my hobby with her (although she does love the fruits of my cider and wine making).

But my wife (and I) does enjoy a radler. For those who haven't encountered these, they are a common beverage in Germany and Austria, usually served in cafes catering to cyclists, and are made of a 50:50 mix of a light beer (often a helles, although some are made with wheat beers or pilsner) and a ctirus soda (like 7-up, only a stronger citrus character).

While refreshing, radlers have two major issues (from my point of view): 1) Mixing the beer with the soda decreases the alcohol content too much, and 2) the balance is too sweet for my tastes.

So I tried to make a radler that my wife would like, but which would also fit my tastes better...I achieved the later, but the former goal was not quite achieved.


Recipe in quotes as this barely counts as a recipe:
  • ~17L of a light lager (I used the Helles blogged about in my previous post, but any light lager would work)
  • 1/4 tsp of potassium metabisulfite
  • 10 g of potassium sorbate
  • 4 cans of frozen juice concentrate (enough to make up ~10L of juice; I used pink lemonade)
Transfer the beer into a carboy and mix in the metabisulfite/sorbate - this will stabilize the beer and prevent any residual yeast from consuming the sugar in the juice concentrate. Then add the concentrate, mix and carbonate. That's it!

Tasting Notes:

Appearance: Slightly darker, but much hazier than the Helles this beer was made from. Head retention is poor - likely due to fruit oils in the frozen juice concentrate.

Aroma: Pink lemon-aid, citrusy and fresh. The underlying malt-note is present, but plays second fiddle to the citrus.

Flavour: Here is where I succeeded...and failed. The citrus note is strong and upfront - as with most raddlers it is the focus of the beer. Beneath that is (as you would expect) the sweetness imparted from the juice. But where this recipe deviates from the normal raddler is that there is a strong beer note, including a detectable hop bitterness. To my palate this greatly improves this beer, making it more balanced and with less apparent sweetness than is normal. Likewise, the maltiness of the helles comes through, adding a nice counter-point to the citrus character of the lemonade. To my wife's palate, this is where I went wrong - its too "beery", which means that there is too much hop bittnerness. Aftertaste is a lingering sweetness/citrus, with a hint of hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Not as light bodied or dry as the helles base, and far heavier than a conventional raddler, but still light enough and fresh enough to be refreshing. You can tell this was made from juice instead of soda, as the beer's body has some of the "thickness" of juice, rather than the clean/crisp body of soda (if soda can be said to have body).

Overall: For my preferences, this is far better than any commercial raddler I've had. The balance provided by the higher hop bitterness is more pleasing to my palate, while the beer retains a refreshing character. To my wife's palate I've not been as successful as hoped - that bitterness I perceive as adding balance is, to her, a strong and unpleasant note.

Next Time: Given this was supposed to be a treat for my wife I'm going to have to rebrew it more to her taste. I haven't finalized my plans yet, but next time I think I'm going to use a wheat beer for the beer base and use soda "reinforced" with frozen juice concentrate (to better mimic the soda normally used) in place of the pure juice concentrate I used in this recipe. And most importantly, I'm going to stick to the 50:50 soda/beer ratio that is normally used for raddlers - apparently that ratio wasn't decided on arbitrarily, and instead represents a good balance.

Helles is a good beer for summer

Good for camping, Canada day celebrations, and all
your favourite summer events
Time for another recipe/tasting notes thread. This is yet another beer in my series of "experiments" with warm-fermented lagers. The first and second brews worked out very well, and this third attempt was also a "Helles" of a success...and in case the corny post title and intro paragraph didn't give it away, this time around I brewed a helles.

For those unfamiliar with a helles, its a good summer beer - it has shades of a BMC beer, but has flavour and can legitimately be called a beer. The main focus in a helles is the pilsner malt; the bready malt note should be in the forefront. It is lightly hopped with a bittering charge - no flavour or aroma additions - with just enough bitterness added to balance out the malt-sweetness.

As the description suggests, this is a simple beer. My recipe is a little more complex than most, largely because I like a little extra maltiness than is normal, and because I replicate the effect of a decoction by adding a small amount of melanoidin and carafoam malts.

The recipe and tasting notes can be found below the fold, but the short version would be that this is a damned good beer

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Don't be bitter - its just a bitter

A pint of bitter, frolicking with
some young hops
Bitters are one of my favourite styles of beer - I find the malt:hop balance more appealing than that of an IPA, they are sessionable, and the variety of malt, hop and yeast flavours which can be incorporated are nearly unlimited. Hop character can span from subtle to IPA-like; malt character from a touch more than an adjunct lager through to meaty and bold. And then there are the yeast - some are nutty, others fruity, and yet others bring out the malt or the hops, but picked correctly the yeast are what make the beer. In the past I always had at least one bitter available, on tap or in bottle, although recent insanity has prevented this frequent brewing of bitter. In fact, to squeeze this brewday in, I ended up brewing at night. I should have named this brew "1AM Bitter", as that is the time when the brewing of this beer was completed...

...or maybe "skunky standoff bitter", because my plan to sit on the deck and watch movies on my laptop while I brewed didn't come to fruition as I instead spent most of the evening trying to keep a skunk out of our yard - a successful attempt as evidenced by the aroma coming off my neighbours dog the next morning (Smelly dog bitter? Angry neighbour bitter? Blackstripe bitter? Damn, naming beers is hard).

Rather than posting separate brew-day and recipe posts, I've put everything together into a single post...we'll see if this becomes my preferred format for the blog.



Brewed late at night...
  • OG: 1.046
  • FG: 1.010
  • ABV: 4.4%
  • IBU: 26 IBU


  • 4.00 kg Marris Otter
  • 0.23 kg Aromatic Malt
  • 0.23 kg Caramel 120L
  • 0.11 kg Special Roast


  • 34 g (20 IBU) EKG, 60 min
  • 14g (5.1 IBU) EKG, 20 minb
  • 14g EKG, Flameout

Yeast & Other

  • 1 tsp Irish moss, 15 min
  • Wyeast 1469 (West Yorkshire Ale)


  1. Single-infusion mash for 60 min at 66.1C, batch sparge to collect a total of 28L
  2. Boil for 60 min, adding hops and Irish moss at the indicated time
  3. Cool and oxygenate well, ferment at 18-21 C for 7-14 days
  4. Keg & carb, add gelatin to clear

Tasting Notes:

Appearance: Crystal clear, modestly carbonated, light-brown body with amber highlights. Head pours thick and creamy, and lasts for several minutes.

Aroma: Toasty malt note with some raisin/date-like fruit aroma. Subtle "spicy" note from the aroma hop addition.

Flavour: Strong malt character, mostly toast and stone-fruit, but with a touch of caramel malt sweetness. This is complemented by the yeast, which provides a nut-like ester quality that fits nicely with the toast of the Marris Otter and Special Roast malts. The strong malt note is nicely balanced by a decent hop bitterness, plus some raisin/date-like fruit notes provided by the C120 and yeast. The hop flavour addition is not overt; a subtle spice note is present, but not dominant. Finish is dry, with a lingering hop bitterness and touch of stone-fruit sweetness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body, whetting when you drink it but with a dry finish. Carbonation is on the high end for the style, but its the way I prefer it. No astringency or drying sensation.

Overall: A good pint of bitter; sessionable but with a ton of character. This is one of the only recipes I have that makes a frequent return to my brewhouse, and the reason for that is that this recipe makes - to my mind - the ideal bitter. The fact it goes from grain to bottle in 7-10 days doesn't hurt either.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Another Quick Lager

Tasty, but not as clear as it should be
A while ago I experimented with the new warm-fermentation temperature lager methods being promoted by various home brewers and bloggers. My first attempt at this was a home run - a great, Czech-style Pilsner...and as I was drinking this beer I remembered why I don't brew Pilsners - I'm not a huge fan of the style. So this time around I brewed a lager more to my preference, a continental style Vienna lager.

I'm not going to post the recipe because its not my recipe - I stole this one, in its entirety, from Five Blades Brewing - specifically, his Geburstagsparty recipe. The only change I made (aside from fermentation profile) was that I re-pitched some 34/70 yeast I had kept from my Pilsner. Brew day went smoothly, with 22L of 1.047 wort transferred to the fermenter.

Fermentation profile was the same as with my Pilsner - 6 days at ~15C, followed by 9 days at room temperature. After fermentation I kegged the beer, force carbed, and began pouring 3 days later...and that was when I realized that I forgot to gelatin the beer. So even now, half way through the keg, its still cloudy. But it is otherwise excellent, so onto the tasting notes.

Appearance: Light brown with amber hues, pours with a fluffy white head that lasts and lasts and lasts. But its cloudy, thanks to the lack of gelatin.

Aroma: Malty with a touch of bread, with a clear overarching note of Hallertauer hops.

Flavour: Malt flavour is upfront; not the sweetness of caramel malt, but rather a slightly sweet, rich flavour. There is a subtle, almost nutty note in the background. A subtle hop bitterness balances out the sweetness, but the balance remains malt-forward. The balance is near-perfect; not as sweet as a bock, but not as dry as a Pilsner. It's easy to drink, highly digestable, but has enough flavour and body to be interesting. As with the warm-fermented Pilsner, the yeast character on this beer is lager-clean, despite the lack of long-term cold aging. Aftertaste is very mild, just a lingering malt sweetness and subtle bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Whetting, medium bodied and highly effervescent. There is no astringency or drying sensation what-so-ever.

Overall: A damned good beer. Easy to drink, great flavour and nice balance between malt and hops. Aside from the clarity issue, the beer is nearly perfect. A great session lager, but with enough body and character to keep things interesting. The only thing I would change is to remember to add gelatin next time!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

That moment when you realize you've been doing it all wrong

Hops in 2013
I've been growing my own hops for just over 4 years now, and while my last few harvests were pretty good, they were not even close to what other home hop farmers achieve. To try and figure out where I've gone wrong I've read almost every guide, watched nearly every youtube video, and listened to a mass of far to no avail.

My problems are pretty straight forward - the growth I get is somewhat weak and thin, I don't get a lot of sidearms (which is where hops form), my cones form too early and tend to dry out by early August.

I'll admit that I've somewhat given up hope on finding a solution to my hop-growing woes, but last week James over at Basic Brewing released a podcast in which he interviews a hop farmer - James Altwies of Gorst Valley Hops. As I listened to the podcast I came to realize that my poor yields are likely due to one simple factor - I was doing every last thing wrong.

So what is the magical fix...well short of firing myself that is? There isn't any one thing, but rather several, and the first steps need to start in the next few weeks. As always, the meat is below the fold.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Tasting Notes: Uncle Mikes Pilsner

A few weeks ago I brewed a Pilsner-style beer using some of the techniques home brewers have been developing for fermenting these beers at ale temperatures. In my case I brewed a classical Bohemian-style Pils, pitched W34/70, fermented it at low-ale temperatures (16C) for five days, followed by 9 days at room temperature (about 20C). Two weeks later Uncle Mikes potion was gelatined and kegged (mine had to wait an extra week due to a lack of kegorator space), a week after that it was bottled and sampled - and was pretty damned good.

I kegged, but forgot to gelatin, my half of the beer 3 weeks after brew-day. The lack of gelatin is apparent, but otherwise this is a really, really good lale?

Appearance: Pours with a thick white head that lasts forever. Beer is a medium-amber in colour with a very slight chill haze. A bit of gelatin next time should solve that little problem. Mikes portion, which was gelatined, was crystal clear.

Aroma: Its a pils! Bready malt note, clear aroma of Sazz,and otherwise free of yeast-derived esters, sulphur or diacetyl.

Flavour: This is a very tasty beer. Modest bitterness balanced by that bread-like flavour only pils malt can create. The spicy/herbal note of Sazz is apparent in both flavour and aroma. Body is medium, just as you'd expect of a Bohemian Pils, with a crisp finish. About the only flaw I can note is that the hops are not quite as crisp as they should be - probably because I didn't dilute out my towns mineral content to get a Pilsn-like ion content. Aftertaste is a lingering hop bitterness and a slight bread character. Of most importance, no yeast-derived esters are present, confirming that lager-like finishes can be achieved at ale fermentation temperatures.

Mouthfeel: Effervescent, medium bodied, but dry in the finish. Thirst quenching and easily digestible.

Overall: A surprising and delightful success. I'm sure a more serious lager brewer would find a few more flaws, but for a brewer who only occasionally drinks pilsners. I tried this side-by-side with a Pilsner Uriquel, and while my beer was not intended to be a clone, the flavour profile and aroma are surprisingly similar. Not identical, but the differences are likely due to recipe formulation and the higher gravity of my beer, rather than due to flaws. The biggest difference is that the Uriquel's hops "pop" more than mine - likely due to the softer water used in Uriquel.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Tasting notes & a recipe - Kitchen Sink Stout (for St. Paddies day)

I don't always blog all the beers I brew, but seeing as it is St. Paddies day I thought I'd do a quick post one one such batch - my "Kitchen Sink Stout". As the name suggests, this beer was brewed by taking all of my odd-and-end grains & hops and trying to formulate a recipe that used them all up. What I ended up with was 40L (~10 US gallons) of a dry-style "stout" (stout in quoted because this is too dark/roasty for porter but has no roast barley). While this beer was brewed back in mid-November, I've managed to hold onto a few bottles until now.

The recipe is complex, not because I wanted it to be but rather because of the large number of malts I was trying to rid myself of:
  • 8kg marris otter
  • 0.7kg Carafa Special II
  • 0.67kg flaked oats
  • 0.45kg victory malt
  • 0.2kg black patent
  • 0.18kg carawheat
  • 0.1kg carafa special III
  • mashed for 60 min at 68.3C
Hopping was also done kitchen-sink style:
  • 100g (50 IBU) Northern Brewer, 60 min
  • 30g EKG + 30g Fuggels, 15 min
Fermented with 2 packs of Safale S-04 (English ale).

So how did this beer turn out... tasting notes can be found below the fold.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Belgian Candi Sugar Part III

Yesterday, Brulosophy published a post where they compared "my" candi sugar recipe side-by-side with a commercial candi syrup. The much more rigorous testing conducted by Brulosophy mirrored my own less scientific experience - i.e. namely that in beer the differences between them are hard to detect, but there are differences. The ability to find these differences appears to vary between people, as in the Brulosophy the majority were not able to tell the differences, but the minority that could tell the difference could do so consistently.

Since my previous posts on the topic (1, 2 and "3", #2 is the primary resource) I've refined my method further. In the discussions following the Brulosophy post its become apparent that I should share these changes as a fair number of people are using my old posts as a starting point in their own sugar experiments (hello, Reddit homebrewers).

The changes I have made seem to address the issues others (and I) have noted - namely an occasional acrid/burnt character. An issue was also brought up by one commenter which I think is worth addressing here.

The changes I've made to my method:

  1. I've greatly reduced the amount of DME used, as the amount of protein in previous batches was excessive. For 1 kg of sugar (2.2 lbs), I am currently using 5 ml (~1 tsp) of DME. Previously I was using 1 tbs (~15 ml)
  2. I avoid mixing the sugar as much as possible - I mix to dissolve the sugar into water, and I mix when adding the lye, but I do not otherwise mix.
  3. I am much more careful and slow with my temperature changes. Most of the mixing I did previously was to add cold water to cool the sugar if I overshot the desired temperature.
  4. I now usually add corn sugar (fructose) at a rate of 1% volume/mass (i.e. 1 ml corn sugar per 100g sugar). This does not change the flavour of the final candi, but does reduce crystallization. It is easier to then blend the mix into a syrup or cast rocks with the non-crystallized sugar.
These changes have led to a candi which is much closer (to my palate) to commercial candis, one without the unpleasant flavours some of the previous batches had. Others on the thread have mentioned using pressure cookers and other methods with great success. Hopefully, as a collective we will be able to formulate a better method of producing a consistent and flavourful candi sugar for home brewing.

The "Issue":
An issue brought up the commenter 'Chino' in the Brulosophy thread was that the 30 minute inversion time that I recommend is insufficient to completely invert the sugar, with individuals over a Reddit working on ways to get improved inversions. I partially agree with what Chino states - given the rate of the reaction and the fact that it is an equilibrium reaction, a 30 minute inversion period without the addition of something to accelerate the process (e.g. acid) will only invert 8-10% of the sugar. Where I disagree with Chino is that I don't think this matters. Mallard products comprise a pretty small portion of the final sugar - assuming 100% of the protein added via the DME is converted to Mallard products, the Mallard products would comprise about 0.07% of the final candi by weight. Although multi-step reactions, the formation of most Mallard products requires only one sugar molecule per amino acid, meaning that you need "only" 0.07% inverted sugar to be able to (in theory) produce the full array of Mallard products. The 8-10% inverted sugar is a huge excess compared to what is required - this does offer an advantage in terms of reaction rates, but its hard to imagine that increasing inversion to 25% (theoretical maximum using heat alone) or 50-75% (theoretical maximum using acid) would offer further improvements.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Tasting Notes - Back Mamba the Third

Last month I brewed my traditional beer to use up my home-grown cascade hops. Black Mamba (the third) is a black rye imperial IPA that I have formulated (and reformulated) to emphasize my home grown hops in a beer that also fulfills my winter desire for something a little more meaty. Past attempts at this beer have not quite lived upto expectations - the first version was an unsuccessful brew day that was lacking in the imperial department. The second version had the imperial down pat, but had too many roast notes and too much body, hiding much of the hop character. A few additional tweaks gives us this years batch - Black Mamba the III - reduced the dark malts and used sugar to dry out the beer...and it worked!

Appearance: Black as a politicians soul with an off-brown head. Shades of garnet can be seen on the edges if caught in the right light. Head is corse, and falls quickly into a layer of bubbles that persists for the rest of the pint.

Aroma: Mix of hop resin and hop herbalness. Hints of chocolate appear in the background and become more apparent as the pint warms.

Flavour: The malt note is a mild chocolate note with minimal roastiness. The rye adds a spice character is present but not overwhelming. The big flavour is a bold hop resin note, with herbal hop notes in the background. The citrus character cascade is known for is missing - but this seems to be a terroir "issue" as other local brewers have also mentioned their cascades skew towards resin and herbal, rather than citrus. After taste is a lingering hop bitterness and a resin note that sticks to the back of the mouth.

Mouthfeel: Pretty unique. The beer is dry, but the rye imparts its own thickness to the beer that counteracts this somewhat. Upfront the beer is whetting, but it leaves a modest dryness in the aftertaste.

Overall: I'm getting pretty close to my original vision for this beer. My home grown hops are in the fore, but are backed by a nice black IPA and rye character that is great in the winter months. The only thing I could see changing is adding a very slight touch of a mid-rage crystal malt to ad a touch of sweetness.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Not All Ideas Are Good Ideas...

I know a lot of us bloggers have a tendency to highlight our successes and minimize our failures. Looking at my own blog I see that my notable failures rarely make the roster, while my successes tend to get highlighted. So to even the scales somewhat, herein I present the results of my worst idea of 2015...

The recipe itself was merely a footnote in a previous post; a slight deviation of my normal cider recipe - in place of good o'l Nottingham yeast I used a Belgian yeast (safale T-58). The idea was simple, and its an idea I think remains sound. Simply put, I was hoping that the fruity character of the Belgian yeast would accent is apple flavors of the cider, while the phenolics would create a character like a spiced/mulled cider. On paper it was a winner; in practice is was a real loser.

Aroma: Smells like cider; apple plus a slight yeasty note.

Appearance: Golden, slight yeast haze

Flavor: A conflicting and poorly balanced mix of flavors. About the only thing that is right is that the finish is dry - which is how I like my ciders. After that, it all goes wrong. The most obvious 'flavor' is a clash between the apple notes of the cider must and the stone fruit character of the yeast. Yes, in hindsight it is pretty obvious that apple would clash with the raisin/date/dried fruit note of the yeast, but that didn't enter my thought process when planing out this recipe. But if that were not enough, the spice character of the yeast also conflicts - as in this beast is a Mexican standoff of three conflicting flavors. In place of the (hoped for) clove character I instead have a stale "5-year old cheap pumpkin spice" character. The sort of thing you would expect from jar of budget-bin mixed spices found in the back of your spice cabinet (or in any starbucks-branded scone). In other words, the flavor was that of apples fighting with dates, fighting with something akin to an unnamed brand of underarm deodorant. Either of the former two would be OK, but the three together are wrong, wrong and wrong.

Mouthfeel: Its a cider, so its dry and crisp. Even poor yeast selection couldn't screw that one up.

Overall: Disappointment in a glass. Sort of like liquefying every date you ever had in middle-school - not overly good, but hidden potential was there. I don't think the concept itself is flawed, but T-58 is not the yeast to make this work.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Its Lager Time!

40L in the pantry
This is going to be a long post...but I swear there is a recipe and brew day in here somewhere.

Many, many, many years ago I lived in a much colder part of the country, and I frequently brewed lagers. I now live in a warmer part of the country, and no longer brew lagers. The reason for that change in my brewing practices is entirely due to the weather...and how I used to lager. No fridge for me, all I had was months of below-freezing weather, a cheap bimetallic coil thermostat, a heat-lamp, and an insulated cardboard box. In other words, I had a basic fermentation chamber in which the beer sat in a carboy in an insulated box out in the yard, and a thermostat switched on one of those old-school 'red' heat lights to keep the temperature from dropping too low. The disadvantage to the cheap thermostat was a few batches that had a little ice on top, but even those batches turned out pretty good.

In my new home the weeks and weeks of consistent below-freezing temperatures simply does not happen; hell, last week we ranged from a high of 15C (shorts weather for us Canuks) through to -15C (beer freezes solid, we leave the sandals in the closet). Not exactly lager-compatible, given you want to keep temps pretty consistent in the 4C to 12C range...and I'm still too damned cheap to buy a fridge for brewing.

So I've been watching some of the experiments and tests being conducted by the home brew community on altered lager fermentation profiles with great interest. My interest was first tweaked by a Brewing TV video on lager workarounds, which compared 3 different methods ways to "lager" without lagering (my post on this video) . Its a great video so its worth embedding again:

More recently, Brülosophy has done a series of fermentation temperature experiments in which they found that (some) lager yeasts can produce perfectly serviceable beers when fermented at ale temperatures. There are two split-batch experiments using lager yeasts in the series right now (1 and 2), both of which produced lagers (a pilsner and helles respectively) where the warm-fermented lagers could not be distinguished by experienced tasters from their properly (or near-properly) lagered split.

That. Is. Awesome.

The temperature in the
pantry should work.
Its also not a surprise, once you think about it. The whole point of lagering is to suppress ester formation, leading to a very clean tasting beer. And historically, before the advent of pure yeast cultures, lagering would also have limited bacterial spoilage, also aiding in the creation of clean tasting beers. But move forward to today, where we have good cultures of pure yeast, have access to good ingredients, and know other methods to reduce ester formation (namely, good pitch rates and good oxygenation), and its not too much of a surprise that we can now get clean lager-like fermentations without actually lagering.

So I'm talking a page out of Brülosophy's book (and stealing their recipe & yeast), and giving it a go myself. I've taken the pilsner recipe from the first lager temperature experiment at Brülosophy, but am using the Saflager Lager (W-34/70) used in the second lager temperature experiment; mostly because I didn't have enough time to build up a proper sized starter of yeast from my bank in the time between brew-inception to my planned brew-day. Today I am brewing with my wife's uncle/my occasional brew-and-fishing partner, Mike, and so this beer is named after him - Uncle Mike's Pilsner.

Recipe and brew-day notes below the fold.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Black Mamba the Third

Changes from last year - hops & sugar
Ever since planting my own hops back in 2013 it has become a tradition to brew a black rye IPA, the Black Mamba (recipe: year 1, year 2), using all of the Cascade hops grown in my garden. This year was not as good a harvest a last year, but also nothing to turn your nose up at - 175g of Cascade - and its all going in. As with past years the recipe is being tweaked to try and feature the hop character better (tasting notes: year 1, year 2). The first batch was good, but I didn't have many hops (first year crop & all that), so it was a little lacking. The second year I had a good amount of hops, but the beer was heavier body and too roasty. So this year the recipe is changing quite a bit.

To reduce maltiness I've lowered the mash temperature further (63.5C), elongated the mash to 75 minutes, and replaced ~10% of the gravity with table sugar. To reduce roast I've replaced the debittered dark malt with chocolate wheat malt, which gives less roast character than debittered barley equivalents (midnight wheat would have been better, but was unavailable). The bittering charge has been increased to 48 IBU's of Northern Brewer (up from 34 last year); the remainder of the ~70IBUs are coming from the last-addition home-grown Cascades; 44g additions at 20, 10, 5 minutes, plus a 15 minute hop-stand.

Recipe and Brew-Day notes below the fold

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Advent Beer 2015

Way back in September I posted a teaser post on the beer I brewed for my brew clubs annual advent beer exchange. The beer itself is a Bière de Garde based largely on a recipe found in the excellent book American Sour Beers; specifically the Dark Winder Saison I (pg 336). This seemed to be an ideal winter beer - dark & somewhat malty, with rosemary, orange and raisins providing a unique spice character quite different from the classical winter spiced beer. My version differed from the original mainly in that it wasn't soured; rather a house-blend of various Brett's was added for secondary fermentation.

This beer surprised me somewhat - despite 3 months on Brett and oak, there was little funky character in the beer and it remained quite sweet (even though the final gravity was ~1.005). I've held onto a few bottles to see if this would change, but the beer has not picked up much more Brett character, despite an extra 1.5 months in the bottle. Even so, its a good beer, although if I rebrewed it I'd either brew it as a sour, or as a straight Bière de Garde without Brett.

Recipe, Brewing Notes and Tasting Notes below the fold.

It was the worst (of beers) and the best (of beers)

December and January have been nuts, so I'm a little behind on my blogging. Way back in November I brewed what was both the best - and worst - beer of 2015. I very briefly blogged the recipe a few posts ago, but the quick version is that it was a classical American-style IPA, with a touch of bittering hops and then 170 g (6 oz) of hops (1:1 mix of centennial & citra) added in the hop-stand. Fermented with "Brett" trois for 12 days, and then kegged.

My biggest mistake was preparing this beer right-on-time for the keg to be tapped at the same time by brew club began its advent exchange. Having a 29-day series of largely high-alcohol, high-body winter beers does not lend itself well to IPA consumption - meaning that this IPA was consumed far more slowly than it should have been. It started off amazing - best beer of the year. By nearly two months later, when the keg finally kicked, it had faded into something far less desirable.

So how was it (sorry, no pictures)...

Appearance: Extremely cloudy, almost orange in colour. Looked a bit like orange juice. Poured with a course white head that faded pretty quickly into a ring of bubbles around the glass. As anyone whose worked with trois before knows, it simply doesn't flocculate, so clarity only improved slightly as the beer aged.

Aroma: Early on the aroma was 100% tropical fruit; papaya with a touch of mango. It was heavenly, and so intense that the room would fill with the aroma as you poured a glass. This faded fast; a month later it was merely a generic, modest fruitiness, with the clear tropical note completely lost.

Flavour: Early on the flavour matched the aroma - tropical fruit flavours dominated, with a slight malt backbone and modest hop bitterness to hold everything together. If it wasn't for the underlying hop bitterness, this would have been like drinking a glass of papaya & mango juice. Personally, I wish it was a little more bitter in order to balance the fruit "sweetness" from the hops a little better, but just a slight boost in bittering would be needed to achieve that. As with the aroma, the flavour did not age well; within a month the clear tropical flavour note had faded to something almost cider-like, with the added 'bonus' of also tasting "dead" (for lack of a better descriptor). Both the fresh and aged beer had a lingering hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Everything an IPA should be - crisp & effervescence, somewhat drying, and with a lingering hop bitterness. The mouthfeel was about the only thing not negatively affected as the beer aged.

Overall: When fresh, this was easily the best beer of the year and one of the better IPA's I've made in a while. After a month this was a piddling IPA at best. In the future this would be a beer to prepare for an event - to ensure it disappears quickly - but it is a beer I would love to re-brew.