September 28, 2011

Homebrew & Health/Calorie Conscious Diets

I'm always amazed when I read homebrewers talk about how much they brew and how quickly they drink through it. Some people seem to drink beer at lightning speed and some people seem to have quite a few visitors that help eliminate their beer. When I hear how much people are drinking I am at first envious (because I like drinking beer) but then glad I don't because there's no way I could drink that much without getting enormously fat. I don't do manual labor so I sit most of the day, I don't have a particularly fast metabolism, and I eat poorly when I drink too much. I seem to believe most people who drink a lot are also overweight but it doesn't seem like that is always the case.

It often comes up on the boards that some homebrewers are trying to cut weight and beer is a big struggle. Yes, beer is a big problem when you are trying to cut your caloric intake for several reasons. First, alcohol is not processed into useful nutrients so it is "empty calories". Second, alcohol is a depressant that slows your metabolism and makes you more likely to want to eat and eat poorly. Third, beer is full of sugars that the body doesn't need but will readily store. Forth, most people drink at night when the body is least likely to need the calories so it is more likely to convert them to fat. Homebrew and craft beer tend to exacerbate the problem because we tend to consume beer that is in higher alcohol content (therefore more calories) than the typical mass produced lager.

One thing that helps is limiting your intake. I guess this is the obvious answer. The less you drink, the fewer the excess calories. Personally I only drink on three nights of the week (Friday-Sunday) and I try to limit Friday and Saturday to no more than three drinks and no more than two on Sunday (one if I can help it). Roughly once a month I attend pint night at a bar on a Tuesday because we get to drink beer and take home the glasses (and it is very reasonably priced).

Another thing that helps is to become proficient at brewing (and drinking) lower ABV beers. I know, those imperial beers are calling out to you. There are many sessionable beers with great flavor and I think the immediate future of craft brewing will be making lower ABV beers that are very flavorable but still easy to drink that will expand the options greatly.

Obviously working out and eating healthy will go a long way towards cutting weight. Avoiding eating late at night, especially while drinking, can have a very big impact. Including sufficient exercise and eating healthy are critical factors that usually require major lifestyle changes beyond just beer consumption. However they can be done if you are willing to commit the work to make the changes.

I'd love to hear other people share their tips on balancing a love of beer with a healthy lifestyle.
September 26, 2011

Blended Brett Brown -- attempted oud bruin with no sourness

I am compiling this recipe and the process into a single post for easy reference. The following posts explain the overall process I used to make a very good brett beer using a blending process of an all brett, somewhat sour beer and a sweeter Belgian brown. I intended to follow the process laid out in Wild Brews as explained as Petrus's process for their oud bruin. I didn't add any souring bugs and the sour mash I did on the brett portion resulting in a sour brett beer but there's not enough sourness (not much of any) in the final process so it's not appropriate to call it an oud bruin.

This process has a decent description of building a starter for brett (from Orval dregs), a sour mash, blending and stabilizing sour/brett beer for blending to make it safe for bottling.Part 4 has the final recipe for the 1 gallon brett ale and Part 7 has the final recipe for the 4 gallon Belgian brown. You can disregard the recipes given before although it might be helpful to see some alternatives and notes why I changed the recipe over time.

This beer is good. It's slightly caramelly with a good brett flavor. It's slightly one-dimensional but it's been in the bottle for about four months and it's starting to meld into a slightly more interesting beer. It might be a good beer to blend with cherries or raspberries to produce a complex but sweeter fruit beer that might appeal to people who enjoy the flavor of sours without the actual sourness (such as the Lindeman's fruit beers).


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3 - brett starter and sour mash

Part 4 - pale brett ale recipe

Part 5 - 1 month update

Part 6 - 2 month update

Part 7 - brown ale recipe

Part 8 - blending

Part 9 - first tasting
September 25, 2011

Watersports Kolsch recipe

I realized I haven't added a "normal" beer recipe in a while so I wanted to throw one up. This is a kolsch recipe I made for my wife, who is a big kolsch fan. She really liked this recipe and said it's her favorite but part of that is probably just her being nice. Anyway, the recipe is simple to allow the kolsch yeast esters to blend with a clean malt flavor and a slight grassy flavor and aroma from Saaz.

Kolsch is a light, German blonde ale that is very lager-like due to the cooler fermentation and typically low yeast flavor, although for this recipe and my available temperature control techniques I fermented slightly warmer to get more yeast flavor. It is a good option for brewers who lack very cold basements or fermentation chambers that allow for lager production. Ideally you should ferment a kolsch in the upper 50s to low 60s but you can produce good beer with kolsch yeast into the mid-60s. If you do not want to use kolsch yeast and get that slight fruity and spicy flavor from the yeast you can ferment with a good neutral strain (1338 would work, so would 05 or a neutral American strain).

Watersports Kolsch Recipe

This is a three gallon recipe, so scale as necessary.

OG 1.047
FG 1.012
IBU 25.8
SRM 4.2
ABV 4.49%

Grain bill:
4lb Pilsner malt
.5lb Munich malt
.5 Wheat malt

Infusion mash at 154 with 6.25 quarts. Sparge to 3.6 gallons pre-boil.

Boil additions:
.75oz Fuggles at 60 min
.25oz Saaz at 15 min
1 tsp Irish moss
.25oz Saaz at 5 min

Ferment for 1 month with Wyeast 2565 in mid-60s.

If you can cold crash before bottling it will help add clarity to the beer. You can also ferment this lower if you prefer less yeast flavor. Personally I found it just a little too estery for my tastes but that is easily adjustable based on fermentation tastes. If you are like me and you don't have a fermentation chamber with controlled temperatures in the 50s and 60s, this would be a good beer to brew in the early part of winter when it is cool through the day and then let it condition in the colder mid-winter months before bottling.
September 17, 2011

Attempting a more D2-like Candy Syrup

In my last post I discussed whether homebrewers could reproduce a syrup with the complexity -- and fermentability -- of D2. After a great deal of research, I decided to give it a go.

Dark Candi D2

Dark Candi claims that D2 is produced solely by repeatedly heating and cooling beet sugar, with no acid or amino acid additions, which would make it fairly difficult to make regular old beet sugar produce maillard reactions or rapid caramelization. Dark Candi labels D2 as highly fermentable, which makes their claims very accurate. If you caramelize sugars or brown them through maillard reactions, they are no longer fermentable. There are other Belgian syrups, made for breweries, that seem similar to D2 and provide some additional information on the make up of these sugars. They tend to be almost entirely maltose (the sugar produced by hydrolysis -- mashing) with a small amount of maltriose (a similar sugar) and fructose.

This suggests one of two things. Either D2 is created by adding enzymes to sugar beets to "mash" them and create maltose, which can then be refined down to a cleaner product, or D2 is a product of the sugar beet refinement process that is less refined than the pure white sugars. Belgium has several unrefined beet sugar products (such as beet molasses and sugar beet syrup) that are commercially available that may be the basis of D2. I'm not sure that maltose can be produced by any other process than hydrolysis so I suspect there is a complex mash and refinement process involved. Either way, it has to be less refined than the white crystal end product because you can't produce that kind of color without caramelization or maillard reactions.

One other unique piece that I suspect is that D2 is made, at least in part, by boiling sugar in a vacuum. Beet sugar is normally refined by boiling in a vacuum. It makes sense that D2 would be made the same way, since it would allow for creating different products at different temperatures that, when boiled under normal conditions, may help produce that chocolate-like flavor D2 has that most homemade syrups lack.

So those two elements being true, it is highly unlikely homebrewers will be able to produce a candy syrup like D2 because we lack access to unrefined beet sugar products (at least most of us in the US) and I don't know of many people with the ability to cook in a vacuum. However, there is hope yet. I wanted to combine my suspicions with elements that would be available to the typical homebrewer to see what I could get.

Attempted Recipe

So maltose is a combination of two glucose molecules, which made me want to use corn sugar (which is individual molecules of glucose) as the base, rather than sucrose (which is both fructose and glucose). To make it less refined and add color -- so less caramelization would be necessary -- I am adding regular cane molasses from the grocery store. I will not be attempting to create maillard reactions by adding DAP or some other ammonia source because D2 claims not to do this (and the molasses may provide some amino acids necessary to create maillard reactions). I am also adding a lot of water early on to keep lower temperatures and possibly create more precursors to flavors at higher temperatures.

This recipe creates 4 ounces of sugar in about 6-8 ounces of syrup.

3 oz corn sugar
1 oz cane molasses
Filtered water


I combined 2 cups of water, 3oz of corn sugar and 1oz of light molasses (non black-strap molasses) over medium heat. I stirred every couple of minutes for the first 15 minutes. Began to boil after about seven minutes. Cooled saucepan in water for 5 minutes with an additional half cup of water. Began to sputter and spray liquid at the end of the 15 minutes. The consistency is still very watery. Taste is slightly rummy and very sweet.

Returned to heat for another 25 minutes. The long cooling process has already darkened the syrup from where it was when I started. It has a slight rummy flavor developing but right now it is mostly sugary-sweet with lighter fruit flavors. At the end of the 25 minute period it appears to have boiled off most of the second water addition. The flavor is slightly more intense. It is starting to develop some darker fruit flavors and a hint of raisin, maybe chocolate. It's hard to tell since it is still very watery. I added another half cup of water and cooled the saucepan in water for another 5 minutes.

Returned to heat for 45 minutes. It has cooked down to a thick syrup with a good dark, rummy flavor. I cooled it back down with 1/4 cup of water and a water bath for another 5 minutes. It still needs to cook down some more for the dark flavors to emerge well.

Repeated process but had to add water in 1/4 cup after 15 minutes and 1/2 cup after another 10.

Poured into pre-heated mason jar. Added 1/2 cup water to saucepan and turned up heat to boil to remove residual sugars. Boiled water down for several minutes until there was only a thin layer, so as not to add unnecessary water content.


The resulting flavor is interesting. It is full of dark fruits, raisins, rum and some chocolate. I took it off the heat before it started to burn so it did not develop the toffee-like flavors that table sugar starts to make as it gets the really dark color as it starts to burn. The color is very, very dark, like D2 but without the burnt flavors and aromas that normally accompany producing sugar at that color. This makes me believe that I am right that D2 is either mashed, a less-refined sugar beet product, or maybe a combination of several products in the process of refining sugar beets.

I would be interested to see what would happen if you mashed sugar beets with some 6 row and boiled down the resulting wort. Also, some Asian food stores carry a maltose syrup, like honey, that is made from rice that might produce a more D2-like product. I also intend on trying to find this syrup and trying it out. Maybe mix it with a little molasses.

Ultimately I think my product in this test is closer to D2 but definitely not quite there. I would say it is 80-90% there, which is pretty good and much cheaper.
September 14, 2011

Is homemade candy syrup/rocks as good as D2?

Most people search out homemade candy syrup recipes to replicate D2 syrup because it's so damn expensive. I've yet to find anybody who claims to have reproduced anything exactly like D2. Although it's easy to produce the caramel, dark fruits and rummy flavors, D2 also has a chocolate-like flavor that nobody has been able to crack. Dark Candi, the manufacturer, claims it is only beet sugar processed by heating and cooling repeatedly. No additives. Dark Candi is very hush hush about the process, for good reason.

I've written before about making beers with homemade syrup and my processes to make it. I am happy with them. I made a dubbel that was straight pilsner malt and homemade amber-ish syrup. It produced a delicious caramel flavor. I've also made my winter beer, a dark saison, using a darker syrup. It is delicious and fairly close to D2 but still missing the dark chocolate flavor.

I think it's interesting and worthwhile to create beers using various darkness of caramel/candy syrups. It gives you an opportunity to create a beer that is different from everybody else. What kind of interesting mild could be created using light to dark syrups? Can a light candy syrup add better flavor than honey? So on and so on.

However, I'd like to give the repeated heating and cooling process a try. Let's see what I can do.
September 9, 2011

Future Brewz

So I guess I have abandoned my idea of not brewing a lot. I mean, it was a good idea, considering how much beer we have on hand (currently about 22.5 gallons bottled, 9 gallons in fermenters) but it was unrealistic, given how much I enjoy brewing. I should use up the grains I have before I go into next summer's hiatus (hopefully) so here is my likely schedule moving forward:

  • Apricot hefeweizen (3 gallons): I already have the grain for this beer so it needs to be made. I had planned on doing a watermelon wheat over the summer but it was just way too hot to control the temperature to do a hefeweizen so once it cools off I want to make a fruit hefeweizen so this will satisfy my desire. Apricot makes for a good beer and it's fairly underutilized so it will make for a good, interesting hefeweizen. Likely brew time: November
  • Apricot brett saison (2 gallons): using my very nice brett-saison culture I'm going to turn out a couple gallons of brett saison with apricot. Yep, more apricot action. Since this beer will take about nine months to produce it will be a nice light, but interesting summer beer for the 2012. Likely brew time: November
  • Black ale (1 gallon): My wife is a big schwartzbier fan but without lagering abilities I'm stuck doing a 1554-like black ale instead. I already have the grains for this beer, so it also needs to be made. Likely brew time: November
  • Vienna/Rye blond (2 gallons): I bought the grains for this to be made in the summer but again, I didn't drink enough to make room for it. This beer is going to combine the spicy rye notes with a healthy dose of hops to make for a nice beer when I get in the very rare mood for a hoppy beer. Likely brew time: March
  • Lambic solera replenishment (4 gallons): December will make 1 year for the lambic, which will be time to drain some out and add fresh wort. I expect to do this in December but if the beer needs to go longer I'd rather let it keep aging than get a less than great beer after already investing a year. Likely brew time: December
I'd like to work on some Belgian styles (specifically Belgian blonde and dubbel, maybe a quad) but we'll see how that works out.
September 6, 2011

Experience Brewing Pumpkin Ale

The homebrew boards are aflame with discussions of pumpkin ales and brewing techniques. There's a lot of discussion over whether the spices are enough to create a pumpkin ale or if the pumpkin is necessary. There's controversy over when to add pumpkin, if you need to roast it, etc. So in light of all of that discussion I decided to add some details to my experience brewing my pumpkin ale.

I did roast the canned pumpkin. The first thing I noticed was that there was a lot of lost volume. Obviously the canned pumpkin has a lot of water content that gets lost during the roast. After roasting I added the pumpkin to the mash. I was sort of surprised by how easily it dissolved into the water.

That led to something I didn't consider. The pumpkin would add to the overall volume. As a result I ended up with a lot more than two gallons so I had to reboil about a quarter of a gallon down to a very thick almost caramel-like consistency and added it into the fermenters. Since I was using two 5l jugs I had limited space and as it is I still have more than two gallons.

The pumpkin also provided an...interesting mash experience. I mashed BIAB-style so I should have had no problems with stuck mashes or sparges due to the pumpkin. No, actually the pumpkin gummed up the grains so much I couldn't get the nylon bag to drain. I had to cajole it with a spatula and spend a lot of time breaking up the clumps of grain to get it to drain. Eventually after several dips in the sparge water it thinned out enough to drain on its own.I saved the grain to make bread. I hope that it carries a little pumpkin flavor into the bread.

The wort pre-boil tasted like wort with squash in it. Not really a pumpkin flavor as much as a generic pumpkin flavor. If you have never tasted pumpkin before it is pie you may not be aware that the spices in the pie really enhance the pumpkin flavor and turn it into something much less squash-like. As the boil concentrated flavors it began to get more of a pumpkin aroma. When I added the spices at 5 minutes before the end of the boil it was like all the pieces came together and it got a really good pumpkin pie aroma. The taste post-boil was strongly pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin beer no pumpkin

I think the pumpkin is a necessity. Otherwise, you just have a beer with spices in it. The spices might remind people of pumpkin pie but I think a more discerning palate would disagree that it tastes like pumpkin. It seems to me that a beer with spices and no pumpkin is just a winter warmer. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just not the same thing.

I'll see how the flavor is once fermentation is done and the beer has had a chance to settle and mellow. I pitched the beer on the cake of a one gallon 60 shilling ale so it had a good chunk of yeast to work through it. It appears fermentation is close to finishing already, thanks to the low ABV and massive yeast count. I'll probably let it sit 3-4 weeks in the fermenter before I taste it to see if it needs more spice. If it does I'll let it go another week or two and try again. Then 3-4 weeks in the bottle. That should make the beer ready to drink mid or late October (maybe early November) to bridge the gap between Oktoberfest and winter beer.

Next year I would like to remake the beer. Although I would probably look at using fresh spices (e.g. cinnamon stick over cinnamon powder that is of an unknown age) over dried as much as possible. I might also play with adding vanilla, as that seems to be a fairly popular ingredient this year. I also would definitely like to try using fresh pumpkin instead of canned. Not that I am disappointed with the canned pumpkin but I think fresh pumpkin would add a fresher taste and hopefully is easier to deal with.

Anyway, I hope some of this is helpful and best of luck to everybody brewing those pumpkin beers.
September 1, 2011

Pumpkin Beer Time

I've talked a lot this year about not brewing because I have so much beer on hand, only to then brew more beer. I was really hoping to be through much more homebrew as the summer begins to wind down. My wife and I are both big oktoberfest fans and she is a big pumpkin beer fan. That means with all the great commercial seasonal releases, our homebrew is barely touched during the fall. That leads into winter, which is chalk full of winter warmers and other winter seasonal releases.

Additionally, late fall and winter are the ideal seasons to brew in Texas since it gets cool enough that wort chilling water comes out of the tap cool and it's much easier to keep a fermenter cold, since I don't have an electronically controlled fermentation chamber. That means I need to brew at least some beer this winter to make sure we don't get into late summer next year with nothing to drink. It also means the lambic solera must be emptied and refilled, which will add another four gallons or so to our collection, even if they will be slowly drank. I'm also contemplating an oud bruin solera, using two corny kegs, but that idea is still just something I am kicking around. I don't even want to start in on it until I have drank through the current four gallons or so of oud bruin from my last batch earlier this year.

So in spite of all of that, here I am again looking at brewing more beer. Last fall my wife declined an offer to make pumpkin beer since she wanted to try all the commercial options. However, last year it seemed like we didn't get a great turn out of pumpkin beers. She even took a trip to Boston last October and was fairly disappointed. So this year when I brought it back up she agreed to it and insists she will drink through it very fast. For that reason, I have constructed a two gallon recipe, which should be enough for me to have a few and her to have just enough to enjoy it without getting bored with it. Two gallons should yield between 3-4 six packs, which is a good amount of beer.

I have never made anything like a pumpkin beer. It's a fairly unique brewing experience. For one thing, it's heavily spiced and I'm not a fan of using a lot of spices in brewing, but that's something I would actually like to explore more. For another, you are adding a big portion of starch to your mash that isn't grain-based, so you have to consider conversion. I started off looking at several homebrew recipes to see what was typical and what people were doing to make them particularly interesting. For my first recipe I want to try something middle of the road to let the pumpkin flavor sing. What I noticed is that almost all the recipes are based on an English brown ale/Newcastle sort of grain bill. There are some pumpkin porters, pumpkin stouts and pumpkin IPAs out there. (If you saw the first episode of Master Chef season 2 you saw fellow homebrewer Ben Starr talk about using his pumpkin IPA to marinate fish for fish tacos. Very interesting concept. His website is I made his goat cheese crab cakes. Extremely tasty.)

So making a basic brown ale is fairly simple. Pale malt, crystal 60, biscuit malt, maybe some wheat for body. Around 15-25 IBUs. Then we have to start making it a pumpkin ale. First, let's talk about non-pumpkin adjuncts. All the recipes I saw included either brown sugar or molasses. Brown sugar is basically white sugar with a little molasses mixed in. So clearly it is the molasses flavor that is desired. Whether you want to use molasses or brown sugar depends on the desired flavor, mouthfeel and alcohol content. Molasses is slightly lower in sugar (1.036 instead of 1.046) so it will contribute less thinness and less alcohol but considerably more flavor. For my recipe I went with molasses because I want the alcohol content to be just a touch about session levels and have some body. You have to be careful with molasses because if you overdo it there's no way to undo the bold and recognizable flavor of molasses.

Ok, now let's talk pumpkin. There's two ways to add pumpkin -- whole, fresh pumpkin or canned. Since we are still in summer time, I don't have access to fresh pumpkin. I do have access to canned pumpkin, so I will be using that. In the future I'll probably try using fresh but for only two gallons I would be left with a lot of unused pumpkin flesh. I hate to be wasteful. So either way, you should bake the pumpkin to give it some roasty flavor and caramelize some of the sugars. That will help develop a more round flavor in the beer. The pumpkin will actually be a sizeable part of the grist in order to get a predominately pumpkin flavor. For my recipe I am going to go with a quarter of the grist.

Whether you are an all grain, partial mash or extract brewer will determine how you can use the pumpkin. Because pumpkin has a lot of starch in it, it can and should be mashed to convert some of the starch to sugar. Pumpkin does not convert well, so you can't get a lot of sugar out of it but you probably don't want too much starch floating in your beer if you can help it. The problem with mashing pumpkin is that since it doesn't convert well and has so much starch you need a lot of excess diastic power in the mash to make sure it doesn't screw up grain conversion. For extract brewers, this won't be an issue. For partial mash brewers, I recommend NOT mashing the pumpkin at all. For extract and PM brewers, you can add your pumpkin 10-15 minutes at the end of the boil. I wouldn't add it at the beginning of the boil because it's going to cast a lot of starch into the beer and you're going to get something that looks a lot like a wit with all the haze. AG brewers can also add some of the pumpkin towards the end of the boil to get some fresh pumpkin flavor if desired.

I won't go into how to calculate diastic power of your mash but I will say you need to calculate it with the assumption the pumpkin will convert but has no enzymes, so include it in the overall grain bill if you are adding it to the mash. (This blog post from will explain the calculation: With 60% base grain and 25% pumpkin, I will have more than enough diastic power to convert the whole mash.

Ok, so we have a few more key boil additions to discuss. First, this is a beer you should consider fining, since the pumpkin will give you a lot of starch haze. You can use gelatin or the fining of your choice. I'll use irish moss. Second, we need to look at spices. Some people used pre-mixed pumpkin pie spices, others use individual spices. The most common were allspice, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon. Cinnamon is definitely the most prominent spice so it needs to be used the most. Allspice was also included in all recipes so that should be used as well. Nutmeg and ginger are optional, but I will use all of them. Many recipes indicate that after fermentation you may need to do a spice tea to bump up the spicing. If necessary, I will add spices in the fermenter but since I'm not a fan of overly spiced beer I hope to avoid having to do that.

Alright, so that's about everything we need to put the recipe together. I know this beer is going to have a lot of sweetness to it and caramel flavors so I need to make sure it is hopped enough to give it a good balance. There shouldn't be any detectible hop flavors, so all hopping is done as a bittering addition. Again I am using Fuggles to burn out my stock but in the future I would try Northern Brewer, EKG or a similiar English hop.

Although decoction mashes are not typically used for English style beers, I wanted to give it a try on this beer to help conversion and develop more of that great caramel flavors from the decoctions. I have never seen anybody else do this, so I think you would be fine doing a straight infusion at 153 or 154F for an hour.

I thought about fermenting this with kolsch yeast since I need to rebuild my supply but I don't think the lemony-peppery esters from kolsch yeast (especially when they ferment too warmly, as it probably would at this time of year) would be of any benefit to the beer. I went with my usual 1338 strain.

Pumpkin beer recipe

Keep in mind this is a two gallon recipe. You may want to scale up or down.

Est. ABV 5.24%
SRM: 12
OG: 1.053
FG: 1.013
IBU: 20


1 lb, 5oz canned pumpkin, oven roasted at 350 until signs of caramelizing
3 lb Maris Otter pale malt
4 oz Crystal 60L
4 oz Munich malt
2 oz Biscuit malt

Mash: Triple decoction at 122F for 30 minutes, 148F for 15 minutes, 158F for 15 minutes, mash out at 168F

Boil additions:
1/2 oz Fuggles at 60 min
.10 tsp Irish Moss at 10 min
1.5 oz Molasses at 10 min
1/3 tsp Cinnamon at 5 min
1/4 tsp Allspice at 5 min
1/4 tsp Nutmeg at 5 min
1/8 tsp Ginger at 5 min

Yeast: European Ale 1338

Ferment at 65F for 3-4 weeks as necessary. Add additional spices as desired.

If you are reading this to develop your own recipe, I hope that helps make some sense of what you're seeing online and gives you some direction on your own recipe. Once I bottle the scottish 60 shilling ale and mead in two of my gallon fermenters I will be making this beer and I'll try to add a follow up post of the process with some pictures.