Thursday, November 13, 2014

Delayed paradise

It's pretty cold outside. We got a couple inches of snow around here in some spots, and the roads are pretty slick.

It's pretty cold inside, too. At least my yeast seems to think so.

I noticed this morning, before I left for work, that the persistent bubbling had stopped in my airlock. The warm glow around the top of the bucket was gone. It was cold, but I didn't have time to fix it. I nudged it a few times, provided exhortations on productivity and teamwork, and went on my way.

I got back from hockey practice tonight and saw it was still halted. I whipped off the top and took measurements with my (sanitized!) thermometer and hydrometer. The hydrometer read a specific gravity of 1.018-- not quite where I want to be when I rack this thing to the secondary fermenter for conditioning. It's not quite done fermenting yet. And the thermometer told me why: 59 degrees F, on the very low end of the range for the yeast.

A quick search on Homebrew Talk showed that many people have ways of controlling temperature in cold conditions, like blankets or even heating blankets. So, I parked my bucket in the bathroom (which is always warm) and wrapped it with a towel. Hopefully, I can find ways to keep Rhys out of it for about 48 hours. Then we'll see if I got anywhere.

It worked! Well, I hope it did. The airlock is bubbling along this morning. The question remains: is it because of the Ideal Gas Law (increase in temp is causing an increase in volume and expelling gas from the headspace) or because of fermentation? Tonight, I'll check the specific gravity. If it's lower than 1.018, we'll have our answer.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A failure to plan is a plan to beer

8:00- Wake up before Rhys. Enjoy the experience of watching my son sleep in the lowlight before gently waking him.
8:30- He eats whatever I feed him. No mess. Shorty is cool with it all.
9:00- Carrie sanitized all my equipment before leaving for work, so I can get straight to brewing. Rhys has put himself down for an early nap.
9:30- Steeping grains ends, boil starts. Rhys is still asleep. Shorty catches a mouse. I find 2.5 gallons of pre-distilled water just laying around and add it to the fermenting bucket.
10:30- Boil is over. I put the pot down in an ice bath and don't spill any wort. Rhys wakes up at that moment, singing We Are The Champions in perfect pitch. Shorty turns away a solicitor.
10:45- Wort is down to 70 degrees F. I toss it into the fermenting bucket, and the trub vanishes into thin air. Shorty compliments my choice of Willamette hops as a finish.
11:00- Airlock is bubbling steadily. Rhys dresses himself.
11:30- The three of us go on a walk to pick up lunch and meet Carrie at work.

But really...

6:30- Experience Stalker-Rhys waking me up with slaps in the face.
7:30- Figure out what to feed him. Carrie has left for work.
8:30- Rhys has eaten (something) and is now thumbing through books. I am sanitizing when I realize Shorty is holding his bladder like a champ.
8:45- Rhys tries to climb into my fermenting bucket, which is still wet with sanitizer.
9:00- Rhys is in the bath. He loses it when I take away something sharp that he had hidden until just then.
9:30- Rhys has stopped crying. Shorty is complaining about being out of water. I have finished sanitizing, but I can't find a whole two pound bag of dark DME.
9:35- Take the bag of dark DME from Rhys. Wipe off sticky malt sugars. YouTube dance party until he stops crying.
9:45- Realize I don't have any ice. Drive out to CVS. Rhys throws his toys on the floor during the drive, then whines when he realizes that he's out of toys.
9:50- Cashier comments that Rhys is "such a smiley baby." Rhys blows her a kiss.
10:00- Put on water to sterilize to throw into the fermenter. Shorty takes Rhys falling on him like a champ.
10:30- Rhys fights sleep. I strap him into a baby carrier. Water is not yet boiling.
10:45- Water has boiled for ten minutes. Rhys is whining that he wants to play with random kitchen accessories. Shorty has to dump.
11:00- Poured water into fermenter and refilled pot. Rhys has not fallen asleep yet and is pinching me and grabbing my nose while laughing.
11:15- Water is hot enough for steeping. I cannot find the grain. Rhys has since fallen asleep, which prevents me from stooping or bending to look underneath things.
11:30- Water has started to boil when I find the grains. I turn the heat down. Shorty wakes Rhys up with enthusiastic scratching.
12:00- Steeping is complete. I try to find something for Rhys to eat and start the boil.
12:30- Rhys has eaten his body weight in natural peanut butter and blueberries. He is obviously tired but still fights a nap in his own bed. He also needs a diaper change. I trip on Shorty.
1:00- Boil is complete. I am upstairs, rocking Rhys, hoping he will finally go down this time.
1:05- Rhys does not go down. I set him down in the living room. He chases me with books. I try not to spill magma-hot wort on him when he dives under me putting the pot in the ice bath.
1:30- Rhys inexplicably needs another diaper change. Wort is at 140 degrees F.
2:00- Wort is at 135 degrees F.
2:30- I change the ice water carefully, probably contaminating the wort. Wort is at 120 degrees F.
3:00- Wort is at 80 degrees F. Rhys spills coffee on himself; it was coffee I made that morning, so while it was full, it was also ice cold.
3:30- Wort is at 78 degrees F.
3:35- Wort is at 77 degrees F.
3:40- Wort is at 76 degrees F. I call it good and pour it into the fermenting bucket and pitch the yeast.
3:50- Rhys makes a daring move to drink the vodka from the airlock. He swats it out of my hand in frustration and I have to refill it.
4:00- I realize that there is almost nowhere in the house to put the bucket where Rhys cannot access it. I spend equal amounts of time defending the bucket as thinking of where to put it.
4:15- Rhys trips and falls on the dog out of exhausted discoordination (aka "drunk baby"). I seize the opportunity to place the bucket while he whines for me to pick him up.
4:20- YouTube dance party until Rhys stops crying.
4:50- Carrie comes home. Rhys is all smiles. Shorty acts as if he has been tortured all day.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Dark Yeast Rises

If the title is off-putting, hang with me for a second. It's all very biological. No, wait, come back!

In beer, alcohol is the whole point of the study. It's the one thing you generally have to have. Of course, it has to taste good: but without fermentation, all you have is generally grainy-tasting syrup water with bitter oil in it. Kind of like a weird, brown Kool-aid that no one wants to drink. It would certainly make for some terrible parties.

So, it follows that in order to get beer right, you have to get fermentation right. That requires a minor refresher in high school biology. Enter yeast: commonly reviled, frequently misunderstood, microscopic champion of civilization. It's the hero we deserve, just not the one we need right now.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae, AKA Batyeast.
Respiration. Does that word sound familiar? Respiration is the most fundamental process in living beings for turning chemicals into energy. That's not exactly accurate, sure, but I don't have time for accurate. I only have time for beer.

When species in the Animal Kingdom respire, we typically take in oxygen, and through a series of chemical reactions with myriad starting materials, we derive energy, carbon dioxide, and water. Once you step into yeast's office, though, it's not quite that simple. Sure, it likes oxygen as much as the next Dark Microbe, but it can go without. It can take it.

When yeast doesn't have oxygen, it does something peculiar. Instead of producing carbon dioxide and water like everyone else, it produces carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol. In beer making, this is always the intended effect. The malt sugars are the chemical input, and alcohol and bubbles come out. It's both simple and complex, really, and a wonder to watch. For me, at least. Yeast has no limits, it seems.


Except, it does. Yeast, as with all things, prefers sugars that are easy to digest. Beer yeasts tend to focus on maltose. Once you run out of simple sugars in the wort/beer, yeast will then turn to some more complicated chemicals and convert them as well. This is what brewers call conditioning. When the yeast starts doing this, it takes some chemicals which might produce off-flavors (rubber cement, cardboard, etc.) and neutralizes them. But it takes a bit more work, and the yeast isn't getting as much bang for its buck.

If you don't have enough yeast cells doing work, fermentation might be very slow, or it might stop entirely before it's work through all the chemical yeast fuel. And that is absolutely not what you want to happen. Remember the description of the alcohol-less beer above? However much of the wort doesn't see fermentation will taste exactly like that. And chances are good that you won't like it much. Maybe you will, I dunno. I personally think it's kind of disgusting.

We come, then, to the yeast starter. Yeast usually come from a lab in a state of hibernation, and are refrigerated until it's time to use them. They need water (if dry), food, good temperature control, and time to wake up and multiply. If it's too hot, they'll move too fast, produce a wide range of chemicals, then quit. Not ideal. If it's too cold, they won't want to work at all. Also less than ideal. The starter, being a small mixture of malt extract and water, is perfect for yeast to have time to get going before being added to your beer.

It's like a tiny lab kit that you can use later to make delicious beer. What's not to like?


With a little forethought and a little sanitation, I'm hoping that fermenting this Christmas beer will go off without a hitch. And it's a real rager right now. The timing gets me to Tuesday, Veterans' Day, to make the batch. Veterans, I salute you with a beer I'm planning to put in 22oz swing-top bombers. Good night!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Proper Draft

Here's an admittedly messy BrewTarget spitout of my Christmas Beer recipe. If you find this confusing, skip to the "Misc" bit and keep in mind it's a bit reddish with mild, spicy hop flavor.

Unnamed Christmas Beer - Christmas/Winter Specialty Spiced Beer
Batch Size: 5.953 gal
Boil Size: 3.953 gal
Boil Time: 60.000 min
Efficiency: 70%
OG: 1.050
FG: 1.012
ABV: 4.8%
Bitterness: 23.0 IBUs (Tinseth)
Color: 18 SRM (Morey)

Caramel/Crystal Malt - 120LGrain 8.000 oz     No   No   72% 120 L
Black Barley (Roast Barley)       Grain 2.000 oz     No   No   55% 500 L
Special B Malt       Grain 2.000 oz     No   No   65% 160
Muntons DME - Light Dry Extract 4.000 lb    Yes   No   95%   4 L
Muntons DME - Dark Dry Extract 2.000 lb    Yes   No   95%  22 L
Total grain: 6.750 lb

Glacier  5.5% 1.000 oz  Boil 60.000 min Pellet 17.3
(OR Cluster 7.75% 1.000 oz Boil 60.000 min Pellet 24.4)
Willamette  5.0% 1.000 oz Aroma  5.000 min Pellet  0.0

Ginger Root   Herb    Boil 1.000 tsp 15.000 min
Cinnamon  Spice    Boil 1.000 tsp 15.000 min
Sweet Orange Peel Flavor Primary 0.000 tsp    0.000 s
Cranberry Flavor Primary 0.000 tsp    0.000 s
Allspice  Spice    Boil 1.000 tsp 15.000 min
(Maybe two vanilla beans in the primary?)

Safale S-04  Ale  Dry

What do y'all think? I think this could be a winner. I need to get a starter going, I'm running out of time!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Christmas Ale Spice Test 2

Status: Singing loud for all to hear

(changes in bold)
1/16 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 corn whole allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp white sugar

Not sure how I forgot the cinnamon last time, but holy smokes. That made a world of difference. Merry Christmas to me. Maybe a little less sugar. Maybe. =) This isn't going to go for the top of the mountain in the ABV department-- I'm looking to make this a steady, cheer-filled Christmas family-catchup fuel. No high-flying yeast acrobatics or brown sugar fermentable-padding this time.

I've been informed that somewhere between here and the in-laws' is a jar of dried orange peel. That would be amazing. And speaking of fruit, Carrie has a really good suggestion: "This would be good with some cranberry. I'm not saying you need to do it, I just think that would take it over the edge." Well, it's hard to argue with that. I'm such a lucky guy. The question is... do I throw it in with the boil, boil it separately, or mash it and toss in the fermenter? Either way, I'm going to do at least one more tea before taking the plunge on this.

I'm also going to try a yeast starter for this batch, based on this helpful video. *crosses fingers*

Finally, my original intentions for this recipe involved some molasses. After the first couple of taste tests with the spices, I'm starting to see that's not going to be an option. The taste is just... well, wrong. If you can think of something that reminds you of Christmas drinky-drinks, drop it in the comments.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Christmas Ale Spice Test 1

Status: Soapy.

1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 corn whole allspice
1 tsp white sugar
not sure how I would test orange peel...

Too much cloves, even after I intentionally dialed it down. I didn't expect to have underestimated how strong of a flavor it would have.

Everything else seems about right, though! The ginger is still tingling on my tongue, five minutes later. I can't wait to give this a shot.

This test is the result of having read a Home Brew Talk article on building your own recipes. One of the suggestions that the author had was to make a tea out of the spices or specialty grains you are planning to use in your beer, so you can get a sense of what they taste like together. It helps you work out the balance, too, before testing costs a lot of money. I hope to get the proportion right before I give it my best go in a dark Christmas ale.

Taking suggestions for names, by the way!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


A tradition that I now have with Carrie, before finishing the label and name for a beer, is to taste it. It certainly worked with Trapdoor, and inspired a lot of the design of Ring By Spring (whose label I have yet to upload! it is so good!). I'm going to use a common tasting system used all the time on Beer Advocate, which I think gives you a pretty good view of a beer without having actually tasted it. Laugh if you like. I don't care.

Appearance: This "dirty blonde" ale looks a lot like a pale ale. You know. Like the last one. I missed the color target more than I thought with the brown sugar. And maybe I went too easy on the pour, but there's really no head to speak of, despite the obvious CO2 presence. But it's rather clear, so at least the moss worked. And very little sediment.

Smell: Hello, Trapdoor. A little bit like someone added too much sugar to the Kool-Aid. The smell bites your nose like a spoonful of vinegar and makes you earn the pale ale smell, which is actually pretty nice. It's mellow on the back end, a little grainy, and I can get the tiny bit of molasses. Also a little boozy smelling, which is probably because I added more brown sugar than I planned. No complaints there.

Taste: Tastes like it smells, of course. The acid in front, for the most part. Going down, an aftertaste of grains, molasses, and vodka. The more I drink it, the more I want to keep drinking it. Weird like that. Hops are again almost non-existent (but by design this time).

Mouthfeel: Don't laugh-- you all know what this is, and why it's important in how you decide if you like a beer or not. This is actually a pretty thick beer for a pale/blonde ale, which is a little puzzling for me. I thought only a pound of DME for one gallon would lighten it up a bit, but apparently that's not been the case. I nailed the carbonation, if I say so myself. And it's smooth, so there's that, too. Sails right through the mouth. Nothing sticking behind except... fond memories. Am I allowed to say that?

Overall: Too much brown sugar, fermentation was too warm, and maybe I need to control the water quality a little better. But, I have to say, I like it. It feels much stronger than I calculated, and I was a little wobby after one bottle. And really, I'd rather drink this than a couple of other beer brands I could name. And I won't.

Carrie designed the label, but for reasons I cannot discuss, I will only be able to show you after this weekend (hopefully with the Ring By Spring label, also). Cheers!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Brainstorm part wahid

Attack of the Killer Red Delicious
Red Ale
A knock-out heavy caramel-tasting typical red ale malt, with a hint of apple (somehow). Get it? Caramel apple. I'm so clever.

Maybe what made me think of it or why it's not possible right now:
I dunno if it actually sounds like it would be good, or if it just sounds like it would be interesting. I think it would be fun for a one-gallon batch in the fall, if I can find a good grain bill for a red. And I'm struggling with names right now. I really want to make a red, and the other day I came up with "Gallon Donor." No idea why I thought that was a good idea to make it seem like you were drinking blood.

Swamp Water
Black Ale or Smoked Ale
Maybe a Keweenaw Widow Maker clone. Or if I can find a decent extract recipe for a smoked ale. Who knows? Maybe this is my cue to try partial mash.

Maybe what made me think of it or why it's not possible right now:
I wonder if Gator would drink this. Nah, I don't wonder. But I absolutely don't have the funds for this beer right now.

Captain Shorty's Sharp Wit
Belgian Witbier
A fluffy Belgian wheat ale with blood oranges & coriander. Or maybe something with a little more tang. I'm thinking of this guy right here. Sounds fantastic.

Maybe what made me think of it or why it's not possible right now:
Shorty deserves a beer. He puts up with a lot of crap. He's a veteran, for Pete's sake. But this is a summer beer, I think.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Secret beer is secret

So don't tell anyone!

I've been refraining from posting about the batch that I've recently brewed and have been fermenting for two weeks now, because I've wanted to keep it on the down low. It's another gift beer, a one-gallon batch that I'm really hoping turns out well (and all signs point to yes, as the oracular billiards implement says). Today is bottle day.

As I stated before, my house is just way too hot to bother with trying to ferment responsibly. So, I did this batch at my in-laws' house. A really nice bonus is that their kitchen much better set up for this kind of operation-- it's huge, and having a lot of space to dry/clean implements and containers has been very, very helpful.

This batch is a blonde ale with brown sugar, what I'm going to call a "dirty blonde" (since I think I missed the color target a few SRMs to the right). Here's a pic of the fermenter after two weeks.

I also don't have an OG estimate, since my hydrometer hits the bottom of my one-gallon carboy. I'm going to put my best-fermentation-case scenario at about 5.5% ABV, with about 18 IBUs of bitterness. (PROTIP: Most people like more alcohol!)

My priming sugar solution is boiling away, so I'm going to get back to it. This means we have until the ready date to get a decent label for this stuff: something my wife says she already has ideas for. When I get a chance, I'll have to upload the label she made for Ring By Spring. It's fantastic.

And to cap it off, some research my uncle found that may convince you to trade your kale-spinach smoothie for a nice, cool Märzen. Prost!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


So, it turns out that I can't actually brew beer all the time. Nuts.

My fermenter is empty, but my brain is not. I'd like to spend the next couple of posts brainstorming. I have already had some ideas. Some of those ideas are crazy. I think.

Nevertheless, such brainstorming needs rules. I can't just go spinning ideas off into cyberspace with no types of indices or keywords or any form of identifier at all by which to come back to them. Therefore, all brainstormed beer ideas will look as follows:

Hypothetical Name
Short Description
Maybe what made me think of it or why it's not possible right now

Let's get started!

Later. I'm tired and stuff.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Ring By Spring

You there, come closer. Let me tell you about my beers.

The carbonation, LUC (for some reason, Gmail didn't tell me I got a comment), went swimmingly. I was a little spooked when it warmed up this past week and we had a bit of a temperature excursion (~78-80 degrees for a day). But it ended up not being an issue. As with most dangers in brewing, I'm finding that patience and understanding prove the greater. We took some pale ales and Trapdoors up north to my parents' house for my mom's birthday to taste. I pried off the American cap and poured what I hoped to be my biggest win yet.

Always use a coaster.

The Citra hops hit you right on the nose. Gator, my brother, could not keep his nose out of the glass. It's a little darker than I wanted-- take typical unfiltered pale ale a couple SRMs toward an amber-- but it leaves a persistent, frothy white head and a torrent of bubbles. The taste is clean: it's not sticky or sweet, nor is it overly bitter. And the hops add a lemony-shandylike scent without dominating the brew. It's not complex. It's not gourmet. It's not going to win any awards. But damn, it is good.

My family suggested "Stoop Beer" as a name. While an excellent name, it doesn't really fit the intended purpose (a wedding present). Carrie and I are going with Ring By Spring, and she will be designing f'real labels. She is just the best.

As for now, two problems now present themselves:

1) What am I going to brew next
2) How am I going to keep that beer from tasting like a flower patch in a house without A/C

Allow me to explain the second one, because this involves some minor microbiology. If you're not interested, but you should be, skip to the bottom.

(Specifically, if you're one of my Facebook friends who endured biochem with me, this has everything to do with enzyme kinetics. Remember that lab where we had to wait a couple hours to make sure the enzymes were working at the right temperature and producing a predictable dose-response graph, and even then we had to start all over a few times? Easy now, put that hammer down.)

The yeast used in brewing is Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Until very recently, recently being the last couple hundred years of brewing out of about 6,000, we did not know that yeast had anything to do at all with fermentation. We did, however, know that temperature has an effect on beer. Anyone who has ever taken a wincing gulp of skunked beer can attest to that. It turns out that yeast cells perform fermentation with predictable effects (alcohol and carbon dioxide) inside a certain temperature range. The range depends on the strain of yeast. Most ale yeasts can tolerate warmer temperatures, but only up to about 75 degrees F. Any higher than that, and fermentation speeds up, and the yeast produces chemicals that are incomplete products (mostly esters). If you remember organic chem, you remember how esters smell. Not like beer.

Maybe I'll talk about some of the technical stuff later. I know a lot of my friends who are considering brewing their own beer read this blog, and if I'm feeling spunky, I might try summarizing what I know about the process. When I was just starting out, it seemed very complicated. It was often surreal to think about what was happening in the fermenter-- beer was happening.

As Guy Montag says in Fahrenheit 451, "I'll hold onto the world tight someday. I've got one finger on it now; that's a beginning."

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Elbow grease

This post is about hard work. It's more American than your post.

You wish you were this America.

I'm not as patient as I tend to let on. When I think a plate is clean, my wife shows me that it is not. When I think Magoo has had enough pureed cheesy vegetable soup, she shows me that I'm wrong. When I want to bottle this pale ale two days early, she kindly implores me to wait.

I tell myself that she does this because she loves me, and because she's got an awesome track record in the "being right" department (~100%).

I didn't clean the ten bottles I used last time, that was all her. I didn't have the exquisite pleasure of wrestling with label glue, tearing paper, and musty old beer stank from bottles I didn't rinse as well as I thought (see: not patient). But with this batch, which is almost five times bigger, I had to wash all of them. Which I would normally complain about-- except I took mental notes.

Following is a review of beers and breweries... by the experience of removing their labels from the bottle.

Victory Brewing Company

Beers used: Dirt Wolf IPA
Even after soaking in blazing hot water for fifteen minutes, it was rough coming off. And the paper didn't hold together very well. Hence, poking around said blazing hot water for scraps of paper. 

George Killian's

Beers used: Do they make more than one?
I noticed this one needed to soak a long time, too. The paper tended to hold together pretty well, but it left an assload of glue behind. Even in hot water for twenty minutes, it didn't scrub off easy. But no neck labels, and the bottles have that funny bubble in the neck, which I think is cool. But it's hard to justify all that scrubbin's.

Full Pint Brewing Company

Beers used: Rye Rebellion Stout
The paper was pretty plasticky, so there was no way it was going to tear.  It took a lot of effort to finally get the label off, but the amount of glue left behind: sweet Fanny Adams.

Brooklyn Brewery

Beers used: Brooklyn Lager
I am now convinced. There is a chemist who works at this brewery, whose only job is to develop new and stronger adhesives. Probably using genetically modified oysters. The paper was in shreds, the glue had to be soaked all by itself for twice as long... even then, it left a slimy film before I got it all off. Great, now I need a shower.


Labatt Brewing Company

Beers used: Light Lager with Lime
I didn't know if a clear bottle would be work the work, especially given my disposition to Labatt out of hockey season. The label was 100% plastic, so all it took was a little time and tough fingers. I will give this bottle to someone who is not sure what color pale ale should be.

Rating: I win this time, Canada

Bell's Brewing Company

Beers used: Oberon
I was warned about this one, from Keegan. I gathered these bottles with slight hesitation, wondering how much more difficult it would be to get the labels off. The other option was Killian's, the devil I knew. I took them both. The moment of truth... they came right off. Neck label, front, back labels came clean off after only 15 minutes. Minimal glue. Huzzah for Michigan!

Rating: I want to swim in a lake and pick an apple and plant a pine tree because of my state

Atwater Brewery

Beers used: Vanilla Java Porter
Man, my state sucks. Michigan can bite me.

Rating: You Midtown hipsters trying to ruin my night?

Anheuser-Busch GlobalCorp Soul Devouring Inc. Unlmtd.

Beers used: O'Douls
It's official. I'm an O'Douls man now.

Rating: I feel like that should have been harder and also that's what she said

Enjoy your night! I know I will enjoy mine: waiting, biting my nails, reminding myself that waiting one more day to bottle the beer isn't going to cause any death or serious injury.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014


First of all. Bought a five gallon bucket today. Look at it.

LOOK AT IT. Five gallons of beer at one time. I can't even handle it. That's 48 12-oz bottles, which coincidentally, I am now accepting donations for. Seriously, if anyone reading this wants some of this beer, please donate your bottle deposit and bottle to me.

In addition, I have all the ingredients I need for the next batch of beer, right down to the irish moss (which just sounds like a load of fun!). I'm not going directly according to the recipe, but I'm close. Here's a link.

Finally, a friend of mine tried some Trapdoor, and took notes on it. You'll know the part that inspired me to get a hydrometer today with the bucket!

Adam's notes: Trapdoor

Alright, so I'm going to write my tasting notes to you as I drink. This way, you'll get every point of view that I have, plus it will help me drink slower and savor it!

The Pour:

Pours nicely, good aroma came off of it, and it looks nice and carbonated. No flatness here! After a good sniff, I'm getting lost of caramely scent, maybe a little toasted marshamallow? Anyway, it smells great and has the same coloring/look of a glass of Coca-Cola. Cheers.

The Sip:

Not a ton of carbonation, but I like my dark beers a little less bubbly, so it's perfect for me. I get a lot of kick from the beer, which is definitely nice. I feel like this would go great with Mom's Sunday dinner. I'm not getting any fruity tastes yet, but enough talking and more drinking!

The Gulp:

Wow, that was really nice. Still no sign of the fruitiness, but I got a lot of caramel on that bit. The aftertaste is a little smoky, sort of like the burnt bits of a steak. It's a really nice matchup with the sweetness. No complaints here so far.

The Gulp, Act II:

Same thoughts as above, although this time I got more of an alcohol kick going down, almost like someone tossed in a little vodka. I might be having a stroke, hard to tell.

The Burp:

Yep, definitely getting more of a vodka-esque taste on the burp. With the sweetness of the caramel flavor, it really is reminding me more of rum and Coke. I'd kill to be drinking this alongside some steak and mashed potatoes. Whoops, another burp. That was more smoky. Not sure what's going on down in digestion-ville.

The Gulp, Act III:

I'm really starting to like the combo of smoky and sweet caramel. It's not overpowering (the beer still tastes like beer), but it definitely is a nice kick in addition to the beeriness.

The Finish:

I think I had an Usain Bolt experience here. Strong most of the way through, but it seemed to celebrate just a little too early, and the finish wasn't as strong as I hoped. At the bottom of the glass, I lost most of the sweet flavor and was left with sort of that smoky, vodka/rum sensation that I noted above. I might have let a little bit of the sediment fall into the glass, so it might just be my bad pouring skills.

The Summary:

A nice beer with a good combo of sweet and smoky, but still holding on to that classic, dark beer twang. I'd drink this with a nice piece of meat slathered in gravy and some potatoes. All in all, a pleasant glass of joy. Nice work! 9/10

All in all, quite encouraging! And let it be known, also, that he was not having a stroke. I'm very glad about that.

So, I'll probably be brewing on Saturday after Magoo's swim class. I will have video, fingers crossed.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Like spaghetti

Some things are just better the second time.

I put all my hazelnut brown ale in the fridge the other day, hoping that the cold would cut the taste a little bit, or it might help dissolve the CO2 a little better (longshot). I cracked one open last night, and I have to tell you:

It was delicious.

Why? Were the flavors too green when I tried it first, even after a week and a half? Did it just take more time to prime with honey? Who can say? But it's dark as a nightmare and rich as a turtle cake. Carrie tried it, and she said it felt like "it hits your tongue, then drops right down, you know? Like it's heavy, but not in a bad way, and definitely not sticky."

We're going to call it Trapdoor. Because every beer needs a name, right?

I wanted to enter this beer into Untappd as a homebrew, but it tells me I should have a brewery name if I want to log my homebrews. I have no idea what to call my brewery. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Diagnosis Beer, and other plots

I think I know what went wrong with the last batch.

I used honey as a priming sugar. For anyone who's tried to mix honey into anything, much less a not-hot thing, you know what I mean when I say that it probably all sunk to the bottom. Where all the trub is. So it probably didn't all get poured into the bottles, explaining the flatness. Womp womp. Lesson learned.

Lesson so learned, in fact. I'm trying to use my spanking new installation of Ubuntu to its full potential, and got an app called Symphytum. Seriously simplified my recipe-keeping and note-taking. As Palmer says in How To Brew:

The difference between a good brewer and a lucky brewer is documentation.

In the mean time, I have the green light to upgrade to a five-gallon bucket. Looking into a citrusy, back-porchy pale ale for the coming Spring. I can taste it already.

If you're reading this, you're probably thinking about similar thoughts (I hope, because fear not, Spring will be here soon enough). What kind of beer do you think of when the flowers bloom? What does it taste like? Yardwork? Lemonade? The first bonfire since October? I'm honestly curious: leave a comment.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Cappening

At long last, the beer meets my lips. And since I'm drinking it while I type this, it has not caused me to die. So, by any tolerable measures of success in a first-batch, I think we passed.

It has been a very long time since my last post-- I am well aware. Work has been nuts, Magoo has been needier than usual (we're sure he's growing teeth... somewhere), and in the pauses, I am just not up for posting. So, to catch y'all up:

We bottled last Tuesday, on Feb 26. We got seven bottles out of a gallon fermenter, short of the 10 bottles I was counting on. We ended up having to pour the beer into the bottles through a funnel, which is absolutely not what you're supposed to do. The beer got crazy aerated, but we bottled it without much problem. And none of the bottles exploded, which is an acceptable bonus.

You should have seen the look on my wife's face when I mentioned that possibility.

Now, the beer has been happily conditioning in its new dark homes in a cabinet in the kitchen for over a week. Tonight, we decided it was appropriate to celebrate my first big SAS program at work running without a hitch by opening up one of these babies and pouring it out. Oh, I was nervous. And excited. I would usually argue that these are the same thing, but I was too excited and nervous to think.

I poured it correctly, leaving the yeast in the bottom... where it belongs. I don't want gas tonight.

I smelled it, and it was passing, but I thought it smelled a little funny. Like fruit and marshmallows. I mean, beer, too. But it took me by surprise. Then I took a sip.

Flat. Damn it.

And it was really sweet! Very dark, very fruity, and I registered almost zero hops.  I was very disappointed. However, it's still better than most of the beer at the store. And it does finish clean with hazelnut, which is pretty baller.

Maybe I'll go a little simpler with the next one. And maybe scale up to a bucket.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Swell smells

So, it's been bubbling pretty good for about 48 hours. It's finally taking it easy and bubbling at a pretty even clip now. I'm going to put on the bubbler airlock as soon as I get a chance. But here's a weird thing.

It smells like yogurt.

I'm paging through the complete codex of "did I just ruin my beer" posts, and I'm not really seeing this one. Not yet. Ominous. Or not. I don't actually know.

Update: All these posts are like-- "yeah, you probably didn't ruin your beer. just cool your jets, newbie." So I'm done freaking out now.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


So, here it is. The birth of a hazelnut brown ale. In the eternal words of Strong Bad:

"Oh yeah. Check out all its majesty."

Omens of mercy

Three things have happened today, which tell me that today is the perfect day to brew the hazelnut brown:

1) I just watched Bode Miller absolutely crush the downhill course in training. Holy cow, can that guy slide. Gives me the jibblies.

2) Liverpool absolutely crushed the Gunners, 5-1. 5-1! And Suarez didn't even score once! The world as I previously knew it to be is ceasing to exist.

3) I absolutely crushed not drowning Magoo at swim lessons today. Hooray!

I'm going to shower off the chlorine, shovel my way out to the snowbank, and get sanitizing. Expect a video with my next update!

Saturday, February 1, 2014


Good things come to those who wait, right? This beer better be damn good.

Our plan was to get the wort into the fermenter for that hazelnut brown last night. Instead, we bugged out for Lapeer early for my niece's one-year birthday party-- the weather was going to make that drive crazy with a capital K. Much more important, sure, but when are we going to make this beer now? I was really looking forward to that.

In the meantime, I've been reading as much as I can in How to Brew. Seriously, I've learned almost as much about beer in the past month than I have in my past three and a half years of drinking it. It is just fantastic how we know so little about something we've perfected so well, brewing beer. Fascinating stuff.

Anyway, I'll update again when I have something to update on. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Monday, January 27, 2014

About to (hot) break

The gloves are coming off for round two. My wife and I are going to double team a hazelnut brown ale. I had a Hideout Smuggler's Hazelnut Stout a few months back, and boy, was it good. I've been looking for it everywhere, but no dice. A really good exhibit of some fantastic local brewing if you ever find it on the draft list. Very warm-feeling beer.

I was sitting with our kid in the middle of one of his naps when she returned home from the grocery store with a big bag of hazelnuts. "This is what you needed, right?"


We're looking to boil up the wort and start fermenting the goodness on Friday. Too bad it won't be ready by the time we see some of our family this weekend, they seem very excited by the prospect of homemade beer. We were skyping with them earlier, and their ears seemed to perk up when I mentioned that we might be able to make good use of all those black walnuts they bring in every year.

Oh well. Until then, we'll just drink all their beers for them. =)

She's a big fan of milk stout. Maybe we'll try to figure that one out next, depending on how this goes.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Lessons learned

The book betrayed me. Knowledge is power, it seems... like shaking up a pop can.

As has been confirmed both by my internet beer friend and the lady at The Cork and Cap here in Jackson, the first couple of days in the fermenter require a different kind of airlock. You run a rubber tube into a glass of water and let the gases bubble out into that. Apparently, that handles the pressure better than the "bubbler" airlock I had on there.

The book describes these two pieces in unmistakably interchangeable terms, which I double-checked last night to make sure. I thought I would be cool with the bubbler, and then I got bubbled.

In addition, it turns out that the beer probably wasn't spoiled after all. The positive pressure from the gases coming off the yeast, in addition to the hostile environment for invading bacteria, probably prevented any contamination of the beer itself, and I could have saved it.

More guilt! Shame! Why did I pour that beer down the drain?

All right, so I'm reading up some more, and I'm trying to decide what I'm going to do next. I can't start another batch this weekend, because I've got a lot going on. In the meantime, I think, I'm going to come up with a beer to try next. Maybe I'll stick with the brown ale, maybe not. I dunno yet. If you have any suggestions, feel free to comment. Thanks!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Disaster strikes

Sometimes, I silently complain that I don't fail often enough. I consider all the things I miss out on learning because of all the mistakes I don't make. I realize how that sounds, but this is a blog, and I'm allowed to real talk if I want.

I received this response from that friend who recommended the book this afternoon:

"Hopefully at this point your kreusen has risen, and you're getting a nice, vigorous fermentation. I love that smell."

He was right! About all of it. Even the smell, which I could smell from the doorway, because the airlock blew and my beer was all over the floor of the closet. Womp womp. Best smelling spill I've encountered in months! Most of the time it's baby vomit, and that spoiled milk smell gets old.

But I'd rather clean up a dozen spitups than have to dump another gallon of spoiled, fermenting beer down the drain. Lord have mercy.

I'll get on with documenting what I think might have gone wrong later. I'm just gonna go have a good cry.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Begins with a single step

"A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is."
- Laozi

Starting homebrewing is both exciting and terrifying. I enjoy beer as much as the next guy, and I can't count the number of times I've thought that whipping up my own suds would be a lot of fun. But I know how badly a batch of beer can go-- between just tasting bad, to making someone sick. Exploding bottles. Beer volcanoes.

I've heard that the Babylonians, if you made a bad batch, would drown you in your own beer. Makes sense to me.

So, upon receiving a homebrew kit from my inlaws this Christmas, I immediately sought out a good guide for taking me through the process. I got a tip from a commenter on for a book called How To Brew by John Palmer-- and it's fantastic so far. It starts you off right away and explains the details later. Perfect. I don't have time to discuss the qualities of different strains of yeast. I've got some beer to brew, dammit.

There's enough ingredients for a one-gallon batch of Brown Ale in the kit. So I picked up some sanitizer and got started!

Brewed the grain bag, stirred in the malt, boiled with hops, cooled it. Simple stuff. Cooling the wort in the snowbank in the backyard took longer than an hour, which was really unexpected. I started rehydrating the yeast right when I put the pot in the snow, and that's only supposed to take 20 minutes. Hm.

Anyway, I poured the wort into the carboy (and I was mean about it, because aeration), filled it up the rest of the way with cool water, and pitched the yeast. Then clamped on that young airlock and relegated the beer to a closet in the bedroom upstairs (~65 degrees). Can't wait to see those bubbles!