Monday, November 19, 2012

Epic Failure 2

My second attempt at brewing a J.R.R. Tolkienish old world ale was as disastrous as the first attempt back in January 2011.  Both were named Northfarthing.  Both brews went well but both were a dismal disappointment at tasting.  Both had to be dumped down the drain.
The first one had a wild yeast infection and turned into thin tasting gushers.  This one I think went bad because of a bad batch of reused yeast.  As a result I've decided to not wash yeast anymore.  Washing yeast may save about $6 per batch but considering the increased chance of infection and how expensive (and disappointing) a ruined batch of beer is, I think it's not worth it.
Not that I'm superstitious but if I try again to make a Middle Earth ale I won't use the name "Northfarthing"!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Storing fresh hops

After the hops are harvested two things need to be done:  drying them and storing them.
I'd heard about the simple process of laying the fresh hops out on a window screen in a dark room with a fan and that was easy for me.
So I put a spare window screen on a couple of sawhorses in the spare bedroom and spread out the hops on it.  I put a tower fan next to the screen to blow across the hop cones:
After 2 days the cones were dry enough and now needed to be packaged.  Fortunately we have a vacuum sealer thanks to Grandpa Dick so I was able to vacuum seal the dried hop cones in plastic bags for future use.
Ironically the beer I was to brew the next day, my Honey Basil Ale, made with homegrown hops and basil could have been made with fresh "wet" hops but I had dried the whole batch!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hop harvest!

I'd read that hops don't really produce much until the second year, however mine grew clear up the tall side of our house, about 30 feet, by August and produced a 5 gallon bucket of hop cones in September!
It's hard to know when to harvest but when it seemed right (when the cones are papery) I called upon my assistant brewers, Tristan and Sofia, to help me bring in the harvest.
First I cut down the twines on which the hop vines (called "bines") had grown and then separated the varieties of bines into separate bins.  I put them on a large sheet in the family room.
Then we went to work picking the cones off of the bines.  It's tedious work and the bines are prickly but Tristan and Sofia were real troopers.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Vancouver Brewfest 2012

Today I volunteered at the first annual Vancouver Brewfest!  It was a blast!
I served for 3 hours from noon to 3 pm.  I chose to pour for Oakshire Brewing Co. out of Eugene, Oregon.  As chance would have it, I ended up pouring next to Haley and Sean Easton!  On my other side was another homebrewer.
One of the omissions of this first brewfest was a lack of information about the beers being served.  So I used what I knew about Line Dry Rye and Overcast Espresso Stout (Oakshire's offerings for this festival) along with information that Sean was able to pull up from his smart phone to answer peoples' questions about the beers we were serving.  Both are excellent beers and were top of my list to sample when my shift was over.
The perks for volunteering were great.  We got free admission, a free t-shirt and a cup and 8 tokens to use any time during the festival.  Cyndy joined me after my shift and we went around Esther Short Park sampling the offerings and enjoying the live music from the main stage.

The beers I tried and my scoring are:
Oakshire's Line Dry Rye *****
Oakshire's Overcast Espresso Stout *****
Stone's Arrogant Bastard *****
Walking Man's Belgian Session *****
Mt. Tabor's Hudson's Bay CDA *****
McMennamin's What's Wheating Gilbert Grapefruit ****
Dick's Brewing's Dick Danger Ale ****
West Highland's Mango Ale *

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Growing my own hops

Tired of always paying good money for ingredients I can grow myself, I decided after much consideration to plant my own hops.
Armed with information on how to grow them (especially how to give them enough space to grow), I headed over to Bader Brewing and bought 3 rhizomes in April when they arrived.  I decided to grow the 3 varieties that I've used most:  Northern Brewer (English), Hallertau (German) and of course Cascade (US).
I planted each rhizome about 3 feet apart on the South side of our house.  I strung 2 strings of twine for each plant up to the roofline (about 30 feet) and fertilized the plants well and kept them watered.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Brewing on a budget

Now that funds are tight for affording this great hobby I'm glad that I've stocked up on supplies.
It's always a good idea to buy the 50 lb. bag of your basic base malts such as American 2-row and now I'm glad I did.
Also stocking up on the old standby hops like Cascade or Northern Brewer or E.K. Goldings when you find them at a good price is smart.  They keep a long time in your freezer if kept in the oxygen barrier bags they come in.
I'm so glad that I canned starter wort too since now I have starters available for my next 6 brews.  It's also practical and economical to save the yeast from the fermenter from your last brew to use in future brews.  Stored correctly they can be kept viable for a couple of months.
So, now if I can come up with a good recipe for the yeast, hops and grain I have on hand, I can brew the next batch or two without ANY outlay of cash!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

MacTarnahan's Spring Sling Shot

I just tried MacTarnahan's spring release today.  This is an excellent beer that I would gladly brew!
It's quite malt-forward with a slightly sweet finish.  Lightly hopped, just enough to balance the considerable malt presence.  With the light caramel note as well as the very pale color, I'd guess at 1 pound of Crystal 15L and to get to 6.2% ABV it probably uses 12 lbs. of American 2-row Pale Ale Malt.  A very pleasant beer indeed.
Get it while you can!

This is what they say are its ingredients:
Sling Shot Pale Ale
Malts: 2 Row Pale, and Caramel
Hops: Nugget and Cascade
Bitternes: 27 IBU
Alcohol By Volume: 6.2%

Friday, March 2, 2012

Tubing Tip

It's a small thing but I found something else useful for my aeration aquarium pump.  I found that pumping air through the tubing I cleaned helped to dry them out so I didn't get water spots.  Notice in the first picture that the tube attached to the pump was clean and nearly dry in 15 minutes and the other was still wet and attracting bacteria after 12 hours.

Best Stout Yet

Today I bottled the clone of Rogue's Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout that Donny and I made.  This one tastes so good that I wanted to drink it right from the bottling bucket!
I used all stubby bottles this time with black caps.  Either this was a really good recipe and/or the improvements I implemented on this brew really paid off.
This batch yielded 53 bottles at a cost of only 65 cents per bottle! (Including the labels yet to be created.)

Homebrewer's reflection:  If the beer is really good, you want to share it and have little left for yourself.  If the beer didn't turn out well, you've got the whole batch to yourself!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Beer Is Healthy!

Quoted from
The health benefits of beer (in moderation of course) have long been expounded in a variety of medical studies. Beer loving scientists from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the New England Journal of Medicine have respectively shown that a beer a day can lessen your chance of coronary heart disease by 30% and of having a stroke by 20%. Beer is an excellent stress reliever, does not contain any cholesterol or fat, promotes lower blood pressure, and aids in sleep. Beer also contains vitamin B6 which is known to prevent homocystein build-up in your blood which is tied to peripheral vascular disease and the formation of blood clots.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Aquarium Pump Aeration

One of the best and cheapest ways to aerate your wort for good yeast health is to use an inexpensive aquarium pump and an inline sterile air filter (not pictured).
This setup costs less than $20 at PetSmart, though your local homebrew store probably sells a full kit as well.
Yeast wants 8 to 10 parts per million of oxygen in the wort for healthy reproduction during the lag phase of fermentation.
Dr. Brad Smith in Home Brewing with BeerSmith says, "even the relatively cheap aquarium pump injection system can achieve the 8 ppm ideal aeration level needed for your wort."
He suggests running the pump for one hour after pitching your yeast.
What's needed:
Small aquarium pump, aquarium air line, inline sterile filter and an airstone to diffuse the bubbles.
Just remember to sanitize the air line and airstone!

Insulated Brew Kettle

One of the difficulties of the brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) method is the challenge of keeping the mash at a steady temperature for 60 to 90 minutes.  In previous brews I either saw huge swings in temperature or was constantly firing the burner and stirring.  After reading an article in Brew Your Own magazine on the effect of insulation on the mash tun I determined that just 1 inch of insulation would make a huge difference.

So, using some foam rubber that came with our patio table, I cut a wrap to go around my keg/kettle and a foam rubber lid that was 2 inches thick.  A bungee cord to keep it in place completed the crude insulation blanket.

This worked better than expected!  During a 90 minute mash I only had to remove the "blanket" and fire up the burner once.  This mash stayed right at 152°F for the majority of the time and only varied between 154° and 148°; perfect for this mash at the low end of the range.

Brew-In-A-Bag Sparge Tip

Hearing about this tip on a podcast on TheBrewingNetwork I decided to give it a try.  One of the big hassles of the BIAB method is the difficulty of lifting out the bag of grain and letting it drain into another vessel and then trying to pour hot water over the bag to rinse out the remaining sugars without making a big mess.

With this method, you simply lift the bag, set a grate over the pot and a bucket with holes in the bottom on top of that and then simply set your bag of grain in the bucket to drain directly into the kettle!  When you sparge, it's much easier and cleaner to simply pour the water over the grains in the bucket and let it all drain for as long as you want -- no liquid loss, no messy spills, no additional vessel to clean and more efficient sparging.

To make this you simply drill a bunch of ¼" holes in the bottom of a bucket and use a practical grate (could even be a barbecue grate) to support the bucket on top of your brew kettle.  I used hardware cloth and it was plenty strong enough to support the weight.

We tried this method the last time I brewed with Cody up in Tacoma in January for his Double Mocha Porter and he and I both agreed it was much better.

Water Chemisty

For the first time, I adjusted the water chemistry for my Shakespeare Stout Clone.  In reviewing the water report for Vancouver I saw that our water is generally good for homebrewing but a couple of items (called "contaminants" in the report) were weak.

Sulfate (SO4) was 2 to 12 ppm (parts per million) and homebrews want 10 to 50 ppm for light lagers and light beers and 30 to 70 ppm for ales and darker beers.
Calcium (Ca) was 12 to 38 ppm and homebrewing needs 50 to 150 ppm.
Magnesium (Mg) also was a little weak at 6.2 to 11 ppm with homebrews needing 10 to 30 ppm.

Simply adding gypsum (CaSO4) and epsom salts (MgSO4) corrected these issues.  Plugging the numbers into BeerSmith's water chemistry tool told me I needed ½ tsp. of epsom salts and 1 tsp. of gypsum for the right balance.
Both of these I had on hand so the fix was simple.
My son, Cody said that his father-in-law routinely adds gypsum to his homebrew kettle down in Roseburg, Ore., probably for the same reason.

Saturday Brew Day

Donny Abbott and I brewed a clone of Rogue's Shakespeare Stout on Saturday.  We used my brew-in-a-bag system with some new modifications which I'll cover in additional posts.
In spite of 3 boys to watch this was fun for us and was probably my smoothest and best "everything-worked-right" brew day.  A big thank you to Donny (and Jack) for the assistance and company!  Your interest and enthusiasm made my day.
This is a big beer calling for over 14 lbs. of grain for a 5 gallon batch.  And for the first time ever my original gravity came in higher than the recipe called out, at 1.074 !!

In brief, what I did differently this time:
  • Adjusted water chemistry
  • Insulated my brew kettle/keg
  • Used my new bucket and grate sparging method
  • Used DME to hit my pre-boil gravity
  • Aerated the wort with an aquarium pump

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Concordia Ale House


Valentine's Day at Concordia Ale House!

My good wife Cyndy and I had our Valentine dinner at the celebrated Concordia Ale House near our old alma mater Concordia University in Portland.  Tuesdays are celebrated here by offering $2 bottles of craft beers; a total of 22 kinds to choose from!

I tried Dick's Brown Ale and Pike Naughty Nellie.  Both were great! Dick's Brown was a classic mellow and smooth brown ale without noticeable hoppiness.  It had a great malty finish, slightly sweet at the back of the tongue.  Naughty Nellie, described as a "golden aritisan ale" was exactly that, golden -- a little fuller in mouthfeel than an American Ale but with a great noble hop aroma and flavor.
We'd never been to CAH. before but the food was good and the waitstaff friendly (she even let me keep the bottle).  The interior is a little spartan for dining but the bar with its 22 rotating taps is its biggest claim to fame.  Best of all, I didn't see any "fizzy yellow corn juice" listed!

Seasonal Beer Brewing

I read an article on Seasonal Beer Brewing in Brad Smith's book, Home Brewing with BeerSmith and thought I'd share the link to it from their website here:

Like Brad, it seems like I never have the right beer brewed in time for the season, though I did nail it last fall when I brewed 5 beers to give as gifts: a stout, a Christmas ale, a brown ale but also an herbed ale and a pale ale.  But generally the beer I want to drink is not what I've got in the beererator.

So I'm going to print this list and put it in my brewing binder as a reference as well as an excuse to brew every season!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Canning Wort

Canned Wort
This idea came from a podcast on  When creating a yeast starter you need a small quantity of extract, a mini-brew of sorts.  Using dry malt extract is expensive and not always available in your home brewery.  So the solution is to brew up a small batch of beer without hops for future use. Unfortunately sweet, unfermented wort is vulnerable to infection by bacteria and wild yeasts.
So the solution is to "can" the wort with a pressure cooker.  That way you can store it indefinitely and at room temperature, making pitching the yeast for your next starter so easy since you won't have to sterilize the wort by boiling and then cooling it down to room temperature for the yeast.
You make a small batch of beer say, 2 gallons with 3 pounds of 2-row pale malt and then put it in canning jars in a pressure cooker.  The process is quick because the pressure cooker only needs to bring the wort up from the boiling temperature of 212°F to 250°F.  This will give you about 7 quarts of wort good for about 7 batches of beer!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Brew In A Bag

Brew-In-A-Bag (BIAB)
After hearing about this method of all-grain brewing on the Brew Strong podcast (at, and at I decided to give it a try using a converted keg and propane burner from my neighbor as my mash tun and burner.  It made switching to all-grain simple and affordable.
The advantages of all-grain brewing:
• Grain is less expensive than extract
• Better control of the body and mouthfeel of your beer through mash temperature control
• Ability to use specialty grains that must be mashed to convert their sugars
• To be able to brew any recipe
• Better control of how your beer turns out
The advantages of BIAB:
• Least expensive way to convert to all-grain from extract
• Shorter brew day
• Less clean up
• The ability to change the temperature of the mash; easier multi-step mashes
Disadvantages of BIAB:
Lower brewhouse efficiency due to no lautering
• Difficult to maintain a steady temperature for the mash
• Hot-side aeration complications

Bridgeport Dark Rain

I tried Bridgeport's Dark Rain last night.  The label reads:
"The Pacific Northwest's rain is almost as famous as its beer.  Dark Rain, an intensely hopped, yet surprisingly smooth black ale, will shower your taste buds with roasted malt and chocolate flavors derived from black wheat and dark crystal malt."
I found it smooth and pleasing but lacking any hop flavor or aroma.  Ignoring that "intensely hopped" description, it's a great beer similar to Dick Danger Ale from Dick's Beer in Centralia. I find I like a dark ale for times when I want something dark but not the harshness of a stout.  I would recommend this beer.

Label Removal Tip

A half scoop of OxyClean or equivalent in one gallon of warm water will totally lift off commercial labels if allowed to soak overnight!