The new buckets are here! The new buckets are here!

I ordered two new fermenters last week and they arrived on Friday.  The beer geek in me couldn’t wait to get something into them.

Last Sunday was my second brewday for 2012.  It went so much better than the first.  I brewed a Cream Ale.  I have brewed this beer at least half a dozen times in the past year each time trying to make it a little more ‘my own’.  The recipe is called ‘Cream of Three Crops’ and basically consists of two-row barley, flaked maize, minute rice, and hops.  I have used different amounts of barley, different types of barley, grits, corn meal, and a few hop variations and everytime, this recipe turns out great!  There is even one recipe posted in which somebody has used popped popcorn in place of the flaked maize!  It is a fun recipe, it’s a cheap recipe and if you are considering moving to ‘all grain’ brewing, I would definitely recommend it.  With this years emphasis being on documenting and perfecting my own recipes, I decided to brew the recipe, as posted, as it will be nice to fall back onto something ‘guaranteed’ if my personal experimentation goes badly.

My pre-boil gravity last Sunday was almost dead on.  I wound up only adding about 3/4 of a pound of dry malt extract to get it where I wanted.  My post-boil gravity was actually a little higher than what I wanted but, being that I really like this beer and the higher gravity only means I will wind up with a little more alcohol, I was good with it.  I am still getting used to using Beersmith and I don’t totally trust what it says in regards to water volumes so, I keep second guessing it.  The first time I used it, either it or I were WAY off.  This time, I’m pretty sure had I followed what it said I should use, I would have hit my numbers 100%.

The only REAL mistake I made this time was by misjudging the weight of the 185 degree pot of water (an old Anheuser Busch keg) which grazed the inside of my left shin as I pulled it off the burner.  I didn’t realize just how bad it was until the next day when I went to change the little teeny tiny bandaid I had on it.  At the time it happened, it didn’t hurt much.  It stung a bit but not enough to really make me pay attention.  By Monday afternoon, I was fully aware that I had burned my leg.  The appearance of it left me a little woozy.  By way of comparison, if you happen to own a motorcycle, go start it, let it run for 15 minutes and, as quickly as you can, touch the exhaust pipe with the inside of your leg.  I promise you’ll only do it once!

I finished my stir plate today!  Considering that these typically go for $100+ at the home brew shops, I’m pretty tickled with myself that I built this one for about $6.00.  With the exception of the petentionometer ($4.99 at Radio Shack) and the 80mm computer fan ($.99 at Microcenter) the rest of it was built using spare parts I had around the house.  Do I need one?  Nope!  I have never had any issues with aerating the old fashioned way, by shaking it, I just thought it would be fun to do.

Stir Plate Stir plate in action

This coming weekend I have the stout planned.  This is another beer that is exciting to brew, as it’s a fairly ‘big’ beer.  Fermentation of ‘big’ beers, to me, is pretty exciting.  There is always that, “OMG, is it going to explode!” feeling as you watch the fermentation bucket heave when the blow off tube starts to become clogged during ‘high krausen’.

The weekend after that, I am planning on an American IPA.  I LOVE IPA’s however, I don’t typically brew them as I have never really been impressed with what I produce.  Again though, that’s what 2012 is going to be for me.  A chance to get into, and figure out my mistakes.  This will also be a ‘big’ beer and I am definitely looking forward to it.  🙂

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First brew of 2012? Check. At least I can call it done.

I am usually pretty careful about ingredient amounts when brewing.  I also usually don’t get started until sometime after my coffee has kicked in.  Well, after doing this for 10 years, I’m pretty sure I am NOT going to get what it was that I’m after.

Yesterday’s errors are two part, one part me and one part supplier.  I ordered seven pounds of ‘flaked rice’ for two different brews over the next two weekends.  An American Light Lager and a Cream Ale.  Normally, for the Cream Ale, I would just use Minute Rice but since the cost of what my supplier charges for Flaked Rice and what the grocery store charges for Minute Rice was negligible, I went with my supplier.  When I received the ingredients from my supplier, I noticed that the rice simply looked like ground up rice!  I have never worked with ‘flaked’ rice before and not knowing what it was supposed to look like, I didn’t think too much of it.

Being this was a 10 gallon batch, I started my brewday a little early.  Before I got my first cup of coffee in, I had all the grains prepared and my strike water on the fire.  What I didn’t pay attention to was that I had all seven pounds of the rice mixed in with my grain.  I only needed five pounds or so.  I didn’t realize this little flub until about half way through my mash.  Really, this wasn’t a big deal.  It just means that I blew the style and the alcohol content would be higher than what I was after.  Still, perfectly drinkable.  I completed the mash and moved onto the boil.  Here is where it got ugly.

According to the software I was using, my pre-boil gravity, with the extra rice, should have been 1.037.  I took my measurement and wound up with 1.020!  That didn’t make any sense!  Maybe I used a LOT less of the two-row barley then I thought!  So, I measured what I had left.  Nope.  I had exactly what I expected.  Maybe I had WAY too much water in my boil kettle?  Nope.  Dead on with what I wanted.  Wow, okay well, if I brew it ‘as is’ I am looking at an ABV of 2.8 percent.  I may as well boil water and bottle that!  I mean, I know that Light Lager isn’t the most popular style for homebrewing and the commercial versions are usually rather tasteless but, I wasn’t looking to match them THAT closely!  Good grief, even THEY run an ABV of 4% or so!  Damnit!  At this point, I can either boil this beer down to about half of the wort that’s in the boil kettle now, which would take hours and probably taste like burnt coffee or, I can use some dry malt extract to try and boost the ABV to where it should be.  I only had about half of what I needed so I tossed it in.  This brought my pre-boil to 1.030, still really low for what I wanted but whatever, close enough and no choice but to deal with it.  I finished out my brewday and sat for the rest of the afternoon going over, in my head, my steps to try and figure out what it was I missed.

I started tinkering with the program to see if maybe I missed something.  At first everything seemed okay.  I had trouble with the program the week before with boil volumes but found a way to fix my problem mid boil.  It was my first time using the software and expected issues.  This time, those problems weren’t there.  Everything was right, until I started messing with the amounts of ingredients themselves.  On a whim, I removed the rice completely from the recipe and, according to the software, my pre-boil gravity went from 1.037 to 1.022.  Almost exactly what I experience during the brew!  I didn’t get any conversion from the rice.  It wasn’t, by definition, ‘flaked’.  It wasn’t pre-cooked or pre-gelatinized to make it mashable.  It was simply milled.

What I produced was an American Light, 3.2% ABV, single malt single hop (SMaSH) Lager.  Anyway, it’s fermenting away in the brew room.  How will it turn out?  Who knows but, next time, I am going to go with what I know and stick with Minute Rice.  “Perfect every time…”  😉




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Again, why am I doing this?

This morning, I placed an order for the first two recipes I want to work with, the American light lager and the cream ale.  I took both of those recipes and developed a ‘price comparison’ spreadsheet that lays out both, what it will cost to brew each batch, and what the cost to buy certain beers in those particular styles would be.  What I found was pretty interesting.  I realize that my view of beer production is very limited.  Like, limited to what it costs ME to produce beer.  I have no idea what it costs bigger, established breweries to produce beer in regards to anything other that what I have listed on my spreadsheet.  Businesses are in business to make money!  That’s what they do!  What I want to show is that you can, like most anything else, do it cheaper by doing it at home.

So, here’s my ‘cost comparison’ spreadsheet.  It’s pretty straightforward.  On the right hand side, you’ll find the ingredients I will be using and how much it costs me to brew 10 gallons of each recipe.  On the left hand side, you’ll find what it would cost me to buy other beers in that particular style according to the package size I would buy them at.  To help put a perspective on these figures, I broke the price down into per beer and per ounce cost.

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With the new year fast approaching, some of us have made resolutions, some of us have set goals.  I have done neither.  My ‘intention’ (see what I did there?) is to get completely away from commercial beer, recipe kits, and recipe clones.  I have been brewing beer now for 10 years.  All of it either from a kit or a clone.  In 10 years the only beer I have ever dumped was early on, I didn’t know what I was doing and it ‘looked’ funny.  I really wish I could get that beer back!  🙂  No, really.  That was $30 I could have spent elsewhere.

I want to use this blog to record my progress over the next year.  My intention is to run my homebrewery, more or less, like a business, with myself being my best customer, of course!  I don’t necessarily have a ‘head for business’ per se but, I do have a head for accounting.  I can bury myself in spreadsheets like nobody else.  In toying with one of my spreadsheets recently, I have figured out that I can brew beer for roughly 1/3 the cost of buying it.  I found a program called Beersmith, which is used to help homebrewers develop recipes, prepare shopping lists and manage inventory.  I have been using it over the past week or so develop four recipes that I plan on starting this project with.

I would like to put myself into a position, rather quickly, where I am brewing something every weekend and tweaking the recipes as I go along.  The four recipes I have are for an American Light lager, a Cream Ale, a Pale Ale and a Stout.  Upfront, the only one of these recipes that is not my own is the Cream Ale.  It is one that I took from one of the members of but, it’s awesome, easy to brew and has become a favorite.  So, it stays.  I think these four cover the gamut of the styles I prefer.  Now, I just need to make them my own…  😉

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I love black pepper!

This pungent, mildly spicy condiment has a peppery taste that makes it distinctive among all other peppers.  Easy to work with and very recognizable, it’s found on almost every kitchen table in America.  Not only used for flavoring food, this fruit has been used throughout history as currency, as medicine, and also as a way to preserve the dead in ancient Egyptian mumification rituals.

As I sat back from the table tonight I thought, “Certainly, there has to be a way to incorporate that taste into beer.  Surely, I’m not the first person to have tried this.”  I was right.  There are a few commercially available ‘pepper beers’ out there.  According to the reviews, some good, some not.  That being said, I am going to strike out on my own and try to work out a ‘black pepper stout’.  I have a ‘base’ stout recipe that not only works well by itself as a house beer but, I have used it in a couple of variations of chocolate stout.

The idea is simple.  Because you can reuse the yeast cake at the bottom of your primary quite a few times before the yeast get all… weird, and because I haven’t brewed my ‘house stout’ since last winter, I am going to start by brewing a 10 gallon batch of it.  This will give me a good yeast cake to work with and well, 10 gallons of stout!  I’ll take that yeast cake and divide it between two fermenters and brew another 10 gallon batch and split it between the two prepared fermenters.  Once primary fermentation is complete, I’ll add different amounts of coarsely ground pepper to each of the primaries and age them a while.  Black pepper goes a long way so, maybe 1/4 tablespoon in one and 1/2 tablespoon in the other.  I suppose if it all goes south and I wind up with either no pepper or too much pepper, in either case, at a minimum, I will have made…  beer… ;)

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Samuel Smith’s ‘Nut Brown Ale’ Clone

‘Written 12/6/2011.  Brewed 12/2/2011.’

I really didn’t know much about craft beer in 1996.  I had had a few here and there while stationed at Ft. Bragg and got exposure to a world of different beer flavors while stationed in Germany.  I really didn’t care much beyond that until after I got out and realized how much I missed some of those flavors.

I was ready to start exploring what the US market had to offer and in Kansas City, in late 1996, there really wasn’t much.  At least that I could afford anyway.  I was able to pick up the occasional two or three dollar 22oz bombers, and Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale was one that I picked up frequently.  One of the first times I had it was on an afternoon golf outing with my father at the local nine hole.  Up until then, he wasn’t a golfer and the ONLY thing he drank was Miller Lite.  Well, he picked up a golf habit that lasted about 10 years and, unfortunately, has only switched to Busch beer.  That however, is another story.

What I used:

  • 9.25 lb Marris Otter
  • 5 oz Crystal Malt
  • 3 oz Chocolate Malt
  • 1 oz East Kent Goldings
  • .5 oz Fuggles
  • a whirlfloc tablet

I used the recipe given in ‘Beer, Captured’.

Here’s how I used it:

I heated 8 gallons of water to 162′ then poured four gallons of it water into the mash tun.  I then added my grain to heated water.  This brought the temperature of the mash down to 151′.  This is exactly where I wanted it so, I closed the lid at 11:15 for the 90 minute conversion time.  At 12:45, I began transfering the wort from the mash tun to the kettle.  I collect and transfer the wort, one gallon at a time, with my first gallon being used for lautering.  The first gallon is usually cloudy and contains lots of little bits of grain that made it through the filter in the bottom of the mash tun,  so it goes right back onto the top of the grain bed to be filtered again.  Being that you tend to ’lose’ water in the grain, I collected an initial three gallons of wort and then took two of the original eight gallons of water and poured it into the mash tun and collected it as it passes through the grain.  This further rinses the converted sugars from the grain.  I repeated this process until I had an initial boil volume of about six gallons.  I like to account for a boiloff rate of about a gallon an hour.  Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less.  But, usually not by much.

At 1:01, my transfer was complete and I started the flame under the boil kettle.  At 1:32, my boil started and I added 3/4 oz of the East Kent Goldings and the 1/2 oz of the Fuggles.  This boiled until 2:17, at which time I added the remaining 1/4 oz of the East Kent Goldings and the whirlfloc tablet.

I let it boil another 15 minutes and at 2:32, turned the flame off and began cooling using an immersion chiller.  The great thing about brewing during the winter months is that the cold water from the tap makes cooling wort with an immersion chiller really quick!

After an hour or so, the wort was down to 90 degrees and I transfered it into the primary fermenter.  Again, I do this gallon by gallon and I pour from about a foot above the top of the fermenter to encourage a really good aeration.

This is where the day didn’t go as planned.  I actually planned this brewday back in June.  That’s when I bought the yeast.  The recipe called for Wyeast ‘Ringwood 1187′.  They didn’t have it.  So, the second choice was ‘Irish Ale 1084′.  They didn’t have that either.  But, they had a Wyeast guide and I settled on Wyeast ‘Whitebread 1099′.  When I got home, I tossed it in the fridge.  Brewday got pushed off a week, then another… then another….  and another.  By the time I opened the yeast pack yesterday to pitch, it had gone bad.  By bad, I mean it smelled like sour milk that had been left out… side, in July, for a week, bad.  I was so close to dumping this into my wort.

I thought for sure I was going to have to find a way to store the wort, now cool and very prone to infection, in the refrigerator until today and have to reboil to kill off whatever nasties have started to take root.  Not something I was looking forward to 24 hours AFTER I was supposed to be done!  So, on a whim, I called my local homebrew shop and they were open!  For another hour!  And, they had the correct yeast in stock!

Now the beer sits, slowly gurgling away in the fermenter and I am hoping that in the next six to eight weeks or so, I will know whether the small ‘bump in the road’ was worth getting this recipe exactly perfect.

Whatever, I’ll drink it anyway… ;)

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