Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ain't No Cure for the Summertime Blues

Things are falling apart. For a time everything was going so well. After the brew-a-thon mentioned in the last post two months ago, I've not had want for beer. I had plenty. I tore into the Amber quickly. Fortunately I made 10 gallons of it and partitioned them into two separate vessels so I could age one a tad more and enjoy them a tad longer. I had such a surplus that I bottle-conditioned Andrea's Almond Amber Ale, which had been aging for nigh two months. The Black IPA spoiled on me. I don't know what went wrong and that troubles me more than anything. I tasted it and got a headache, sure enough a few weeks later a white filmed developed at the top, sure sign of spoilage. The brewing of the IPA went better than expected. I followed a Dogfish Head technique and continually added hops the full 60 minutes of the boil - one ounce at start of boil and a handful every five minutes or so - bringing the total to four. It is currently sitting in more whole leaf Cascade hops as I write this.

I took a vacation. Three weeks along the West Coast. We met some friends in L.A. and we all drove north to San Fransisco. Parting ways, my wife and I flew to Portland and hopped (no pun intended) a train to Seattle before flying home. It was wonderful. I ate some great food and drank some amazing beers. But this blog is not about what I did on my summer vacation. This blog is about my homebrew and that was no vacation.

While I was touring the coast, with an average temperature of 72 degrees F, my carboys were sitting in a dark closet where the average temperature just outside was in the triple digits. I cannot imagine how hot it got inside but I'd save 85 is a conservative estimate. Once Andrew Godley of the Parish Brew Company gave me a piece of advise that I knew to be true, but never took to heart. Temperature Control is the most important factor in fermentation, he said. I paraphrase of course, I was pretty drunk on IPA at the time, but I am feeling the effects of my folly.

Temperature control costs money. I have little. As I've stated in the past most of my equipment has been donated including the initial kit. I told myself the off temperatures would add "local color to my beer," but it has only added funk. Andrew had a vast array of chest freezers. I have one but it's being used as a keg-orator and generally is colder than desired. I did some lagering in there once, but only once. Most of my brews are ales. Ales ideally ferment at low 70's or upper 60's range, say 68-72 degrees F. We're lucky to get those temperatures in the winter here in South Louisiana. I can see why the Northwest is an ideal climate for brewing with 72 all year long, I loved it there.

So when I returned from my vacation I had less than a gallon of Amber Ale left in the keg-orator, a batch of spoiled Black IPA I have yet to clean out, a carboy of IPA still dry hopping one month after the initial transfer, and five gallons of bottled Almond Amber Ale all roasted in the Louisiana heat. The last of the 10 gallon Amber was safe in the keg-orator, but it didn't last a day after my homecoming. I consoled myself with a six-pack of Almond Ale and a few loose 22's, and for the first time since I can remember I drank a beer that was absolutely undrinkable.

Let me amend that; I've never drank one of my beers that was undrinkable. If other people give me their beer and I think it nasty, I'll quaff it quietly or politely leave it unfinished, but for the first time it was one of my beers that tasted like feet. Again I don't know what went wrong. Everything tasted fine during the transfers so it was an error in bottling or the damned heat. I don't need to sugarcoat it to myself or spare my own feelings - this beer is terrible. I tried everyone of the six-pack and two of the 22's hoping that the flavor was a fluke of the individual bottles, but no. Each and everyone I had to pour out. Right now I find myself with a five gallon excess of marinade beer, a position usually reserved for High Life, and a slug bait*.

I sit in my air-conditioned home afraid of the heat. I've stopped by a few brew stores for ingredients and even bought Washington grown dried figs during my travels, all to make a fresh batch of Rouge Huit, but I cannot bring myself to brew. It is brutal not only on human life, but on yeast cultures**. I'm not worried about sweating in the heat, but at these temperatures the yeast will produce funky flavors rather than mellow bready goodness. As I write this the spoiled black IPA rests in a carboy right behind me. There's no need to clean it out as there are no other batches to take its place. I have everything ready to transfer the IPA, the last of my homebrew, into a keg for consumption. But if the Almond Amber funked-up in a bottle, what's to stop the IPA from spoiling in its carboy. I'll know when I muster the courage to try it.

But all hope is not lost. I've got some new toys to help beat the heat. My dad gave me a cylindrical refrigerator, one that you might see Powerade being kept cool in at a convenience store. A carboy won't fit in it, but my food-grade plastic bucket - converted for lagering - might. In addition my mother-in-law is getting rid of a standup freezer. If I attach a temperature regulator to it and reinforce the shelving I can keep it at 68 degrees F constantly and store up to four carboys at a time. It'll take a little investment on my part and the time and energy to import the equipment from Lafayette, but it might be just what I need for the Summer Time Blues.

* Handy tip: If your garden is plagued with slugs, take a can lid or other semi-shallow basin, fill it with beer and leave it in the garden. The slugs will be attracted to it and drown in it.

** Historical Fact: Before refrigeration, refreshing summer beer was brewed in the winter and fermented in cool cellars for the yeast esters to develop those mellow tastes, and winter beers were brewed in the summer for the yeast to impart those heavy funky warm flavors. This of course takes a lot of foresight, planning, and temperance.

Friday, January 8, 2010

2009; a Tasting in Remeberance

Ugh. What a Holiday! It's over now, but in that time I imbibed massive amounts of homebrew. All the preparations for my Holiday company paid off in full. The fretting over the Christmas Stout was for naught. Everything went off without a hitch. In addition to finishing off 20 of the 25 gallons made for the occasion, my guests, my wife, and I managed to visit the New Orleans Rum distillery, the Abita brewery, and attend a beer tasting of my own exploits.

Since I began brewing in the All-Grain method last summer, I have saved one 750mL bottle of every beer I made, except those I kegged. In total I had 8 bottles. On one of the last nights of my guests visit we sat down, all eight of us, and I unloaded the vault.

The first beer tasted was made in June. It was a Pale Ale, my first attempt at the yet unperfected Istrouma Pale Ale. This being my first foray into All-Grain methods it was fraught with mistake, inefficiency and frustrations. I mashed in my brew kettle on the burner in a futile attempt to control the heat. My false bottom did not operate in the manner I had suspected so I had to wedge it into place in the lauter tun. I believe now that I am missing a piece to it so I am forced to continue to use this method. The wort chiller my father-in-law and I crafted did not work as suspected and I had to abandon counter-flow methods and opt instead for immersion chilling, a dirty process indeed. The beer itself was drinkable, but lacked any flair and was quite generic. One could almost taste the amateur nature of the brew, or maybe only I could.

Of the next two beers I made that summer one went bad completely due to a chlorine-based sanitizer, and the other was kegged. So the next beer was dated August and it was the summer wheat ale to which I allude to in other posts, Rouge Wheat. I saved two bottles of those so I was fortunate enough to enjoy it twice. I made it often and once in the form of a 10gallon batch. Five gallons I bottled and saved and the other five I kegged and brought to a homebrew/swimming party. Other beers there were an IPA and a very tasty English Old Ale, but being a hot summer day the Rouge Wheat was a smash hit, the smash hit of the summer.

Between those and following later were two more incarnations of the Istrouma Pale Ale. The recipes were similar, but one was created in another 10gallon batch, which I again kegged 5 and bottled 5. The major difference were not what types of hops, but the order to which they were used. It was interesting to notice how Chinook, Centennial, and Cascade hops, all very similar strains save higher Alpha Acids %, used at different point could change the brew. With the first I used Cascade as bittering hops, Centennial as flavor, and Chinook as aroma. In the other I reversed the Order as Chinook has highest Alpha Acid, therefore more bitter, and Cascade the least for more Aroma. The second bottle was a 7.5% ABV monster and the closest I've come to what I desire in an IPA, but only 3 gallons were yielded so I strive to do better next time.

I had saved a bottle of the ill-fated Kolsch, which never met my expectations, from another 10gallon recipe. I believe the failure was due in part to the heat. A Kolsch, unlike an IPA, does not rely on its hops flavors, it is a Malty brew. The types of malt are important, but not as important as the way the yeast uses them. I have since come to find that in the old country summer beers, like a Kolsch, are brewed in the winter and aged in the cold until summer. At lower temperature yeast are more mellow and impart mellower tastes, better esters. Different types of yeast require different temperature, but a good temperature is 68-70 for a malty Kolsch. I couldn't leave my A/C in my house at 65 in a Louisiana summer without going bankrupt. As a result the beer fermented and aged at something more like 80. This produced a rather sour, flat taste. It was drinkable, but this year I am more likely to be brewing Kolsches and Blondes in Late February/Early Spring time.

The last two bottles of the evening you can read about in other posts here on the Herrmann Brew Company Blog. The Punkin' Porter and the Amber Clone. It seems that my Adventures in Homebrew have caught up to my e-jounaling about it. 2010 looks promising for brew in general. I've begun a new vault. The Holiday Hangover is the only resident there now. It is getting lonely and I have to refill it now that the craziness of the Holidays is over. I hope to open it Christmas 2010 as The Ghost of Christmas Past, it has the alcohol to last that long. New Orleans Lager & Ale Brewing Company and its distributor settled their differences (the distributors won), and now the Blonde is flowing again. Their new IPA, Hopitoulas, is amazing, but just starting to flow. Its name is a pun on their brewery's address, 3001 Tchoupitoulas Street. In addition two breweries are starting up in and around my hometown, Parish Brew Company and Bayou Teche Brewing. I wish them the best of luck. I cannot imagine it's easy with all the bull-crap you have to go through to get beer to people and try to make a living doing it. I know I'm discouraged to even dream of it. Good luck to us all.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Conversation We All Need to Be Having

I got my Christmas present early this year. In part it was my wife's generous nature, in part it was done out of necessity. My 10 gallon batches being made for our holiday company are on schedule, but I am running out of storage capacity. When what to my wondrous eyes should appear, but a featured item at the Austin Home Brew Store Website, The Brew Cube.

It is plastic yes, and I've never used plastic, but I am ready to make that leap of faith. It's ideal because I can ferment 10gallons without wasting the space of two carboys. The extra three gallons leaves plenty of volume for a healthy yeast head, but its opaque exterior make it impossible to watch it form and churn, a simple pleasure I took for granted.

Ten gallons of Amber Ale Clone are in there now and ready to be transferred to a secondary vessel. The Brew Cube is so convenient that I will probably clean it and transfer the 10 gallons back into for aging, again saving lots of space.

With this extra space I will brew the Satsuma Wheat again this week. I have a slightly different recipe, more akin to the Rouge Wheat. In fact exactly akin, save Satsumas in lieu of apricots. In addition, to make it a more Winter ale I plan on adding mulling spices at flame out. Chamomile might make a nice addition as well as cinnamon, allspice, more citrus peels, etc.

Everything seems all set for an enjoyable holiday season, yet there is no joy in Mudville for a most depressing development has come to pass. The conversation transcribed below took place on Monday December 21, and carries an important Christmas Message. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the grammar corrected for the same reason:

Not Me: your off now?
Sent at 12:59 PM on Monday
me: yes i am off
Sent at 1:14 PM on Monday
Not Me: damn your black heart
Sent at 1:16 PM on Monday
me: mwha haha
Not Me: how was your weekend?
me: very nice, relaxing
we spent most of it with family
Not Me: coolio
and your working half days this week right
Sent at 1:22 PM on Monday
me: no i am off all this week
last week the kids had half days,but mine were full
Friday I took off around noon and never looked back
Sent at 1:31 PM on Monday
Not Me: hah
me too
went to nola and went to the Avenue Pub, then when I got back here, i have sinus problems now
at work and slightly miserable
me: the Avenue pub is great!
did you head about the problems with NOLA brew distributors?
Not Me: i had not
whats up
they're being sued by their distributor
Not Me: ?
me: they tried to switch distributors and got caught in a license legal argument
the old distributor sued and so a cease and desist order was called by a judge
Bar tender at the Bulldog told me all this and verifies
you can't get NOLA in this town anymore
some places have a few kegs, but when they're gone, they're gone
Blonde is nowhere in town
Not Me: wow
that sucks
me: yeah
worst case scenario is NOLA pulls out of LA for 2 years
Not Me: so they were trying to switch and got caught in a breech of contract?
wtf is with NOLA liquor producers?
both of them are screwy now
me: If I understand the situation correctly,
NOLA claims their distributor Glazer broke contract
when they claimed "premium distributive services"
Not Me: that's a hard one to press
me: to which NOLA says was not "premium" because they won't distribute on the weekends nor in the Quarter
so yeah until the dispute is settled, their new distributor, Southern Eagle, cannot sell a drop
NOLA can sell to Southern Eagle, but Eagle cannot sell to anyone else
screwy huh?
Not Me: welcome to LA
Sent at 1:41 PM on Monday

Welcome to LA will be the first thing I say to my visitors and, God willing, I will be able to serve them a NOLA brew. Now the half dozen of you who might be reading this most likely know the backwards-ass distributing laws that govern the State of Louisiana. It has taken a long time and a slow progression to repeal or amend most of the "Blue Laws" in my town. Now we can purchase alcohol on a Sunday whenever the spirits take me. (pun intended) But the 800 lb gorilla that prevents most of us Beer Nerds from satisfying our unquenchable pallet with a variety of fresh and unique brews is the distributing laws. These laws are in place as a form a political pork. There's more of gravy than grave in this set up. The only way for anyone to sell any fermented beverage in this state is through a middleman, a distributor.

These distributors are an independent company and, as with any independent company in place since Prohibition, the strong have survived by placing a parasitic, vice like grip on people's booze-to-money stream. I understand the need for such an organization. By going through a middleman we are setting up checks on sanitization and cost control, but there are only 3 of them who have any pull. New Orleans Lager and Ale Brewing Company has fallen victim to these companies greed and capitalistic intentions.

For some reason the legal norm is to hold the producers up to the whims of the distributors, not the other way around. After years of mediocrity in the beverage community, distributors need to go away like the dinosaurs. At one time 3 distributors was all that was needed because there were only 3 breweries, Budweiser, Coors, and Miller. It made sense for a distributor to hook up with a macro brewery to funnel the money from the consumers all over the world to a centralized location in St. Louis or Colorado, but the times have changed. We are clutching like barnacles on a sinking ship and trying to force an ever mutating market into a system which crushes creativity and prohibits change.

Moreover, the companies listed above are not even located in the United States. Craft brew is becoming our beer of choice and rather than embracing the change the courts of Louisiana are holding up our consumption on a technicality of legal terminology. Basically NOLA wanted to fire its distributor, it did, and now they cannot sell any brew at all. It could be that not a drop of NOLA flows for 2 years. That would cripple the company and set the flow of events leading up to where we are now back 30 years.

Update: Wednesday December, 23 Two days until Christmas

On Monday December 21, shortly after this post NOLA brew made this statement via their Facebook Page:

"We are pleased to announce that NOLA and Glazer's have resolved our differences and all legal proceedings are being terminated. Although we have had our differences with Glazer's, we are looking forward to working together in the future. They will serve as NOLA's distributor in the state of Louisiana."

So it seems the worst is over, though it appears that Glazer won the dispute. What that means as far as NOLA's desired distributing, I don't know. What I do know is that yesterday, while eating oysters with my wife, I ordered a NOLA Blonde, which has been hard to find, everyone was sure they were out, but the waitress checked and sure enough I got what I ordered. It has never tasted so good. Maybe now we'll see some of their new Hopitoulas make its way down here.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Stepping into All-Grain Brewing

Stepping into All-Grain Brewing

On May 28 2009 I attempted to craft my first all-grain recipe. I had some handy new equipment I made or had donated to me by my brother and some of his friends. I read a lot on the subject and was given a great DVD entitled Stepping into All-Grain Brewing to help guide my craft. I needed all the help I could get, and, despite my best efforts, I still screwed up quite a bit. I’ll outline the steps and procedures here and clue you into easier ways.

I’ve been brewing on and off since 2003, but those have all be extract brews. Some of those brews were excellent and I would never dream of downplaying the quality that could come from an extract brew. The brewing process is the same in both cases, what differs is the way in which the sugars are put into the water. In an extract brew, brewers buy a set amount of malt extract. This is a thick syrup-like substance that differs in color and flavor depending on the type of malt used. All-grain uses bulk grain on which the sugar crystals are still attached and the sugars must be washed off, or extracted, from the grain. To be sure, extract save time and energy, but you are bound to the types of malt present in the extract, whereas whole grain you can use any combination you wish.

Equipment for Extracting

My last extract brew was made sometime in April to be ready for my friends wedding at the end of May. Since that time I’ve been slowly collecting many new contraptions to prepare myself for all-grain brewing.

The first was a gift from my brother, who in turn got it as a gift from another home-brewer. It is an Anheuser-Bush half-keg you’re used to seeing, converted for brewer’s use. Roughly 14.5-15.5 gallons, a hole was cut in the top, about a foot in diameter and a meshed two-piece false bottom was cut and measured to fit snugly around the diameter of the keg with some supports there to keep it in place. A false bottom is simply a device at the bottom of a lauder tun that allows water to flow through while holding the grain in place. At the bottom of the keg, below where the false bottom was to be placed, is a small hole. Through that drilled hole a small copper pipe was placed, bent as to catch only the water at the bottom of the keg. On the other side is a simple ball-lock mechanism to turn the flow of water on and off. There is a garden hose attachment to let the water flow out, and this was key to me. I had planned to use this keg for two purposes, as a lauder tun and a cooling implement.

For some time wort chilling presented a problem to me. When the beer is done brewing, but before fermentation takes place, the beer is a sweet unfermented concoction called wort. When it comes out of the boil it is very near boiling, maybe 210 degrees. This is way to hot for yeast to survive. So the wort must be cooled to approximately 80 degrees, called pitching temperature before you can pitch, or add, the yeast. A problem is presented because the longer it takes to cool, the more bad flavors will be introduced into the beer as well as unwanted bacteria at certain temperature. In the past I would leave all 5 gallons of brew in its brew pot and submerge the pot into a cold bath. This took some hours to cool and the beer actually pulled some flavors off of the stainless steel pot. The second piece of equipment I made, with my father-in-law’s help, was a coil of copper tubing I was going to use as a wort chiller. It was not difficult to make and it could be bought from a homebrew store for $60-$70. I went to Home Depot and bought 20 feet of copper tubing for $18, and industrial strength washer hose with garden hose size attachments for $15, various attachments to connect the hose to the copper tubing for $10, and a few feet of vinyl tubing for next to nothing, maybe $2. So I got everything I needed for around $45. First my father-in-law and I looped the tubing around a bucket roughly ½ foot in diameter. The idea was that I would submerge this copper coil into ice or cold water and flow the beer through it. It would go into the tubing 210 degrees and, hopefully, come out pitching temperature. So we left the copper straight for 6 inches then started the coil. We looped it over and over till it was about 1½ foot deep then bent the other end straight up so that it was parallel with the 6-inch beginning. At the 6-inch beginning we placed quite an attachment. The tubing was ¼-inch and the industrial strength hose (remember 210 degree water would come through) was ¾-inch so it was quite a feat linking those two, but we linked them with brass fitting and it worked. On the other end I simply forced the 5/16-inch vinyl tubing onto the copper, not worrying about melting because on this side the wort would be chilled, hopefully. So the idea was to attach the wort chiller to the keg with the garden hose attachment, dump the boiled wort into the keg, let the ball-lock open, and allow the wort to flow through the chiller while it was submerged in cold water or ice, and collect the chilled wort out of the vinyl tubing at the other end. Sounds simple. Ah, but the best laid plans of mice and men…

The other plan for the keg was to be both a mash tun and a lauder tun. A mash tun is a large vessel that can hold temperature for extended periods. A lauder tun is a large vessel that can separate the water from the grain. To mash, the grain must be put into water that is roughly 145-155 degrees. It is at this temperature that the natural enzymes present in the grain start to convert the complex starches into useable, fermentable sugars. This would occur naturally at any temperature, but it works most efficiently at this temperature. After sitting or resting at this temperature for about an hour the sugars are ready to be extracted. That is when the grain is transferred to the lauder tun, unless your mash tun and lauder tun is the same vessel. Here there must be a false bottom and some way to let the water run off, like a ball lock. When the water runs off it will be milky and full of grain husks and other nastiness. A clarification process must be done called vorlauf. To vorlauf the milky water is gently sprinkled back into the grain. I collect the runoff in a pot and pour it back into the lauder tun over a colander to gently rain on the grains. It is important to do this gently because you want all the grain to settle on top of the water to form a natural filter, called a grain bed. If you do it right, the grains will compact and float at the top of the lauder tun. All of the water that runs through it will be filtered from nastiness and at the same time its sugars will be extracted most efficiently. Just letting the water run through the grains will not get all of the sugars, so you must sparge. Sparging is the process of adding water to grain to wash all of the sugars off. Again it must be done gently as to not disturb the grain bed. You want the water to be the same temperature of the grain as not to shock it, but not too hot because it will collect the bad taste of the grain husks. Since the grain will absorb some of the heat, you want your water a little hotter, around 160-170 degrees. Sparging should be slow and can take from 30min to 2 hours plus. You shouldn’t over sparge, again because you can pull some of those husky flavors. You want to use enough sparge water to bring your volume of water around 6-7 gallons, then boil it down to your target 5 gallons.

Sounds easy, right? The entire process I’ve just outlined can be skipped if you use malt extract. In extract brewing you need only take a prescribed amount of water, between 3 to 5 gallons, bring it to a boil, add your syrupy extract, and bring it back to a boil. There is a smaller version of all-grain called mini mashing. Mini mashing might use 1 or 2 lbs of grain, do an abbreviated process of what I’ve outlined above, then use extract for the rest of the sugars. Mini mashing will add the subtle flavors and mouth feel of an all-grain batch without all the work and mess. Right now my wife is begging me to go back to extract brewing, as she’s always consigned to assistance with my laborious hobby. For better or worse baby…

Equipment for Brewing

A friend of mine told me a story recently. He had some bigwig executive from one of California’s large nation-wide brew houses visiting his branch. Together they went to a local hardware store and they were shocked to see all you needed to homebrew for cheap, advertised as “crawfish equipment.” It’s true, I told him, our culture breed home brewers. Since a child I’ve been around propane tanks and burners and large pots of dangerously hot liquids. It’s a wonder more of us here in south Louisiana don’t brew. For my 21st birthday my parents got me a 15-gallon stainless steel crawfish pot. That, and a rusty propane burner was all I needed to start brewing 5 gallons of beer at a time.

It is possible to do a small boil, that’s how I got started. Boil 3 gallons of water, add your ingredients, dilute the liquid with normal water to 5 gallons, pitch your yeast, and done. As I brewed more and read more I realized it would be just as easy to brew all 5-gallons at once and it produces more even, less syrupy wort. So using my 15-gallon pot I brew this way.

Since I now do all-grain I can skip this step, but extract brewers need to full dissolve their sugars into the brew water. Bring the water to a boil, remove from heat and add your sugars. Stir vigorously, when you return to heat you don’t want to scorch the sugars. Note: I’ve read that in any extract brewing there is some degree of sugar scorching. That some of the malt is inevitable caramelized, which can make your brew darker than you perhaps intended. Bring the water back to a boil; you will need to keep it boiling for 1-hour minimum. The next part differs with recipes. There are three possible times to add hops and different quantities affect taste. The first addition occurs for all beers. Add a prescribed amount at the very beginning of the boil and allow it to boil the full 60 minutes. This is called the bittering hops. Allowing it to boil the full 60 minutes will extract all of the oils from the plant. These bitter tasting oils will counter the sweetness of the malt and preserve the beer with an oil coating. You may add hops 40 minutes into the boil, 20 minutes from the end. This is the flavoring hops, and its short boil time won’t kill the tastes. The last addition occurs 5 minutes from the end. This is the aroma hops and it produces the strong hops taste that hits you in your sinus cavity. You are more making hops tea at this point with its very short boil time. Further hops can be added once boiling concludes, or even when fermentation is over. This is called dry-hopping. Some people have voiced that too much hops can destroy a beer’s credibility, but I disagree with these folks as I am an ardent hop-head.

Literally anything can be added to the boil. Often extras are added at the 20-min mark or at the very end. A very common addition is Irish moss 15 minutes from end of boil. This is an herb that will attach itself to unwanted protein in the beer and drag it to the bottom, clarifying to beer in the process. Yeast nutrients are often added 10 min from end of boil. These are just dead yeast cells, which the live yeast will recognize and cannibalize for extra strength. It is evidently very easy for yeast to digest its dead brethren. Wit beer uses orange peel at the 20-min mark and coriander or ginger shavings at the very end to add that subtle spicy flavor. Chocolate stouts, which hops are not a vital flavor, skip the flavoring hops altogether and instead of aroma hops use baker’s chocolate at the end of boil. I’ve made many beers with adjunct sugars, sugars that aren’t malt, which is a forbidden practice by Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity laws. I have added honey at the 20-min mark for wheat or Irish beers, sometimes brown sugar for Amber or Brown Ales. The most egregious of my sugar addition was a sugarcane stout I made. I added an extra pound of cane sugar at the 20-min mark and then 12oz of cane syrup during secondary fermentation.

Fermentation Equipment

The brewer’s best friend is a carboy. A carboy can be glass, plastic, stainless steel, or even wooden barrels, basically any material that won’t impart unwanted flavors to the beer it houses. It is a vessel that allows the CO2 produced by yeast out, but doesn’t allow tainting oxygen in. I have a 6-gallon glass carboy and a 5-gallon. They look like big water bottles. It is a large body with a small opening at the top. The opening is called a bunghole. It is called this because you put the bung there. The bung is usually a plastic or rubber plug. Most bungs have small hole in them for an airlock. I use three-piece airlocks. They consist of a large chamber with a tube in the center, a small cylindrical lid to place over the tube, and a cap to place over the chamber. When you fill the camber with water the tube sticks out and the cylinder over the tube gets partially submerged. The cap keeps the cylinder in place and as the CO2 is expelled, the cylinder burps it up from under the water. This allows the CO2 to flow out but no oxygen gets in to take its place. In the case of rapid volatile fermentation the air lock could explode off and expose the beer. For this the tube can be attached to a hose and the hose placed in a small bucket of water to bubble away.

Primary fermentation, the fermentation of the malt sugars, can take 4-14 days depending on the type of yeast used. When the bubbling in the air lock slow or ceases, primary fermentation is over. I use my 6-gallon keg to ferment 5-gallons of wort, because a thick yeast head is created which can clog the air lock. It is not necessary, but I transfer my beer with a siphon system from the 6 to the 5-gallon carboy for aging or secondary fermentation. Sometimes I’ll let the beer sit another week before I prep it for consumption and sometime, as in the case of the sugarcane stout, I’ll boil some type of sugar, for purity, cool it and add it as I transfer the beer. This will kick up the fermentation once again and impart some flavors into the brew. When doing secondary fermentation you might need to wait a bit longer as the siphoning left behind a large quantity of yeast. You must allow the remaining yeast to do its job.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Four Ingredients

The Four Ingredients

You’ve probably heard this one before. It’s a very common widespread topic at any brewery or sometimes television commercials. There are four ingredients to beer: Water, Malt, Yeast, and Hops. When I first heard this – I cannot remember when – I felt like something had gone over my head. What? How could these four ingredients produce the endless variety and complexity of beer? I found out that this simple statement of fact is both true and misleading. One at a time lets look closer at the four ingredients.


I am willing to admit that this is the ingredient that gives the most distinction between brews. So it could be called the most important. There’s a lot of debate of what water “should” be. I account this to personal taste and any advise I get on water I take with a grain of salt.

In all honesty I know nothing about this ingredient. I used to buy purified water for $.75 a gallon outside Albertsons. With a little experience and some reassurance from others I now used Baton Rouge tap water and boil all 5-6 gallons of it. It’s really good water, so I’m told. Some have complained about the fluoride or chlorine taste of the water (only me) and worry about its effects on my brew (again, only me). Again, I know very little about the chemistry behind water. I’ve heard and read that pH has a lot to do with the water. Some brewers recommend lowering pH with Gypsum, or some basic carbonate. I cannot say what level is optimal.

I can tell you from taste though. For example: have you ever had New Orleans tap water? New Orleans tap water comes from treated Mississippi water. New Orleans is the last stop before the mighty Miss hits the Gulf of Mexico, and eventually the ocean. So when you drink New Orleans tap water your drinking everything that sluttish river has ever been with. Admittedly, Baton Rouge is one of the worst when it comes to polluting the Mississippi, sorry NOLA. Our water here in BR comes from an underground source, much like the water in Abita Springs, LA.

Here’s the comparison, I’m thinking back to a past time so you’ll have to imagine a time before Katrina. Remember Dixie beer? Remember Abita? Both are still around but have made some major changes since 2005. Dixie is now brewed in Wisconsin or something and Abita has become more automated and consistent, at the cost of their craft status. Both of those beers were and still are excellent. Made in the same geographical region with the same other three ingredients, but the water changed the tastes dramatically - a spring vs. a river, when you get down to it.

I believe that most brewers try to adjust their water to most closely match the water in the motherland – Europe. Imagine pure spring in Belgium or babbling brooks in Germany. Imagine this hundreds of years ago. Imagine even before the Industrial Revolution. Before, even, the dark ages. Fermenting sugars to alcohol has been around since before recorded history. Its origins are clouded by antiquity and impossible to pinpoint, much like agriculture. Beer however narrows the playing field by what type of sugar is fermented into alcohol, which brings us to ingredient number 2 – Malt.


The word Malt itself is very ambiguous. Is it singular? Is it plural? It is both a noun and a verb. Basically Malt = sugar. By fermenting that sugar you make beer, the name of the alcohol produced by fermenting malt. Further distillation can lead to whiskey or other grain alcohols, but it all starts with beer or a beer-like substance.

The malting process is the performed by a maltster on barley, wheat, rye, or any type of cereal grain. We can all picture a barley stalk hanging out of a cowboy’s mouth, a long seedy looking grass. Malting is the process of making that seedy grain into sugar. What happens to that grain is it is set in a moist dark environment and, thinking it is in environment conducive to life, it begins to germinate. With germination, the barley life cycle is continued. New life springs from old seeds as the grain converts its stored tough starches into consumable sugar for the sprout to grow. Malt, the substance, is produced when these seed of new life is extinguished and its sugars are stolen for our consumption.

The maltster takes this lush, green new life and roasts it. Using a oven-like Kiln and vents of hot air these sugars are solidified into crystals of sugar. This sugar is used for more than just beer. It is used in Malted Milk Balls like Whoppers, Malted Milk Shakes, and most cereals, such as Malt-O-Meal (on the bottom shelf).

For brewing purposes this Malt substance can be bought in a thick, syrup substance called Malt Extract, or still attached to the grain to be brewed like a tea and extracted from the grain itself. In either case the malt is added to water, brewed and boiled. The sweetness of the Malt in the brew, even after fermentation, is overwhelming. Like a thick maple syrup unfit for mass consumption. Throughout the centuries different herbs and spices were added to abet the sugary taste of the malt. These spices added local color and flavor and are still used for these purposes today, but Beer found its perfect companion in the hops plant.


Hops add the right amount of bitterness to counteract the sugary malt and simultaneously acts as a preservative. Its tastes have been described as warmth, tea qualities, and in some cases “it tastes like I’m drinking flowers.” The incredible plant looks like a climbing vine and, like its cousin the cannabis plant, only the female cones produce the oil that is desired. By boiling the cones, leaves, or crushed pellets vigorously, you release the oil that is bitter in flavor and also coat the beer to act as protective armor.

Hops and hop flavoring, hopping, came out of necessity, and necessity also drove the evolution of what hops could add to a beer. In England, the popular Pale Ale underwent a hops metamorphosis as it journeyed on the trade routes to India. Such a long voyage could spoil beer, and so thirsty merchant added excessive amounts of hops for preservation. Out of necessity the style India Pale Ale came about and is prized for its bouquet of hops and hops aroma, and not for its perseverance.

Hops and its oil also provide a defensive barrier against foreign substances so that fermentation does not become tainted. It aids the Yeast.


There are more types of yeast than there are types of beer and with its every changing, duplicating cells mutations are quite common. Brewers yeast has been cultivated over the centuries to be the perfect organism to digest malted barley. The way all yeast works is it eats sugar, poos out alcohol and farts CO2. This combination is ideal for brewers. From a natural process our wort (unfermented beer) becomes alcoholic and carbonated, yay nature!

In truth I know little about Yeast cultures. I’m not a microbiologist, and even they don’t fully understand it. What we do know is that it is a single celled organism, that when presented into a sterile environment at the right temperature with a high concentration of sugar, i.e. food, it will start having sex with itself and duplicate. The yeast will only stop, or “fall asleep,” if it runs out of food or the temperature of the environment becomes intolerable. Another way to stop yeast is to make your beer too alcoholic. Brewer’s yeast can survive at most about 7-8% alcohol by volume (ABV). So if your beer has enough sugar to produce that quantity of ABV then the yeast will die in their own excrement. What we can do at that point is to use another type of yeast. Wine yeast, champagne yeast, or mead yeast have all been cultivated to survive at higher ABV, but they are far more caustic than brewer’s yeast.

Brewer’s yeast is digestible and good for you. If you’ve ever had an unfiltered beer you can see specs of dead yeast floating in the liquid. Do not be alarmed; they are digestible and even good for you. Dead yeast is a great source of vitamin B, and if you’ve ever taken vitamin B pills you will see that brewer’s yeast is one of the ingredient. It has been said that vitamin B fights a hangover, I can tell you from personal experience it does. So if you drink unfiltered beer all night, like a Hefe-Weizen, you will not have a hangover the next day.

Imagine again the annals of antiquity and the gradual realization of yeast cultures. Imagine a primitive man boiling fruit or some other sugar source and leaving it out for a time. Imagine him returning and seeing the beer surge and move. If you’ve ever seen yeast in action you know what I mean. He must have thought it was voodoo, or a gift from the gods, when in fact it was wild yeast doing its thing. Perhaps it came from a fruit fly landing for a drink. Only after centuries of observation did anyone suspect it was a natural process. In fact some more traditional breweries, such as those in the Cologne region of Germany will only use wild yeast. They literally fill an attic with a brew and open the windows. Then let nature do its thing. If you’ve ever had a Kolsh beer, it’s probably just Kolsh style. Like Bourbon, real Kolsh beers are only made in the Cologne area of Germany with wild yeast, in a barn, with the windows open, facing the Cologne Cathedral. Those crazy Germans…