June 27, 2013

Heading to Austin tomorrow

Looking forward to some R&R in Austin this weekend. Naturally, you can expect a new round of reviews of beers and breweries in Austin. It will be my first opportunity to see how the new Texas beer laws have been employed because none of our Dallas and Fort Worth brewers have made changes...yet. See you homebrewers on Monday.

The Homebrewer's Garden Book Review

The Homebrewer's Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare, and Use Your Own Hops, Malts, Brewing Herbs by Joe and Dennis Fischer is a slightly dated book that focuses on exactly what the title says it does. It provides an introductory level of knowledge about the gardening (or farming might be more appropriate) of hops, grain and brewing herbs. I picked this book up on Amazon on the kindle platform for a reasonable $9.99 price (and you can go through the Basic Brewing affiliate link). It's an interesting read but not as hopeful as I had hoped. I picked up the book after listening the an interview with the authors and expected a little more technical precision in the hop growing section.

The book was published in 1998 and has all the hallmarks of 1990s era homebrewing books. It is written with the same non-specific tone of other 1990s homebrewing texts (and Ray Daniels comes to mind as the icon of that homebrewing writing style) and the let's-put-wacky-stuff-in-beer attitude of Randy Mosher's books. This book doesn't do a bad job of stuffing in a lot of homebrewing myths that can be found in other 1990s texts but it also isn't terribly scientific, either. I'm sure among its peers it was a solid text. The recipes include a lot of 1990s-style ingredients but you can easily figure out modern equivalents.

The Homebrewer's Garden is broken up into four main sections: growing hops, growing herbs, growing grain and homebrewing recipes. The largest section by far is the herb section. Many herbs are identified and recommended quantities are offered for use. If you ever had it in mind to try an herbal beer or even a gruit, this book would be an excellent starting point, especially if you wanted to grow the herbs yourself. The hop section houses fairly standard information that can be found online just as easily. The grain section goes into a lot more detail than anything I have seen on homebrewing websites although that is probably because most of us do not have acres available to grow grain. There is a section on malting the grain with a germination set up that looks surprisingly like the mash tun set up in Joy of Homebrewing. 

The last section includes homebrewing recipe with an interesting mix of recipes including gruit, fruit beers, herbal beers and beers with unusual grains. The recipes, although couched in 1990s ingredients, contains the basic recipe for many of the more unusual brews that have come out commercially over the past decade or so, including pumpkin beers and dandelion beers. Although these styles existed prior to this book's publication I don't think one can overlook the timeline between homebrewers who likely read this book and later became commercial brewers. The recipe section looks questionably similar to Dogfish Head's beer line up over the last decade. 

Overall I think this book is a good read and worth the money at $9.99. I believe we will start seeing more herb-based beers coming onto the market and this book would be a good investment to get you started if you want to get into that trend. A larger range of herbs are being used in food these days and you can already see beers coming out with a wider range of spices and herbs than just orange peel and coriander. It will only be a matter of time before you're buying your first DIPA with Horehound or Milk Thistle.
June 25, 2013

My fermentation chamber

Today's post is about my fermentation chamber (obviously) and how I got it set up on the cheap. There's a little bragging and some instructions about how to set up your own. If I had more room in my house I would have something along the lines of my current set up plus a separate modified freezer that I could use for kegging and lagering but space is tight in the current home and I'm already taking up a lot of space with all my other brewing gear, fermenting beer and bottled beer. However, I'm happy with my current set up and it works for 99% of everything I need.

I started out brewing without good fermentation control. My first few batches began life with no fermentation temperature control and then I moved on to the water tub/swamp cooler method. That sort of worked for keeping the beer cool in the house during cold months but I could never keep the temperature in the 60s for most of the year, let alone a stable temperature. So my beers were less consistent and often less than ideal. Last year I took the plunge and decided to upgrade my brewing set up with some temperature control.

My set up is really simple. I found a small used fridge for sale on craigslist. Actually it was a fridge somebody was using as a kegerator so it has a hole in the top of the fridge where the tap tower was. The prior owner unloaded this fridge for just $40 and included a 2.5 gallon CO2 tank and regulator. So all in all that was a good deal, especially since I can convert it back into a kegerator in the future if I need to. This fridge is probably from the 70s or early 80s judging by the ugly color. It's a little larger than other small fridges on the market these days which makes it large enough to barely fit two pin lock corny kegs (although I haven't tried hooking up anything to the posts) and it is just slightly too short to fit a 7.9 gallon bucket with an airlock. I need to modify an airlock to fit it but I've been squeezing airlocks in for the time being.

As I said, it was an ugly color. It showed up a poopy brown color with a turquoise interior. I bought some black chalkboard contact paper on Amazon and covered the exterior, transforming it into a nicer black fridge. Then the beer stickers are making their way to the outside.

The outside

And the inside...with fermenting beer
The fridge has an analog temperature control but like most fridges it is not designed to go up to the 60s so it needs a separate temperature control because I certainly have no business trying to rewire it. This task was easy. I picked up a Johnson Controls digital temperature controller on Amazon for around $60. This device is awesome. I can plug in the controller, set a temperature and then plug the fridge into the controller. The controller has a temperature probe I can tape to the fermentor and the controller will turn on the fridge when the temperature drifts out a certain number of degrees from the target temperature. I had to play with the desired temperature and the number of degrees I would let it drift before turning the fridge back on to try to keep it in a desired range of 2-3 degrees. Now I have the settings dialed in so I can keep it at the same temperature for most of the fermentation and occasionally it will drift down a degree. A side benefit of the Johnson controller is that it can be set to keep a warm temperature by turning on a heat element when the temperature drops below a set temperature. I just bought a couple heat elements that I plan to use to ferment saisons very warm so I'll see how those do in coming weeks.

I only run the temperature control for the first few days for most beers because after that the yeast are less inclined to spit out off flavors as fermentation starts winding down. As the temperature gets into the 70s at ambient the yeast will work a little faster and off flavors will get cleaned up quicker. Bigger beers need more time so I might control the fridge temperatures for as much as a week.

The problem with this set up is that I can't reach lagering temperatures. The fridge's internal temperature controls won't let it get down below 38-40F which is a touch too warm. Even setting the Johnson controller at 32F, the internal controller will shut off the condenser. I can somewhat cold crash at those temperatures and imperfectly lager beer but it isn't quite the same. When I brewed a gallon of doppelbock a couple months ago I just used my kitchen fridge set at 46F for fermentation and lagering because it didn't make sense to run a second fridge for several weeks at 40F for a single gallon that also fit in the kitchen fridge. I tried the doppelbock over the weekend and while it misses a little of the lager cleanness it is still very smooth and delicious.

June 23, 2013

Spent Grain Waffles

Putting spent grain to work is a great way to increase value in your brewing ingredients. The most common uses for spent grain is to make spent grain bread or compost it. Honestly, unless you brew very rarely or happen to own a bakery you will never use all the spent grains you have to make bread (or any food for that matter). Using 2-4 cups of grain per loaf is not a lot of grain. If you brew a lot of five gallon batches that leaves an enormous amount of grain. I usually only save grain from batches heavy on specialty grain, especially if it incorporates a lot of dark specialty malts that can give back a lot of flavor to bread. Spent grain freezes easily in the freezer in ziploc bags.

However, this post isn't about spent grain bread (I'll do that another time). This post is about spent grain waffles. I actually prefer spent grain waffles over the bread because the flavor of the grain pairs fantastically with the waffles. However, it isn't always feasible to break out the waffle iron and waffles are higher calorie than the bread I make so the waffles are often a treat. Fortunately waffle mix freezes well so I usually have a few different waffle batter varieties in the freezer ready for a lazy Saturday morning.

The recipe below is my recipe for spent grain waffles. You can use any waffle recipe with spent grain, including mixing in fruit, nuts, chocolate, etc. or using various toppings. If you feel like you need a lot of beer in your breakfast you can even add spent grain to beer-based batter recipes. This recipe is a plain batter recipe so you just need to add the appropriate amount of spent grain plus anything else you might want to try. The easiest way to pair different kinds of spent grain with other additions is to think about what you see used in different beers. For example, stout spent grains pair well with raspberries (a particular favorite of mine). You can also mix grain from different beers too.

I like to use a lot of spent grain in my waffles so I use two cups of spent grain. For less of a grain flavor you can start off with one cup and then figure out if you want more spent grain in subsequent batches. Because the grain will add a little extra water to the grain I use a little less oil in this recipe than many waffle batter recipes use. Otherwise I think the waffles end up a little too oily and don't crisp on the outside. However, if you find the waffles are too dry you should add two tablespoons of oil to the recipe for subsequent batches (and a little butter to the dry waffles you already made).

Spent Grain Waffles Recipe


2 cups all purpose flour
1-2 cups of spent grain
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup milk
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla


1. Heat waffle iron.

2. Whisk together wet ingredients.

3. Slowly add dry ingredients.

4. Add waffle batter to waffle iron in amount appropriate for the iron. Cook following the waffle iron's instructions.

Using one cup of batter per waffle will yield around four or five waffles about the size of a salad plate. Scale up or down accordingly. You can freeze waffles but I prefer to freeze leftover batter and make fresh waffles. You can freeze the batter in ziploc bags.
June 20, 2013

Troy Casey interview on Embrace the Funk

I read several brewing blogs and it's pretty rare when I find something that I think merits attention to get reposted but hasn't already been discussed to death elsewhere online. I also think it's fairly lazy to rip content from other blogs or sites and repost or link to it with an unnecessarily long version of "I agree". I know it's a common blogging tactic to come up with content and to drive traffic (for SEO purposes) but I'm not blogging for the sake of making money (in spite of the advertisements) or fame. I think I've only piggybacked off another blog once or twice when I thought there was something really noteworthy.

Last month I thought Embrace the Funk reached that noteworthy place with the two part interview of Troy Casey from AC Golden. (Part 1 and Part 2) AC Golden is a sub-brewery within the walls of the massive Coors' brewery in Golden, Colorado. AC Golden produces a small line of sour beers (and some other stuff). This isn't like Blue Moon beers designed to be approachable to non-craft drinkers or Lindemans-like backsweetened sour beers. These sour beers are sour and kept free from the mass-production strategy of the rest of Coors. I haven't had any myself but the beers rate quite well.

Casey discussed a really interesting point about using fruit in sour beer and that is his attitude that putting fruit into beer is a method of preserving fruit, much like canning. That's not an opinion I can recall ever hearing. Most people add fruit because it tastes good and that's the end of the story. Casey talks about the significance of adding fruit at it's freshest (which I understood to mean right at harvest) so you preserve the best flavor possible.Casey's position is that the best time to add fruit is right at harvest to coincide with the last 2-3 months of aging before bottling. For homebrewers I think we can extrapolate a few useful points:

  • Sour beers are traditionally brewed in the winter and homebrewers often only drag out sour beers 12-18 months. If you are trying to get fruit into your beer right at harvest then the right time to brew, if you think your beer will be ready at a prescribed time, then it may make sense to brew at different times of year to hit the harvest a few months before bottling, especially if you are trying to hit southern hemisphere fruit.
  • Home-grown or farmer's market-bought fruit may be obtained closer to harvest so preferred for homebrewing. Although I think this one is fairly obvious...
  • Grocery store fruit may not be the best option, especially since the produce tends to be picked prematurely and not completely ripe. Again, I think this is fairly obvious.
  • On the other hand I do not entirely agree that harvest time is always the best flavor you can find in fruit. It should be the time when the fruit has the right blend of flavor and texture but overripe fruit (of some fruits) often has a bolder and sweeter fruit flavor. Most people just don't like the texture of very ripe fruit. It's commonly used in other fruit preservative methods because you don't need a semi-firm texture to enjoy eating it. So it may be worthwhile to buy some fruit now and taste it as it ages (over days/weeks) to see when the flavor is best. Then you'll know how far from harvest you can find the best flavor.
Maybe not groundbreaking but it's one of those small pieces of information that can make little tweaks to your process to help add small improvements that collectively turn into massive improvements.
June 17, 2013

Lucky Pierre Double Brett Farmhouse Ale

When I design recipes I like to focus on what flavor and aroma profile I want in the end. I try to be very strict about adhering to my designed goal rather than throw stuff in last minute or make post-fermentation changes unless I feel the beer fails to meet expectations. I don't have a problem with people who are more spontaneous with their brewing but I spend a lot of time trying to design the end product and I feel like if I don't stick to the plan I won't figure out what is or isn't working. However, my strict design paradigm falls apart when working with unknown fermenters that tend to be very expressive.

This beer features two unknown fermenters and I have very little idea what to expect in the final beer. I am putting two brett strains together in this beer and they are two under-explored strains. The beer will be primary fermented with brett custersianus and then I am adding a strain identified as brett anomalous in secondary. The custersianus strain is the same as ECY's release, which is described as very fruity. The anomalous strain I believe is also getting released by ECY. I started propagating both strains before designing the rest of the recipe to try to get an idea about what the strains will offer. Custersianus is definitely big on fruit with a little funky character. The anomalous is very barnyard-y and maybe even a little fecal-y. The problem is I don't know how the two strains will manipulate their own flavors in the presence of each other. That is a huge unknown.

Since there's a huge unknown and I want to clearly taste the brett contributions I decided the rest of the recipe needs to get out of the way so a simple recipe would be best. The grain bill is farmhouse-like using some stuff laying around the house, including some spare two row and a couple adjuncts plus a hint of roasted barley for color. The hops stay in a moderate bitterness with a small flavor charge of a subtle hop. However, all that said I have a couple contingency plans in case the beer doesn't pan out with great brett flavor. If need be, I'll dry hop and or hit it with some liquor/wine-soaked oak to bring some extra flavors into the beer.

A quick note about the name. There's two bretts, plus you, which makes the beer a threesome. Ok, if you don't know what a lucky pierre is you should google it. At least as the beer drinker I can pretend I am the lucky pierre between two bretts. Ok, what can I say? I like to give my beers foul names. Ok, enough blabbering, here's the recipe.

Lucky Pierre Double Brett Farmhouse Ale

Batch Details:

Batch size: 1 gallon
Estimated efficiency: 72%
Est. OG: 1.046
Est. FG: 1.010
IBU: 29.5
SRM: 13.3
ABV: 4.7%
BU:GU: 0.643


1lb. 8 oz. US 2 row 2 SRM
1oz. Quick oats 1 SRM
1oz Cornmeal 1 SRM
1oz Roasted barley 300 SRM

Water profile: Bru'n water amber bitter

Calcium: 58.6
Sodium: 10.9
Chloride: 51
Bicarbonate: 44.9

Water supply:

100% Distilled water
0.55 gallons mash
0.85 gallons sparge

Mash additions:

0.2g Gypsum
0.3g Epsom salt
0.1g Baking soda
0.2g Calcium chloride

Sparge additions:

0.3g Gypsum
0.4g Epsom salt

0.3g Calcium chloride

Mash schedule:

Mash in 2.21 quarts at 163.6F for 1.3 lb/qt ratio
Mash at 150F for 75 minutes
Sparge with 0.85 gallons at 170F

Boil additions: 60 minute boil

0.10 oz. Belma [12.10%] at 60
0.10 oz. EKG [5%] at 20

Fermentation schedule:

Pitch brett custerianus from 600ml starter and ferment at 66F for one week
Raise to ambient for three weeks
Pitch brett anomalous from 200ml starter and ferment for four months (or more) at ambient
Add dry hops/oak if necessary before bottling
Bottle with 1oz priming sugar to 3.0 volumes

Brewday Notes:

First runnings gravity: 1.066
Preboil gravity: 1.035
Starting gravity:1.042

Fermentation Notes:

6/17/13: Fermentation began around sixteen hours after pitching at 64F. Nice fluffy krausen plus some blowoff getting into the airlock.

7/22/13: Added small quantity of brett anomalous to trigger secondary fermentation

7/9/13: 1.0065 gravity. Beer feels thin but has interesting tropical fruit character, as described for this brett strain. Beginning starter of Brett Anomalous to pitch in secondary.

4/12/15: Bottled with 1.3oz. table sugar targeting 3 volumes of CO2. Forgot to take a gravity reading. Initial taste was less thin than expected for a almost two year old brett beer. Definitely some acidity present in the beer; possibly citric? Aroma is very strongly wet dog. Flavor is a mix of funk, cherry pie, pineapple, citrus fruit and subtle tropical fruit. Malt character not assertive. The citrus/pineapple/tropical fruit is a strange mix with the traditional funk/cherry pie brett character. Excited to see where this is after carbonation.
June 14, 2013

One Gallon Brewing: Setting Up an All Grain System -- Part 3

In this third and final installment I'll show you a walkthrough of an all grain brew day (I'll leave out the cleaning). The beer I am brewing today is Lucky Pierre. I won't go through the recipe and all the stuff I normally post with the recipe just to keep this post focused. My next post will be the recipe post for Lucky Pierre. The actual brew day process is very simple and straightforward, which makes it a perfect beer to demonstrate all grain brewing. I am using my hybrid small batch system, which I discussed in Part 2.

The total brew day runs about five hours, including clean up. I do not have a wort chiller so there's actually some additional time while the wort cools before pitching that actually extends the brew day but there's no work involved in letting the kettle sit in some water in the sink cooling.

Here's an overall picture of all the equipment I use. I forgot to toss in the measuring cup I use and some of the ingredients are missing but you get the idea of the equipment. It isn't a lot.

On the left side of the picture is an airlock, stopper, fermentor, sack of grain and you can't really see it but there is the grain bag behind the paper bag of grains. Moving right, there is my small digital scale in a box, a quick read thermometer, a floating thermometer, star-san and a strainer. Moving further right is a funnel, my other digital scale, a candle that doesn't belong in the picture, the refractometer in the blue box, my small kettle and behind it is the two gallon cooler. Finally, all the way to the right is my shitty grain mill. In the very back of the picture you can see my larger cooler mash tun.

Step 1: Milling the grain

First thing you need to do in an all grain brew is mill the grain. This cracks apart the grain, letting those key enzymes get access to more of the starches. This is a picture of my mill. It is a corona mill (actually it is a corona-style mill, not actually made by Corona). It is a cheap mill, running about $20-25 on amazon.com, designed for milling corn and other large seeds for farm purposes. However, it will mill brewing grains well enough. It doesn't work quite as well as a nicer roller mill but it works well enough. I've modified the hopper in a cheap way by cutting off the top and bottom of a two liter soda bottle and then attaching it to the hopper with tape (looks hood, right?) to expand the hopper. This allows me to shove more grain in and mill faster than if I had to stop every eight ounces to refill the hopper. There are nicer hopper extensions you can buy.

As you might be able to tell, on the front of the mill (your right) there is a large eye screw holding a wing nut that holds together an assembly. In that assembly are two roller plates. The grain travels through the mill, driven by the shaft, which turns one plate as it feeds the grain against a stationary plate. This is what mills the grain. The problems is that there is no shield on the plates so milled grain flies in all directions. Not good.

This is my ghetto fabulous remedy. I place a kitchen bowl under the plates and wrap the whole thing in a grocery bag. The bag drives the grain into the bowl and if the bowl fills up before I can empty it then the bag will hold the grain for me.

You may also notice that the mill is hand cranked. Yeah, it can be a real chore to hand mill a lot of grain. However, for small batches it takes me 5-10 minutes to mill enough grain. Some people attach drills to their mills. It's an option but I don't own a decent drill. When you use a drill you need a drill that can turn at a slow speed and those are usually your nicer drills. Cheap drills go one speed -- fast -- and that will tear apart your grain hulls. That's a problem when you don't brew in a bag because you need those hulls partially intact to act as a filter (the bag is the filter in brew-in-a-bag brewing).

Step 2: Filling the mash tun

Next, I needed to set up the mash tun. As I discussed in part two, I use a cooler with a grain bag to gain the
benefit of using an insulated mash tun but the ease of brew in a bag. So the next step starts with lining the mash tun with the grain bag. As I mill grain and fill up the bowl I empty the bowl into the mash tun.

There's no real science. The bag just goes in the cooler like putting a garbage bag in your kitchen trash can.

 Once all the grain is milled it goes in the bag. Here's what milled grain should look like. I could mill this more aggressively because I don't need the husks to act as a filter but I use the mill for non-BIAB brewing so I don't want to try to change the mill settings each time I brew. You can see that the husks are torn but still mostly intact. The smaller bits are the actual grain with the starches I need.

While I am milling the grain I also need to get the mash water measured and into the kettle on the stove to
start heating up. I heat the water to the recipe's temperature, which is a little higher than what the mash temperature will be because the cooler and grain are at room temperature so temperatures will equalize out at the right mash temperature. Usually the mash water will get up to the mid-160F range (known as the strike temperature) and this takes around ten minutes at high heat on my stove.

I don't know why I thought you needed to see this picture. You know what hot water looks like.

I added brewing salts to my mash water, which is a step I left out because the whole water adjustment issue is too advanced to worry about with your first all grain brew. I use 100% RO or distilled water because the local water supply sucks ass so I have to adjust the water on every batch. If your local water supply is municipal then it probably has chlorine or chloramine in it and you will need to treat that water by boiling it the day before for chlorine or adding a campden tablet the day before for chloramine to eliminate that stuff. Both will later turn into disgusting phenolics after a couple months in your beer and make it taste like floor cleaner. I prefer to just buy some form of filtered or distilled water.

Step 3: The mash

Really easy stuff. Once the mash water hits the strike temperature the water goes in the grain and gets stirred
for several minutes. To the right is the beginning of the mash. You can tell it's basically just like making oatmeal. Hot water and grain. This particular recipe has oatmeal in it, so it's literally making a big pot of oatmeal.

Once everything is mixed up I tighten the lid on the cooler and let the enzymes do all the magic. I put the cooler in the oven with everything turned off just to reduce the amount of cool air coming in contact with the mash tun and cooling it down. It's just a small step to help maintain stable mash temperatures.

And here's the after shot. I blew this picture up larger for you so you could see how the mash changed. If you compare the prior picture and this one you can see the grain has settled a little and there's a nice dark layer of liquid visible on top. This doesn't mean anything special, it just means the specialty grain (in this case roasted barley) leeched out color into the wort and the grain settled.

This wort, the first runnings, will be darker and sweeter than even the post-boil concentrated wort. Even in the lightest of beers it will have a color about the same as a cooked pie crust. The subsequent runnings from the sparge will dilute the wort, reducing the color and sweetness. It's not quite as sweet as liquid malt extract just because liquid extract is evaporated down even further to get to that thick syrup consistency. First runnings are far less viscous and drain easily.

Step 4: The sparge

Yeah, more pictures of hot water. With about 25-30 minutes remaining in the mash is a good time to start heating the sparge water, at least at these volumes. It is important to heat the sparge water during the mash so you don't have to extend the mash. Sometimes it's not a big deal to extend the mash (and on commercial systems the runnings remain at mash temperatures for a long time) but you don't want to let it go too long because the enzymes will keep working on the more complex sugars and that will produce a more fermentable wort that can get drier than you want.

Once the sparge water is ready I just lift the grain bag and let it drain out. It's not important that the bag drains dry, just enough that moving it won't make a mess. To the left is a picture of the first runnings. You can see that it is very dark.

The grain bag needs to get soaked in the sparge water in the kettle and then "tea-bagged" or dunked in and out of the water to create water movement that can rinse the sugars off the grain. I like to alternate between a few minutes of dunking and a few minutes of resting in the water. I don't know why I think that helps. In the picture to the right the grain is taking a rest.

After 10-15 minutes it's time to drain all the goodness out of the grain by holding it up and letting
gravity do the hard work. I spin the bag to pull the bag against the grain and squeeze out some more liquid (be careful about doing it too fast because it will spray hot and sticky wort everywhere). I squeeze the bag with my hands a little but the wort is hot so there's only so much I can do. It's not important to get every drop out of the grain. As you can sort of see in that picture, the wort in the kettle is much lighter than the first runnings. That's because most of the good stuff was left in the mash tun.

The final step is to mix everything up and get the boil started. You can see in this final picture that the blended wort is lighter than the first runnings but darker than the sparge runnings.

You can do all kinds of variants on mashing with this technique. You can first wort hop in the mash tun with the first runnnings while you sparge. You can add the steeped specialty grains at the end of the mash. All the stuff people do on larger set ups. The only thing that doesn't make sense is to do fancy electronic recirculation systems but I'm sure if you were particularly innovative and had the right equipment it could be done.

So there you have it. A whole all grain brew. Of course, I hit the boil and did all the boil additions but if you have brewed an extract beer you already know what the boil looks like. The recipe for this beer is the Lucky Pierre Double Brett Farmhouse Ale that will get posted up next week. Not that it really matters but just in case you were curious. I hope you enjoyed the three part tutorial and for all of you fearing the jump to all grain you can see that it is a really simple task. On my larger system it's the same process except I would drain the wort from the mash tun and leave the grain and add the sparge water to the mash tun, stir and drain again. It's the same process but instead of moving the grain the liquid is moved. Not difficult either.

In the future I plan on doing some more tutorial-based posts for small batch brewing (as well as normal homebrewing tutorials) and I have some other small batch-related stuff. I'm brewing several other small batches over the next few months so stay tuned for those one gallon and 2.5 gallon recipes. My next brew will be coming in a couple weeks (hopefully) of a mesquite-smoked saison with home smoked munich malt over mesquite wood.
June 10, 2013

One Gallon Brewing: Setting Up an All Grain System -- Part 2

In part one of this series I discussed a very basic primer on all grain brewing. If you are new to all grain brewing you should read the prior post in this series or another source on the subject so you understand what the hell I'm talking about in today's post. Today's post will discuss the typical homebrewer all grain systems, how they apply at the one gallon brewing level, and my person hybrid system. I'll start off discussing the basic equipment you will need/want/should have regardless of what system you decide to use. There are basically two ways you can put together a small batch all grain system: a traditional mash tun or BIAB (brew in a bag). I'll explain both and discuss their respective pros and cons. Then I'll discuss my hybrid system and why I find it superior than the typical two methods homebrewers employ.

Basic equipment all grain brewers need/want/should have

Certain basic pieces of equipment are helpful no matter how your brewing system is set up. These components are cheap and often you will have most of these pieces from your extract brewing. A few of these pieces I will suggest are optional but nevertheless worth having on hand. In no particular order, here are some pieces you should acquire for successful all grain brewing:

  • Vessel large enough to hold the mash
  • Kettle large enough to heat your full wort volume
  • Heat source to heat water and boil wort
  • Mash paddle/large spoon
  • Hydrometer or refractometer
  • Quality, calibrated thermometer
  • Digital scale measuring at least grams and ounces (for small batches you should obtain one that measures down to tenths of grams)
  • Grain mill (optional)
  • Ph strips or ph meter (optional, at least starting out)
  • Measuring cups (preferably large ones)
  • Timer
  • Heat-resistant, food grade tubing -- typically silicone (optional)
  • Brewing software (optional)
As you become more advanced in brewing you will want to pick up some of the optional equipment and/or buy better quality equipment. You don't want to waste money buying cheap equipment and then upgrading, especially when the difference in price is low. I would encourage you to spend the money on a nice digital thermometer because the floating thermometers are almost always several degrees wrong (mine is currently 13 degrees too cool). I'd also recommend looking on Amazon for a reasonably priced small scale that measures in tenths of grams. You'll need that preciseness when you start measuring brewing salts because small batches are going to use that small of volume of brewing salts (if you need to adjust your brewing water in the future). These scales usually run around $15-25, which is about what a cheaper kitchen scale will run you anyway. The grain mill, refractometer and some of the other equipment can be future purchases when you decide you want to focus on improving the details.

The traditional homebrewer all grain set up

Traditionally, homebrewers have worked with systems that emulated what breweries use. For that reason, the equipment used was small versions of the same equipment, using the same techniques and processes. If you recall back to the first part of this series, I discussed how the mash and sparge processes involved adding and draining water/wort from the grain. That is a practical issue. It's easier to move liquid with pumps (or gravity) and hoses than it is to move grain between vessels of hot water.

The common approach for the modern but traditional approach is a cooler and kettle set up. A large igloo-style water cooler is used as a mash tun (the insulation helps maintain temperatures) with the kettle serving as the hot liquor tank to heat mash and sparge water and then to collect the wort and boil. Many homebrewers use this system with a five or ten gallon cooler and batch sparge (although you could fly sparge). You can use this same approach on a small scale with a one or two gallon cooler (or a similar type of vessel that will retain heat). You want to use a vessel that is not too much larger than the volume of mash because the more contact the mash has with the air and non-heated surfaces the quicker it will lose heat and you will have more variability in your mashes. A two gallon cooler is small enough to get good results on a one gallon batch but will support mashes for two gallon batches except for very high gravity beers with large mash volumes.

The advantage with this system is that you have a mash tun with temperature stability and a fairly easy set up. The downside is that you will have to make a modification of the cooler to replace the water spout with a manifold that filters out the grain, so it does not clog, and safely pours hot liquids. Following the typical homebrewer's set up that could add a little bit of cash to your costs (in the tens of dollars at most) and you couldn't use the cooler for anything else. Another downside is that if you already have a few stock pots in the house you may not want to spend more cash on another piece of equipment or have the space for it. A two gallon cooler is not very large but in an apartment sometimes every square foot counts.

There are some variants used at a larger scale, such as direct-firing the mash on its own heat source in a kettle with a manifold to drain the wort. Very advanced systems use pumps to circulate the mash to maintain temperature stability but at a small batch level neither of these are particularly efficient.

Brew in a bag (BIAB) method

Brew in a bag is exactly what it sounds like. It works in reverse of a traditional mash, where the liquid is removed from the grains. Instead, the grains go in a bag and you move the grain bag between vessels to mash and sparge. For BIAB you need two kettles, one for the mash tun and one for the sparge. You will heat the mash water in the mash tun kettle and then add a strainer bag full of crushed grain to the kettle and let the mash do it's thing. You then heat the sparge water in the other kettle and when it is time to sparge you just move the grain bag from one kettle to the next and dip the bag in and out of the sparge water to rinse the sugars off the grain. Then you dump the grains out of the bag. Then mix all your wort together and boil.

For the small batch brewer this method has a big upside and a big downside. The huge advantage is that your equipment costs are minimal. For a small batch you can usually buy plastic strainer bags at homebrew shops meant for steeping grains (just don't tie it off so you can reuse it). For larger batches many people use paint strainer bags. If you own a set of pots and pans it probably came with a 1.5 gallon stock pot, which is definitely large enough for the mash on a one gallon batch. You already own a kettle from your extract batches, so that is fine for the sparge water. It doesn't matter if the kettle is too big for the sparge volume as long as you can dunk all the grains in the water and get a good rinse.

The huge downside is that it is much harder to maintain a consistent mash temperature. A stock pot will not keep mash temperatures stable on its own so you will need to monitor the temperature and keep it slightly heated on your stove or in your oven, if your oven goes down in temperature to mash temperatures. Most only go down to 170F, which is too hot. Personally I started out BIAB on my smaller batches but gave it up because I was tired of getting inconsistent mash results. I'd have mashes that got too cool then I overshot by adding too much heat. Many mashes went through periods too cool for what I wanted. So I gave it up. That's why I went with my hybrid system.

My hybrid system

My hybrid system takes the best of both worlds. I use a two gallon cooler as a mash tun but I did not modify the spout. Instead, I add heated mash water to the mash tun then use a grain bag to add the grains. The insulated cooler keeps stable temperature and I stick the cooler in my unheated oven to help trap any lost heat in a smaller area. When the mash ends I pull the bag and sparge in my kettle doing the BIAB dunking. Then I pour the wort from the mash tun into the kettle and get boiling. It's practically BIAB but without a kettle as the mash tun. I already had the grain bag from my prior BIAB attempts (but I think they cost like $2 for a 2-3 gallon nylon strainer bag). I also already had the kettle, so my only upgraded purchase was the two gallon cooler.

I use a Coleman two gallon stackable cooler, which runs about $11 on Amazon. It has improved the quality of my small batches a lot so I think it was $11 well spent. It holds up to warm temperatures ok although it is not as well insulated as my larger ten gallon cooler. By not modifying the spout I can use it for non-brewing purposes. It also fits in my ten gallon mash tun so I'm not losing any house space storing it that way. It would probably fit in your kettle so it won't take up extra space. Plus, once it is dry, you can store other brewing equipment inside it.

In the next installment...

In the third and last installment I will put together a walk-through, with pictures, of an entire one gallon batch brewing day. I will be brewing an all brett farmhouse-style beer. There's nothing advanced about the brewing process, it's going to be a straight-forward brew day but with brett fermentation instead of saccharomyces. Actually, it will be a brett primary fermentation and then a second brett strain is going in for a brett-on-brett fermentation. However, I'll post the recipe details in a separate post.

June 7, 2013

One Gallon Brewing: Setting Up an All Grain System -- Part 1

Some people believe if you brew small batches you are restricted to brewing extract beers. That is not remotely the case. Homebrewing on the small batch level can easily be all grain brewing. The equipment is basically the same as larger batches but obviously you can use some smaller equipment, especially if you are starting your all grain experience on the one gallon level or a similar small batch volume. Today's subject matter will be lengthy, so I will actually break it up into three different posts just so I can feed out the information in a slightly more digestible quantity.The first section will be a very brief primer on all grain brewing. It is definitely not meant to be all-inclusive of everything you need to know about all grain brewing but enough to get you through your first batch. Brewers who brew all grain on a larger system should go ahead and skip to the second post. The second section will discuss some options with setting up your all grain system and I will discuss why I selected a hybrid of the two most common systems. The third section will be a pictorial walk-through of an all grain brew day on my one gallon system.

All grain overview

When I first started brewing I thought all grain brewing was really complex and it would take months, if not years, to understand the complexity of turning solid grain into delicious wort. There is actually a lot of science you can learn but you don't have to know very much to produce drinkable beer. I would encourage you to learn more about the science behind brewing to grow beyond drinkable beer to great beer after you become comfortable with the basics.

At it's core, all grain brewing is very simple. You make a big pot of stewed grain, a lot like making oatmeal. You make it at a particular temperature and let it sit for a while. Then you dump the liquid--now wort--into your kettle. Pour in more hot liquid of a particular temperature and then dump that wort out into your kettle. Then you boil all that wort just like you would making extract beer. So the key skills to brew all grain are:
  1. Measuring volumes of water
  2. Reading and using a thermometer
  3. Stirring
  4. Pouring
  5. Using a heat source
You already have those skills if you are brewing extract although your thermometer will play a much bigger role in all grain brewing because temperature controls a lot of the magic behind all grain brewing.

Let me give you the bite-sized explanation of what we want to accomplish in this process. We want to take malted grains (or primarily malted grains) and add water at a temperature that will activate enzymes in the grain to convert the starches in the grain into sugar. When that conversion ends we want to take the water, sugar and flavor compounds away from the grain. When we do that some of the sugars and flavor compounds get left behind on the grain. So we add more water to rinse the extra sugars and flavor compounds off the grain and get them in our kettle. After that the grain is no longer part of the brewing process. We just need the wort we have created to make beer. Basically there is the conversion step and then we are trying to get the good stuff into the kettle and leave the grain behind.

Steps to all grain brewing

To expand on our simple explanation, all grain brewing is concerned with two main stages: the mash and the sparge. The mash is the mixing of water and grain through the conversion process and removing the first water addition, what are called first runnings. The mash can also refer to the physical combination of water and grains. "Mash" is both a verb and noun. The sparge is the later process of adding more water to rinse the grain and removing the latter additions of water, known as second runnings and even third runnings if you add water a third time.

Let's also start out with a bite-sized discussion of the equipment you need to brew. All grain requires at least two key pieces of equipment. The first piece is the mash tun. This is the vessel where you conduct your mash. It can be a large insulated vessel like a cooler or a large pot with a lid. It's goal is to provide a place for the conversion to occur. After the mash you will dump your sparge water into the mash tun since your grains are still in there with precious sugars and flavor compounds stuck to them. The second key piece of equipment is a vessel that you can heat water in. This is called a hot liquor tank but typically it is just going to be your kettle or another pot on your stove. Your hot liquor tank is where you will heat the water for your mash and sparge. (In larger breweries they need a separate tank to heat water independently of their kettle because the kettle may be in use boiling wort or holding wort from the mash while they also need hot water.) Technically if you use your boil kettle as a hot liquor tank you may need a third vessel to capture the wort from the mash while you have sparge water heating in your kettle. But that may be a system-dependent need we can address later. So now you should have an idea of the basic process plus the basic equipment used in the process. So let's get into the actual steps with some science mixed in.

Step 1: Preparing the grain

As you already know, the mash involves a conversion of starch into sugar. To maximize the value of our grain we want to break apart the grain so more of the starchy material can come in direct contact with the water and convert into sugar. To do this, we use a grain mill to break apart, or crush, the grains. You might wonder why we don't turn grain into flour, since that would make basically all the starch come in contact with the water. The reason why we don't do that is because there would be no way to get the wort back out of the mash. You would have a soupy bread dough. Instead, you want to keep some of the husk from the barley intact and the actual grain to stay in slightly larger pieces so the combination of husk and grain bits can form a porous bed of grain that will allow you to remove the wort or runnings from the mash and sparge. If the grain bed is not porous enough you will have a stuck mash or stuck sparge where you cannot get the runnings out of the mash tun. That is really bad.

There is a balance between crushing the grain finely to maximize starch exposure and crushing coarsely to get the runnings back out of the grain. Each brewing system requires a slightly different balance. The less you need the grain bed to be porous the more finely you can crush the grain and get more sugar out of the grain. The more sugar you can get out of the same volume of grain is known as mash efficiency. A high mash efficiency is great because you can use less grain to get the desired amount of sugar but if you are getting stuck mashes or stuck sparges where you can't get the runnings back out then your high mash efficiency is pretty useless.

Step 2: Doughing in

Once you have your grain crushed you can add them to the mash tun where they will await an infusion of mash water at a particular temperature. When you dough in, you add the water at a temperature slightly higher than what you want for the mash because the mash tun and grains are cooler than the mash water, so by the time the temperature equalizes you will be at your preferred mash temperature, which we will discuss in the next step.

There is no magic way to add the water, you just dump it in. Once the water is added, you need to thoroughly mix the mash to make sure the temperature is even and you do not have dough balls. Dough balls form when dry grains get surrounded by wet grains and form sort of a gel around the dry grains on the inside and keep the dry grains dry. If the grains aren't coming in contact with the water then there is no conversion. No conversion means wasted grains. The only way to destroy dough balls is to thoroughly mix the mash to break them up.

Step 3: The mash

The mash is an easy process for you. You are just going to let the mash sit and the grain will do all the hard work for you. A typical homebrew mash will last 45-75 minutes. The mash must occur at saccharification temperatures, which are between 145F-160F (actually a little above and below but most brewers stay within this range). At this temperature two important processes occur. First, this temperature the starches in malted barley and wheat will gelatinize, which makes conversion into sugar easier. This is kind of like when add hot water to oatmeal and the grains turn from firm, distinctly-shaped oat flakes into sort of a sticky, goopy mass. However, our mash won't get as much of a blob texture because we didn't crush the grain very fine and we have all the malted barley husks helping keep things broken up. However, like oatmeal, the gelatinized starches absorb the water where the second process occurs.

At these temperatures the malted grains can also release enzymes responsible for converting starch into sugar. These enzymes are water soluble, so the gelatinized starches will absorb the enzymes and the enzymes can go to work. There are two kinds of enzymes that are available at mash temperatures. In the 140s and mid 150s the grain releases beta-amylase which breaks starches down into maltose, the primary sugar in beer. Beers fermented at lower temperatures tend to ferment more thoroughly because beer yeast can completely ferment maltose. In the low 150s up into the mid 160s a second enzyme is released called alpha-amylase. Alpha-amylase creates maltose but it also leaves behind dextrins/maltodextrins, which are not fermentable by saccharomyces and helps create body in your beer.

Most beer styles do not benefit from very high temperatures where fermentability is low and body is full nor do they benefit from very low temperatures where fermentability is very high but there are no dextrins to leave some body. For that reason, most people ferment in the 150-154F range where both enzymes are activated and you can get plenty of maltose but also maintain a little body. However, some styles do benefit from mashing lower or higher. Budweiser, for example, mashes for two hours in the very low 140s so it will be highly fermentable and thin for volume consumption. It takes two hours because enzymes work slower at cooler temperatures and faster at warmer temperatures.

A key concern with the mash is that you have enough enzyme available to completely convert the available gelatinized starches. Grain considered "base malt" are those that contain enzymes that can be released during the mash. The enzymes are created in malted grains during the malting process. Grain is soaked in water at warm temperatures that makes the grain think it is hanging out in warm, moist spring soil. That causes it to start to grow. Maltsters will stop the growing process at a desired point by kilning the grain, which means they bake it in an oven to a temperature that stops the growing process and dries the grain out. They can kiln the grain to higher temperatures to create darker specialty malts. If they kiln the moist grain at saccharification temperatures they will create sugars within the grain and then heat the grain to a higher temperature to create crystal malts by caramelizing the sugars trapped in the grain. These higher temperatures used on specialty grains denature the enzymes, which why is you cannot ever make a 100% roasted barley beer. Unmalted grain also do not have enzymes because they have not undergone the malting process.

Since only some grain will have enzymes available it is important that your recipe has enough enzymatic power to convert the available starches. The enzymatic power of malted grain is known as diastatic power and is measured in Linter. Base grain and a few specialty malts are the only grains with diastatic power, which still has enzymatic power, include: two row and six row malted barley, malted wheat, pilsner malt, vienna, munich, aromatic, malted rye, malted oats, aromatic, amber malt, mild malt, maris otter and melanoidin malt.

Not all of these grains have enough diastatic power to convert their own starches, let alone the starches in other specialty grains. Base grain must be included in your recipe at a rate high enough to reach full conversion. Base grain include two row, six row, wheat malt, pilsner, vienna, munich and maris otter. Six row and wheat malt have the most diastatic power while munich has the least. The more diastatic power in the base malt, the less base malt you must use to reach full conversion on a recipe. A beer that uses munich as a base malt, especially darker munich varieties, must have a small amount of specialty grain to make sure there is enough diastatic power to reach full conversion. Otherwise you must add some other base grain to reach sufficient diastatic power in your mash. You can easily find more information about the Linter of each grain and how to calculate diastatic power all over the internet if you want to do the math. My rule of thumb is never to use less than 60% base malt and if only vienna or munich are used, use no less than 80%. It has yet to fail me.

Some people raise the temperature at the end of the mash to 165-168F. At this hotter temperature the enzymes will work very fast to complete any remaining conversion that may not have occurred during the mash. That is generally done to improve a sluggish mash where the enzymes are not doing their job very well or there might not have been enough enzymes to go around to reach full conversion at normal temperatures. Some people like to do it just as an insurance policy to make sure full conversion was reached. 

Another technique some people use is a mash out. A mash out also occurs at the very end of the mash where the mash temperature is raised above 168F. At this temperature the enzymes in the mash are denatured and no further conversion can occur. The reason you might want to do this is to prevent the enzymes from continuing to break down the dextrins into maltose while you are performing the next two steps. If you are concerned about the beer becoming too fermentable or too thin you may want to mash out. The next two steps can take as much as two hours (longer as your brewing system increases in size), which is a lot of time for beta-amylase to find dextrins and other complex sugars and break them down to maltose.

Both of these latter steps are not absolutely necessary and I tend not to do either. You can make some decisions on whether you want to adopt those practices. Additionally, mashes need certain ph conditions and certain minerals for good mash efficiency and full conversion. Those are both far more advanced subjects than a basic primer should address, although you should put them on your list of future topics to research because they are very important to fine tuning your beer. For your introduction to all grain brewing you should use a decent quality water (either tap or store-bough drinking water) but avoid distilled or reverse osmosis water because they lack the necessary minerals.

Step 4: Vorlouf

Vorlouf is a fun word I probably mispronounce. A vorlouf is used in a traditional mash tun system (if you want to brew in a bag you do not have a need for this step). You slowly run off some of the first runnings from the mash to reduce the liquid content. The benefit of the vorlouf is that as the liquid volume declines the grain in the mash will start to compact together and form what is called a grain bed, basically just a stable mass of grain. This allows your runnings to pour through the grain bed and the grain bed will act like a filter to keep small bits of grain and proteins from the grain from getting into your kettle and eventually into your fermentor. By eliminating these extra proteins and grain bits you improve beer clarity, reduce trub in the fermentor and reduce the likelihood of boiling grain bits in your kettle. Boiling grain releases starches and tannins into the wort. You don't want starches floating around in your beer creating starch haze and adding a starchy flavor to your beer (unless you are making a beer like a witbeer that does want a little of that character). Once the runnings pour free of visible pieces of grain you are done with the vorlouf. You want to gently return the runnings to the mash so they will drain through the grain bed and come back out without those grain bits and proteins.

Step 5: First runnings

After the vorlouf you want to drain all your delicious wort from the mash to your kettle or wherever you need to store the first runnings until your kettle is free. As you drain the wort the grain bed will continue to compact. Naturally some of the sugars are going to get stuck to the grain and the walls of your mash tun as the wort is draining out. You need to get those out with your next step.

Step 6: The sparge

As I explained above, sparge is just a fancy word for rinse. In the sparge you are going to add water around 170F to the mash to get the leftover sugars and flavor compounds out of the grain. The reason you use hot water is hot water does a better job of rinsing the sugars off the grain in the same way hot water does a better job cleaning dishes or laundry. After draining your first runnings you have a lot of sugar and flavor compounds left behind you need to get into your kettle, so a hot water bath will get that done.

There are two ways to sparge, at least for homebrewers. One method is to fly sparge. This involves gently pouring a constant stream of water into the grain bed to flood the grains but allow the grain bed to stay intact so when you are draining off the sparge water that is now your second runnings of wort, the grain bed can continue to filter out grain bits and proteins. The other method is batch sparging. Batch sparging involves dumping a big volume of water into the mash tun and stirring it up to liberate the sugars. You then let the grains resettle to form a new grain bed and you can run off your second runnings. Depending on your sparge water volume and personal preferences, you may choose to do one batch of water or two batches of water. Both fly and batch sparging are perfectly acceptable and produce comparable results. Batch sparging is more common with newer brewers because it requires no special equipment. Fly sparging requires a device to produce that gentle stream of water over the grain bed. It is like an upside down water sprinkler that you rest on the top of the mash tun.

Step 7: Combine all runnings

This is sort of ovbious, but once you have run off all the runnings you need you combine all the runnings in your kettle and get to work trying to reach a boil. The combination of runnings produces your boil volume, so it is important that your recipe specifies how much mash water and how much sparge water you need to use so the combination of runnings will give you the correct boil volume. After that, all you need to do is discard your spent grain and clean up. That's it. Like I said at the beginning, you are really just taking turns heating water, adding water and draining water.

More information?

As you are ready to learn more about the science behind all grain brewing, there are many good resources to turn to. Gordon Strong's Master Lessons for Advanced Homebrewers is actually a fine book to pick up as you transition into all grain brewing, in spite of the name. Palmer's How to Brew is fine although some of the information is dated and somewhat suspect (especially the online version). If you really love the science you can get into more technical detail in Noonan's Brewing Lager Beer. Of course, plenty of blogs and forums have useful information.

When you are ready to get into more advanced stages of all grain brewing you will want to start looking at water ph and brewing salts. The best place to get started down this path is Bru'n Water, the best online tool for adjusting your water. A wealth of information precedes the tool.

In the second installment of this series I will talk about equipment at the homebrewing level and give you some options for set ups at the small batch level. There are lots of good resources about larger set ups out there if you are looking for an all grain set up for five gallon batches or larger.

Have questions? Disagree with what I've said? Feel free to post in the comments below. Be gentle with criticizing the lack of depth in explaining the science above. This is meant to be an introduction, not a technical manual.
June 4, 2013

Hop Garden Reload 2013

For the past three years or so I've been trying to grow hops with disastrous results. In 2011 we had one of the hottest summers on record and between the insane heat and a stroll-through by locusts my plants were all decimated and ended up dying off. In 2012 it was less hot and while I actually had some good growth going on the locusts showed up with reinforcements and destroyed what solid growth I had. I also overwatered some of the rhizomes and killed them off.

This year I have growth from my two rhizomes from last year, sterling and mt. hood, and replaced two failed spots with nugget and cascade. I am working off of my same grow bag/raised box design from last year.
The rhizomes are buried in five gallon grow bags, which are basically thick five gallon trash bags with holes in the bottom, full of garden soil blended with manure compost. The grow bags are then put into a giant wood box that is filled in with wood mulch so it has the appearance of being a single raised bed but the grow bags keep the moisture around the hops and prevent both the roots from strangling each other and the other plants in the box and I can prevent runners from getting out of control. In a few years I plan on moving so this will allow me to take the plants with me and I can plant them in wine barrel planters because it's very difficult to grow things in the soil here.

One concern with intentionally limiting the growth of the root system is limiting the plant's ability to grow up and produce a good yield. While I don't like the idea of giving up part of a potential harvest the trade off of being able to grow several varieties in a compact area makes up for losing some of the potential yield out of each plant. I don't use so much of any one or two hops that it would make sense to commit the space I have in this box to one or two varieties and let the crown grow as large as it wants. In the coming years when I move to a new house I may reconsider.

I'm growing other plants with the hops in the same space to make the most out of the space and provide a mutually beneficial relationship. I grow rosemary and a few vegetables in their own grow bags. These other plants help provide some shade over the base of the hops to keep the roots cool. As the hop bines grow they will (hopefully) grow into a canopy over the vegetables and keep everything from getting too hot in the blazing summer sun. One problem I am having is that my tomato plants are forming a thick bush (but no tomatoes) and doing a little too good of a job blocking off the mt. hood sitting behind the tomato. Perhaps even worse, the squash plant is an aphid magnet and they are not only demolishing the squash plant but also spreading to the hops. I am fighting them off with organic pesticides and water. Fortunately, the destructive locusts have not appeared. Yet.

I meant to get some pictures of the bines as they were growing along the way but I have been busy with work and too lazy to take pictures so I only have some very recent pictures. Fortunately I am getting good growth this year so at least the pictures are slightly more interesting than last year where I had a couple bines with a few feet of stunted growth.

These are my second year mount hood hops. They have been doing ok so far, they are about five feet tall. The growth has started to slow so I hit it with some fertilizer today. There's two main bines with several smaller bines trying to grow up.

This is my second year sterling. As you can sort of see, it's not doing great. It's only about three feet tall. The tip died back after getting chewed on by a caterpillar. I also added fertilizer so I am hoping that will give it a boost to start growing quickly.

In this crappy picture you can see the twine trellis and that is cascade that is growing horizontally. The bine sort of in the middle is nugget and there is another nugget bine hiding out next to the cascade bine. The rightmost bine is the cascade and there is another smaller cascade bine I didn't get in the picture.

Overall, these are not very interesting pictures but it's exciting to me because I've never gotten this much growth. I'll update some pictures as the burrs start to develop.

Seeing how bushy the bines are I'm thinking next year I will probably limit the other vegetation around the hops to a few small pepper plants. The squash and tomato plants seem to be covering too much of the hops and I think it's having a negative effect on the mount hood and the cascade I didn't get in the picture. Plus, I'm not getting any edible growth out of the squash or tomatoes, so it's sort of a lose-lose right now.
June 2, 2013

Lambic Solera Update #15 -- Two and a half years

It's crazy to think that I have had this all this lambic going for two and a half years. I mean, I've been brewing
Year one in reserve
for about four years but I still remember the desperation of waiting those few weeks for my first batch to be ready. But here we are, thirty months into the solera project. Just six more months until I take up my first blending project with the solera. I'm not as desperate waiting for the blend as I was for that first batch of beer to carbonate but I am very excited.

Today's post is really about the bottling of the blackberry lambic but I thought I would check in where everything else is. To the right are some updated pictures of the main fermentor plus the two reserve gallons. They aren't looking very different than the last update in March, except for some changes in the pellicle.

My plan right now is to pull three gallons in December and bottle one gallon straight with the other two going into the gueuze with the two reserve gallons. I've been going back and forth about bottling some of the year three straight but I think it makes sense to have some of that batch bottled by itself if for no other reason than to compare it directly against the other years. Additionally, it means my four gallons of gueuze will be 50% one year old and 25% each of two and three year old lambic, so more aged lambic is in the mix. I will taste year three before committing to the blend to make sure I like the flavors
Year two in reserve
from year three enough that I want it to dominate the blend. I might end up using less year three than expected in the blend which means I can do something else with the extra gallon. Blending shouldn't be about just mixing set amounts. It's about creating a complex flavor profile. So I'll want to figure out how each year mixes with the other. I think the even mix of years one and two will work well so we'll see how year three plays with the other two.

Year three at work

So then there's the blackberry lambic. It's nicely purple in color. The blackberries did a better job of staying intact in the beer. Last year's raspberries dissolved into small pieces which made bottling more difficult. The flavor is fantastic. It's very acidic but the fruit flavor comes through quite nicely with the funky lambic character in the background.

I ended up with 6 bottles of blackberry lambic (four 750ml and two 330ml), which is about the same as last year's raspberry lambic. I bottled this batch with 1.3 ounces of priming sugar and a slug of champagne yeast slurry. I grew an 800ml starter of champagne yeast so I would have some extra yeast to encourage carbonation in this beer plus my doppelbock and barleywine.