Reader Request: The Basics of #CraftBeer Cellaring.

August 16, 2012

I love it when I get asked questions about home brewing and beer in general. Recently I was asked questions about craft beer storage by Joel D. on my facebook page. He wrote: “Ratchet, in your next blog can you talk about vintage beers? I want to start a collection of beers to keep in my basement/cellar, but don’t know where or how to start. For example, how to know what beers are suited for such storage? What does bottle conditioned “really” mean. I got a bunch of Short’s brew from MI and was told I “must keep cold” and must drink soon. Some bottles (namely bomber’s) indicate that they are good for vintage or storage, but most do not. I tried looking on google, but most links were to buy vintage beer and that is not my goal. Thanks, Joel D.”

All excellent questions Joel. Some of my knowledge of the subject I have learned over the years, and some of that the hard way. Let me preface my response with this, I am not as egotistical to proclaim I know everything about beer or to consider myself a “beer expert”. Those type of claims reek of “beer douchery“. I consider myself simply a home brewer with dreams of going pro, a beer lover and connoisseur. What I do know, I learned through reading, experience and from picking the minds of people who have forgotten more about beer than I’ll ever know.

To get to the questions at hand. Yes some beers are meant to be drank fresh, and certain beers can be stored for years. For example, that super hoppy IPA? Those hops are going to break down and fade with time. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be bad. As the hops fade, the more malty characteristics come to the fore front. It can be really nice tasting. However, being an IPA, you must keep in mind the brewer’s intent and flavors they were shooting for when they brewed it.

How a beer is stored has a major impact on the flavor. Beers should be stored upright, and never vertical like on a wine rack. Also the ideally, any beer you store should be kept around 40 to 50 degrees. I try to keep my beers that I am “cellaring” in a spare refrigerator. I didn’t always have this option, and I know a lot of people don’t. Before I had the fridge space, I’d use extra coolers or large tupperware like storage containers and place them on or as close to an air conditioner vent or window unit as possible. More important the temperature is keeping your beer out of the light. Light struck beer takes on an unpleasant “skunky” quality. I am so paranoid about this now that I don’t purchase beer in clear or green bottles. I don’t even purchase clear growlers. These type of containers let in ultraviolet rays that react with and break down isohumulones, a molecule derived from the hops. The resulting molecule, is very similar chemically and in odour to the chemicals that are part of skunk’s natural defence. Amber or brown glass offer some protection, but if they are sitting somewhere (say for example a shelf that sunlight hits it for a few hours every day), they will go bad.

Some beer styles tend to age better. A rule of thumb is the darker and more alcoholic a beer, the better it will store. It also matters if a beer is bottle conditioned. Bottle conditioning simply means that a tiny amount of priming sugar or unfermented beer is added at bottling to allow the remaining yeast cells to eat the sugars and create carbonation. Most mass produced beer in this country are not bottle condition, with Sierra Nevada being one exception. It’s easy enough to tell if your beer is bottle conditioned or not. Simply take the bottle, give it a swirl and look at the bottom of it. Does you see sediment floating around? If so chances are that it’s bottle conditioned.

The reason bottle conditioned beers tend to age better is because the yeast protect against oxidation and contributes complex flavors as it breaks down slowly in the bottle. The alcohol content will also slightly increase. Now just because a beer is bottle conditioned doesn’t mean it will last forever. It is heavily dependent on style. A lighter pilsner or wheat beer is likely to pick up off flavors that yeast can contribute when they die.

If a bottle or can of beer says drink fresh, do what it says. I recently had a stash of Heady Topper brought back for me from Vermont. As much as I love this beer and wish I can always have it around, I know it’s meant to be drank within days or a couple of weeks of canning, max. I imagine it’s the same with most hop heavy beer. On the other hand, I also tried a can of 1982 World’s Fair Beer at the last Knox Beer Crew meeting. I was told that this beer was gross when it first came out. I was afraid, but cracked it open anyway. It wasn’t too bad. It was carbonated, with major sediment that I can only imagine what it was. It didn’t make me sick, and I can say I had the experience of drinking a 30 year old beer.

If you are looking to collect and store, go for beers that say that say they age well on the label. Some beer styles brewed or conditioned with wild yeast strains such as Brettanomyces are meant to be aged. Beers below 7% alcohol by volume don’t age as well, so look for high gravity beer. Baltic Porters, Russian Imperial Stouts, “Farmhouse style” ales, Flanders Red, Strong belgium ales and Barley Wines.

This advice is just meant as a guideline and there are always exceptions. When I brewed last weekend, I broke out a bottle of homebrewed oaked imperial stout that I had been storing since 2010. It was bottle conditioned, and a style that should’ve lasted long. It was oxidized, and had that cardboard like taste. It could have been that I allowed too much oxygen in during the bottling phase, it could be the yeast strain I used, it could be that it was improperly stored (at room temp the 1st year of it’s life), or it could be other unknown factors. I also had my last bottle of Sweetwater’s Dank Tank 420 IPA that was bottled back in January. All assumptions were that this over the top hop bomb would have gone bad. I even had a local distributor rep tell me months ago that the beer would be undrinkable. It was really good. The hop aromas and flavors had faded slightly, but it was still enjoyable to drink. Of course, it had been stored in my fridge the whole time, and I am positive that is what made the difference.

I hope this helps answer some questions about storing beers or starting a vintage beer collection. I would advise searching google for cellaring beer, aging beer, and beer storage. Some breweries will have information about aging theirs beers on their websites. Just remember the most important thing about beer storage and drinking aged beer, regardless of what anyone else says, is whether you enjoy it or not.

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_______________One More (time sensitive) note:_______________________

If you are reading this any day but Thursday August 16th, 2012, you can ignore this.

Tonight at Suttree’s High Gravity Tavern I will be doing another infusion night. Starting at 7pm, we will be pouring Bluegrass Brewing Company’s Bourbon Barrel Stout infused with Whole Vanilla Beans, Cocao nibs and toasted oak chips. This is a great beer that will be made even greater with this infusion. I hope to see you there.

Also I am asking my readers to PLEASE vote for the Knox Beer Crew bar stool at http://BeardenBeerMarket.com . Voting ends at midnight, and the competition is close. Any beer we win will be shared with the crew at the next tasting. Please note that the next tasting is Saturday August 25th at Suttree’s starting at 2pm. New members are welcome, but please bring beer (the rarer the better) to share.

Well that’s all for now. I’ll be beertending this (and every weekend) at The Casual Pint on Union Avenue downtown. Feel free to come by, have a beer (or three) and pick my brain. I really enjoy meeting people who read my blog, and enjoy even more talking about beer (in case you haven’t noticed…)

Cheers,

Ratchet

This is what the poll looks like after you vote. Please help us stay ahead.

Update: While doing the infusion, I went next door to Downtown Wine & Spirits on Gay Street. They have a great selection of beer that would age well. They still have bottles of New Belgium’s Brett beer, some bottles of Moa imperial stout, and other tasty treats. I know where some of my next paycheck is going. Get these beers:

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Getting ready for a big brew day on Sunday 8/12

August 7, 2012

I haven’t been able to brew in awhile. Not that I haven’t wanted to, just that my schedule (and finances) haven’t allowed it. I’ve been working weekends at The Casual Pint downtown, which is a second job that I love dearly. I know that the fall beer festival season is coming up, and I have to get ready. I asked for and got a Sunday off work to brew beer. I know I needed to maximize my brew time, so I borrowed the big equipment that is owned by the Tennessee Valley Homebrewers club and has been in the use and care of my friend Tyrone “Chris” Harris of Secret City Brews.  I’ll be brewing 20 gallons of my beloved Rauchbier and 15 gallons of an Oktoberfest Marzen. It’s going to be so good to see all my carboys full again.

I’m inviting friends to come hang out and help if they are so inclined. I forsee this brew day being a combination workshop, tasting, cookout and party. I already have a few people confirmed that they’re coming.  If you ever wanted to see what it’s like from start to finish to brew a batch using all grains, this is your chance. I’ll be starting at the ridiculously early time of 6 am. The brewing schedule (if according to plan) goes a little something like this:

6 am: Get up, stumble downstairs to start the water going.
7 am: Strike grains with water, mash for an hour.
8 am: Start vorlauf.
8:30 Start sparge.
9:30 Finish sparge.
10 Hopefully at boil at this point, 1st hop addition.
11 End of boil and whirlpool.
11:30 End whirlpool, begin cool down.
12:45-1pm Hopefully carboys are full and cool down to yeast pitching temperature.
1:30 Brew pot is cleaned and refilled with water, mash tun cleaned and restocked with grains.
2:15-2:30 Strike 2nd batch of grains with water, mash for an hour.
3:30 Start vorlauf.
4pm Start sparge.
5 Finish sparge.
5:30 Hopefully to boil.
6:30 End boil, whirlpool.
7 End Whirlpool, begin cool down.
8 Hopefully carboys are full, yeast is pitched and equipment cleaned.
8-9ish Rest, drink heavily.
9 ish Thank remaining guest for coming, then pass out from exhaustion.

This is hard work but you don’t have to lift a finger if you just want to come chill. I may (hopefully) fire up the grill (depends on how much help I have). There will be beer to sample, but it’s limited so BYOB is encouraged. For those who do help, I will be breaking out some rarities from my secret stash to share. I’ll also make sure to give you some of the finished product (it’s a lager, so you’ll have to wait 2 months). I also plan on live blogging with picture this brewday on my website for those of you who can’t make it. If you do plan on coming, please email me at jasoncarpenter1974@gmail.com for directions and to let me know what time you think you’ll arrive. You’re welcome to coffee & breakfast if you plan on helping at the start. Everyone is welcome to come whenever and stay until 9ish, when I anticipate being so tired I involuntarily pass out.

Cheers,

Ratchet


#KnoxBeer Brewers Summit round up and @TheCasualPint opens new location

July 16, 2012

It keeps getting better and better to be a craft beer lover here in Knoxville. Yes, we’re no Asheville, Denver, Grand Rapids or even Atlanta when it comes to what we have available, but things are changing in our “scruffy little city“. Helping to lead this change are the local brewers, bloggers, shops, bars, and craft beer lovers. It is also changing because consumers are becoming more and more savy about craft beer. The turn out and support of the recent Brewers Summit is proof positive of this. This event sold out with over 150 people in attendance enjoying great beer, an excellent presentation and world class cheese. I served 5 gallons of my Mulberry Stout on Nitrogen, and got some great feedback. Many members of both the Knox Beer Crew and the TN Valley Homebrewers were in attendance. Panel members included Aaron Carson of Kingsport Oktoberfest who emceed the event, Linus Hall from Yazoo Brewing Company, Chris Hunt from Moccasin Bend Brewing, Erich Allen from Studio Brew, Marty Vellas from Smoky Mountain Brewery, Dave Ohmer from Saw Works Brewing and Danielle Elks, Executive Director of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The panel was very informative and Danielle spoke at some length about the laws and tax issues surround beer in this state. The good news is that according to her, the state legislature is open to changing the laws. During the panel, we were treated to some great food by both Nama Sushi and The Pizza Kitchen. After the panel we were treated to amazing beer and cheese pairing by Michael Landis, cheese master for ANCO fine cheese.

What a great event! Gallons of beer were drank, tons of food consumed, cheese savored, new friendships formed and money raised for the Tennessee Craft Brewers Guild. Thank you everyone who came and supported this event, here’s hoping that we do it again next year. I took some video of this and will post it here for your viewing pleasure. I didn’t get the whole panel or any of Danielle’s talk, but I did get a few highlights. Sorry the video is so grainy.

Hopefully everyone is already aware that The Casual Pint is opening a new location, downtown. As I speak with friends, they are all pleasantly surprized to find out that it opens THIS FRIDAY!!! Yes, that’s right, Friday the 20th will see the newest edition to Downtown’s beer scene open it’s doors. Guess who will be beertending there? That’s right, ME. I am  honored to join The Casual Pint team. I have been a customer, friend and supporter for awhile and couldn’t be happier to be behind the bar. The new location is on Union Avenue which is the street between Market Square and Krutch Park. It’s right around the corner right next to the new Tree and Vine. For the opening event, there will be a cask of Saw Work’s Brown Ale with vanilla bean pods soaking in it. Should be quite tasty and I hope to see you all there. Also a note for the Knox Beer Crew, our monthly meeting will be at this new location, same date and time. I hope everyone can make it.
A few friends have asked me why I am leaving Suttree’s, like there is some expectation of drama. Sorry to disappoint, but there simply isn’t any. I still have much love, respect and admiration for Suttree’s. Everything about the High Gravity Tavern is great. The owners, employees and customers are and will continue to be some of my favorite people. I am doing an event this Wednesday at 6 pm there. The rep from New Belgium is coming in and we are going to infuse the Ranger IPA with hops and the Trippel with mystery ingredients. I am also told that there will be free NB swag and glasses given away during the event. This is something I sincerely hope you do not miss.
My last regular shift there will be on Saturday during the day. My hope is that they will let me continue doing mid-week special events. I will miss working there and am glad I could help them get going. As far as beertending, the crew there is fantastic and will have no problems going along without me. I plan on still being there quite a bit, but this time on the customer side of the bar. I will no doubt be supporting them while tasting delicious high gravity beers every chance I get.
Ok, so here is a sneak peak of the new Casual Pint location. Keep in mind that these photos are from an unfinished store. I was there yesterday helping to stock shelves. When viewing these photos keep in mind that there is still a lot of installation, cleaning, detailing and rearranging that will occur before Friday.

The Casual Pint downtown preopening

The new Casual Pint location, looking towards the bar

Shelving at Casual Pint

Damian stocking the shelves

another view of the bar

from behind the bar

seating

Looking out towards Union Ave.

One last thing before I sign off. I just got word that tickets to the Kingsport Oktoberfest went on sale today. This was arguably my favorite event I attended last year. This year promises to be bigger and better. Don’t get left out and wait until last minute, get your tickets now. The event is anticipated to sell out a lot sooner then last year’s did.

As always your comments are welcome. If we met at the Brewers Summit, I’d like to hear from you.

Cheers,

Ratchet


Last chance to get tickets to http://brewerssummit.com

July 6, 2012

Friday July 13th is the Brewer’s Summit. This is your last week to get tickets to what is surely going to be a great event. We want you to get tickets, we need you to get tickets. This is a fund raiser for the Tennessee Craft Brewers Guild. A group from all over the state that plans on working for change when it comes to beer laws and taxes in our fine state.
This is not a big event. Only a 150 tickets are being sold, and most of those are already gone. Click this link, buy your tickets, then come back and read the rest of this post.

Ok you’re back? I wanted to mention how this heat has effected my brewing schedule. I haven’t brewed a batch of beer in approximately 3 weeks or more. I have a batch of stout that I need to keg. I still have plenty of beer, and a few kegs left over from Brew Fest. I am also pretty broke. I have base grains, but unless my budget frees up, I don’t have the funds to purchase specialty grains, hops or yeast. The reason for this is that my last car died and I had to use my meager savings and max out my lines of credit to purchase a new one. I should be out of debt within 3 months, and I am hoping to be able to brew again sooner then that. Someone asked me if I had planned to brew a saison and take advantage of this heat for fermentation. I had not considered that, primarly because I am not really a fan of saisons. There are a few I like, but rather not brew one. Honestly, at this point I want to brew another batch of my Rauchbier, another IPA and then start brewing for fall. I want to brew an Oktoberfest Marzen Lager and then my yearly batch of Butternut Squash Ale.

One more thing I want to mention on this post. The downtown Knoxville location of The Casual Pint is tenatively set to open on July 21st. To kick this off, Saw Works Brewing is having a cask night. It looks as though I will be beertending part time at The Casual Pint. I stopped by and spoke with Nathan about becoming part of the team, and I’d like to thank him for the opportunity. Make sure to like The Casual Pint on Facebook and follow on twitter to stay up to date about the opening of the newest location. When it does open, I hope to see you there.

Cheers,

Ratchet


Report on the Thirsty Orange Brew Extravaganza @ThirstyOrange

April 19, 2012

This is my third attempt to write about last weekend’s Thirsty Orange beer festival in Johnson City. My original idea was to live blog from the festival. I even set up the page the night before. However, there was so much to do and I was so busy it just wasn’t possible to live blog. I hardly even had time to take my phone out of my pocket to check emails, text and tweets.
So here it is, almost a week later. Let’s see how much I can actually recall.
Here’s some background first. I am currently moving. Everyone knows that packing and moving is a big pain in the ass. Luckily I pretty much have a whole month to do it. I am renting a slighly bigger house on a hill that is closer to downtown. The view is pretty great and the fact that I have a whole basement to brew in is what sold me on the house.

Well, I have a brew schedule that I am trying to stick to. I didn’t want to try to move my fermentation fridge and carboys while they were in mid-fermentation. So I did what any slightly crazed beer obessessed homebrewer would do. I got up extra early Friday morning and started brewing. I ended up mashing in around 5:30 am. I figured, if I was going to move full carboys that I should do it right after brewing so the sloshing caused by the car ride would help oxygenate the wort. Yeast needs oxygen to help get it going. So as I brewed, I cleaned. I moved my small lagering chest freezer into the back of the van. Once I was done brewing my Maibock, I drove the whole set up to, and set it up in, the basement of the house I’m moving in to. I plugged in the fridge and thermostat control and put the two 5 gallon carboys to ferment at 48 degrees. I was done completely around 11 am. I then went over to the Downtown Grill and Brewery and picked up the Woodruff Brewing beer that I took to the festival.

I than went home and packed the van full of tubs, beer, kegs, ice and merchandise.  I then drove to Johnson City. Arriving there I quickly checked into my room. The festival site was at the Mellow Mushroom just down the road, so I headed there to meet with the organizers. I stashed the kegs in the walk in cooler, had a beer and taked plans for the next day. Well as you can imagine, I was exhausted from getting up at 4:45 am that day to brew. I knew Saturday was going to be hectic, so I went back to the hotel and passed out early.

Saturday morning, I rolled out of bed, made some crappy hotel coffee and headed to the site. I was still pretty tired and the crappy hotel coffee just wasn’t kicking in. Thank goodness one of the guys there, Andrew, had brought a carafe of great coffee to share. After “irishing up” a cup of it with a shot of baileys, I was good to go.

While crews set up tents and generally prepared the site for the days festivities, I worked on getting my table, kegs and jockey box set up. I was also on infuser duty. I had my own infuser to run beer through and the festival had it’s own. Responsible for the festival’s infuser was a cool dude (who I had the pleasure of working with) that they called Flipper. I showed him the ropes on how to pack it, how to set up the lines, etc. He picked up on it rather quickly and was able to take the infuser around  and fresh infuse different beers with different ingredients all day. It was definitely a hit of the festival.

Well once the gates were open, things were hectic. I still hadn’t completely set up my merchandise when a line began to form at my table. I was very greatful that the festival organizers had provided me with someone to assist me at my booth, as I honestly could not have done it by myself. Right at the start, I had a beer line break in my jockey box. My first clue that it occured was when beer started pouring out the sides. I lost the whole keg of chocolate ale that I had brewed for the Iron Brewer challenge. I had to cut the bad section of line out and rehook it up to a different keg.

Once all the kinks were worked out, the festival went really well. I did my share of drinking, slipping away from my booth a few minutes at a time to try other beers. I met more then a few really cool people, fellow homebrewers from all over and tried many great brews. It was also really good to see and hang out with my Knox Beer Crew friends who had made the trip up from Knoxville. They left before the end of the festival, but we did have time to squeeze into the on site beer photo booth and get our pictures taken.

Well I stayed until the very end, and was the last brewer set up and pouring until my ride came and got me. I packed up, said my goodbyes and went back to the hotel. After settling in, I went downstairs to get something out of the van and realized that there was a comedy show taking place in the hotel’s restaurant. I drunkenly wandered in and sat in the back unlit portion of the space and laughed for awhile. Then I wandered back upstairs and passed out.

It was a great festival and Aaron and his crew always put together a good event. As far as I could see, everything went smoothly and everyone had a fun time. If this happens again next year, you can count me in to be there.

Ok, will this is all for now. I don’t feel like this write up is all that good, but I had to post something. If you read this and were at the Thirsty Orange, please leave a comment with your thoughts below.

Cheers,

Ratchet

Announcing some of the Homebrew contest winners at Thirsty Orange

 


Yeast, you can’t make beer without it.

December 8, 2011

As part of my never ending obsession to become the best possible beer brewer I can be, I’ve taken the next step. In the past I have always bought a fresh package of yeast whenever I planned on brewing. Yeast is expensive as far a beer ingredients go. I can get a good powdered yeast such as Safale US-05 or 04 for $3.99 a package at the local hombrew shop. Since it is never good to under pitch the amount needed, I end up buy 3 or 4 packs. The other type of yeast I use is liquid yeast from Wyeast. These are really expensive, around $8 for a “smack pack“. My local homebrew supply shop only keeps three different strains in stock, so when I want a different one, I have to factor in the cost of a cold pack and shipping as well. I usually pitch 2 or 3 packs for my 10 gallon batches. Like I said, can be a bit pricey. My other option for yeast is great, I can always ask the brewmaster, Jennifer for some yeast from Marble City Brewing Company. She dumps more yeast in 1 batch then most homebrewers use in a year. It’s a great strain (California Ale Yeast), however working out the timing to meet her at the brewery can be tricky. So I’ve added another peice of equipment to my collection.
  For a long time, I’ve wanted an Erlenmeyer Flask and a stir plate. Every once in awhile, I pull up my wish list at Rebel Brewer.com and daydream about various ingredients and equipment I want (yes, I know I’m a dork). With the stir plate and flask, I would think how nice it would be to make a large yeast starter so I would only need 1 package of yeast. I knew I’d need the largest started kit they offer, since I brew more then the average 5 gallons at once. Well, my mom recently asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I sent her a link to the Rebel Brewer page. The next thing I know, a box from them shows up on my door step. I have the best mom ever! Not only did she get me this, but she also got me a membership to the American Homebrewer Association. That is something I have wanted for as long as I’ve been brewing! Now that I have my flask and stir plate, I went ahead and ordered 1 package of Rogue’s Pacman yeast strain. I will brew with it, and when I move the beer to the secondary, I will harvest and store the yeast. This part is new to me. It’s something I have never done before, and I’m a little bit nervous about it. I found a ton of information online and plan on using this webpage as my guide. I would like nothing more then to build up a great yeast library, and never have to buy it again.
So yes, I plan on making a batch again this weekend. I haven’t brewed for about a month. That last post where I said I was going to brew this weekend? It didn’t happen. I figured I had more beer then places to store it, I should drink down my stash a little bit first. A few weekend bon-fire parties later and I have space again. I plan on making another Cocoa Stout because my last batch (the one with peppers) is freakin’ amazing.

Alright topic switch. Here is what I currently have on tap and bottled at my house,with my tasting notes.
On tap:

Butternut Squash Ale. This is the 1st batch I made this year, when I was still getting use to my equipment. It is more thick, heavier, spicier and alcoholic then my next 2 batches. I like this the least. My friends who try it says it’s awesome, but I consider this my “learning batch” and I don’t feel like it lives up to my standards. I’ll be glad when this keg is empty. My subsequent batches of this beer however, are incredibly good and have earned me props from some of the most grizzled, cynical and critical beer snob members of the homebrew club.

Cream Soda. Yes I know it’s not a beer, but I included it because I do have it on tap in the fridge. My kid made this. It’s good, he is proud of his creation, and I’m proud of him. He is going to be one hell of a brewer when he grows up.

Woodruff’s New World Porter. NOT a homebrew. The Brewers filled up one of my 5 gallon kegs for me for $40. At that price, how could I NOT have this on tap? When I got my infuser, I ran this thorugh shaved coconut and raw cocao nibs. It was just like drinking an almond joy. Because it was so good, we drank around half the keg over Thanksgiving weekend. I plan on keeping one of Woodruff’s tasty creations in my fridge at all times. When this is empty, I’ll get their IPA next.

It All Went Black, Cascadian Dark Ale. This is the beer I ran a contest to name in my last post. Mark Baggett, one of our local #KnoxBeer tweeps named it. I still got to get him is six pack (Holla Mark!). I like this beer. It does taste more chocolatey then I expected, but then again, I did use 2 pounds of pale chocolate malt in the recipe. I do like it however. Nice and hoppy, very drinkable. If I make this again, I will dial back on the chocolate malts. Homebrewing is nothing if it ain’t a learning experience.

Spicy Cocoa Stout. Saved the best for last. This beer is great! It’s better then great! It’s freakin’ fantastic! This is definitely one of the best beers I have ever brewed. On tap it’s nice and smooth, big cocoa taste at first, then you get the spicy pepper heat on the finish. Pepper and chocolate are perfectly balanced. It warms me up when I drink it, just as I intended with this recipe. This will be my winter seasonal from now on.

Bottle conditioned beers:

Spicy Cocoa Stout, Butternut Squash Ale and Cascadian Dark. The Butternut Squash ale I save to give out for Christmas presents.

Alright, I still want to hear from you if you read my blog. Leave a post below. Maybe we can meet up sometime and you can sample one of my brews.

Cheers,

Ratchet


The curse of the serious home brewer – upgrade fever.

November 16, 2011

I’ve had a serious case of blogger’s block lately. This is the 3rd post that I’ve drafted since my last update. I deleted the other ones because they just kind of fizzled out. I’m sitting here and sipping on a New World Porter from Woodruff Brewing Company and I have finally figured out what to write about.
I consider myself to be a serious home brewer. Everybody knows home brewing is my hobby, but I know very few other home brewers that invest themselfs in it like I do. Hell, outside of my family and my job, home brewing beer defines me. Where other people I know dream of saving for a vacation to the beach or buying new records or clothes, I dream of visiting breweries and buying better beer making equipment. Which is exactly what I have done this week.
I’ve been lucky enough to make a little extra money on the side doing game day parking at my office. With it I figured I could buy some gear that will improve the quality of my brews. I’ve been looking at counter-flow bottling systems for several years now. Just like any purchase I make, it takes me an incredibly long time to make up my mind on exactly which brand I want to get. Each one has it’s own pros and cons to consider. I’ve been leaning towards buying the Blichmann Beer Gun for awhile. However, after further research and a conversation that I had with a pro brewer, I went with the deluxe version bottle filler offered by More Beer. I like that it fills from the bottom of the bottle up, and that it flushes out the oxygen with CO2 first. Up until now, I’ve been naturally carbonating my beer. This is done by adding priming sugar when I bottle. The remaining yeast cells eat the sugar and create the carbonation. I’ve made great beer this way, and have so for year. So how will using a counter-pressure system improve my beer? Well, hopefully in several ways. As great as bottle conditioning is, things can go wrong. Yeast can autolyze, creating off flavors. Too much carbonation and your beer can foam really bad when you pour it, or even worse, bottles can explode. Luckily, that hasn’t happened to me in over 10 years, but I still am careful to store my beers in coolers to minimize mess if it does. Oxidation is a big concern of mine as well. There nothing like going to pour a beer and realizing a whole batch has gone stale due to extra oxygen that was picked up during the bottling process. With counter pressure filling, I won’t have to worry about this so much.
It’s pretty simple how this works. I’ll flush out the oxygen out of the empty keg with carbon dioxide and then keg my beer. Then I’ll force carbonate it. Whenever I want to bring bottles somewhere, I’ll simply sanitize however many I want, then fill them directly from the keg using the bottle filler. This should cut down significantly on the amount of storage space I need.
Not to say I won’t ever bottle condition beer. In fact I plan on doing just that with a few from every batch. Some higher gravity beers, and styles like Imperial Stouts and Barley Wines benefit from extended bottle conditioning. Instead of going through the trouble of measuring out tiny amounts of bottling sugar, I’ll just use tabs. I don’t plan on bottle conditioning more then 10 beers out of every batch anyway.
Another major reason I purchased the counter pressure filler is for non alcoholic drinks. My 7 year old son makes his own sodas (with my help & guidance, of course). We always keg his creations. The reason being is that to bottle conditioned soda, you have to use yeast which creates yucky off flavors. If we fill the bottles under pressure with already carbonated soda, he can bring them to a friends house, birthday party or whatever. Just like me and my beers, he takes great joy in sharing something yummy that he made with his friends. I can also give him all the clear bottles I keep, since you don’t have to worry about soda getting “light struck” like you do with beer.

My new bottle filler

The other piece of equipment I purchased this week was a filtering system. I’ve been looking and researching these for awhile as well, but not to the extent that I have with counter-pressure fillers. Filtering will also improve my beer, mostly the look of it. Pretty much every home brewer has issues with chill haze. This is caused by proteins in the beer that make it cloudy when it’s cold. This doesn’t effect the flavor in any way. It’s really just an issue of presentation more then anything. My brewing techniques have improved significantly over the years, but I still get chill haze from time to time. Filtering may also help improve the flavor by taking out tiny particles of yeast, proteins and polyphenols. I purchased my filter from Home Brew Stuff. The one I bought I can also use as a infuser, which is what I think it will get the most use as. I can run my IPAs and Pale Ales through extra hops, and my Stouts and Porters through coffee beans or cacao nibs. Hell if I’m feeling adventurous, I can run my beer through fruit if I want. Which is what I may do if I’m serving it at a festival.
Both of these upgrades are dependent on my kegging system. I currently have 6 five gallon corny kegs, 3 gallon and a 2.5 gallon. I’ll need to use 4 kegs to filter 10 gallons. I also have 2 Carbon Dioxide tanks, a 10 and a 5 pound. I have 2 regulators, one of which I need to get replacement gauges for. My beer fridge is a chest freezer with thermostat control. It has the capacity to fit all of my full kegs at once. The beer has to be kept cold in order for the C02 to absorb. I got the feeling that once I’m up and running at full capacity, I’ll be looking for more kegs and another chest freezer to add to my set up. I’ll cross that bridge if and when I ever get there.

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Ok, Random recipe, here’s a pale ale I plan on brewing Thanksgiving weekend.

C & C American Pale Ale -10 gallon recipe

20 pounds 2 row Pale Ale Malt
1 pound Dark Crystal malt (75L)
2 ounces Citra hops.
2 ounces Cascade hops.
2 whirlfloc tablets
Strike crushed grains with 8 gallons of 163 degree water
hold grains at 152 degrees for 60 minutes.
Sparge with 7.2 gallons of 179 degree water
bring to boil, add 1 ounce of Cascade hops.
30 minutes, add 1 ounce of Citra.
Last 10 minutes add another ounce of Cascade.
Last 5 minutes of the boil, add the whirfloc tablets.
Add last ounce of hops at end of boil.
Rapidly cool and pitch with 3 packages of Safale- US-05 dry yeast or Wyeast or White Labs California Ale Yeast.

If you read this blog, I’d love to hear from you. I have more then a few beer and brewery stickers I have collected at festivals. The next 6 people to post a comment, I’ll mail you a beer sticker from my collection.

Cheers,

Ratchet.