Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Brewery is Closed for the Season

After over a year, I finally gave my brother all of our brewery equipment.  It had been residing at my house as I have had more time to use it.  My brother was getting tired of traveling to my house to brew, and he was starting to brew more with his friend (as I had been doing with mine).  It was time.  Still, I am sad to see it go. The basement storage room seems empty and I have it all straightened up.  It seems lonely down there, but I have 4 batches aging down there to keep me company.

I delivered the brewery to his house and we kicked off his brewing season with a Oktoberfest/Marzen.

The Marzen bier is a German Style Lager that was traditionally brewed in March (Marzen translates to 'March", I think, any German speakers can correct me on any of this) to be stored in caves all Summer to be consumed in September.  Now, don't ask me why Oktoberfest is celebrated in September, that I don't know.  Before refrigeration, the Germans suspended their brewing operations and even passed laws that made it illegal to brew from March until September or October.  Cooler temperatures and long fermentations are favored by the lager yeast and also keeps the wild yeast and other nasty bacterias at bay.  Therefore, in preparation for a long summer without brewing, Germans brewed the higher gravity beers later in the brewing season (March) as they would need to keep the longest.  They would consume the last of these beers in September i.e. at Oktoberfest.  Perhaps Oktoberfest celebrates the start of the brewing season?

We at the family brewery also lack sophisticated temperature control (aka refridgerator dedicated to our hobby) and usually restrict our brewing to ales.  But, my brother started a tradition of brewing one lager a year and putting it in his basement's window well (below grade, in the shade) to ferment and lager (German word for "store").  Therefore, we too, are restricted to the cold weather months for this endeavor of brewing lagers.  We are not brewing in March, as here in Colorado, the weather is somewhat more unpredictable and apt to be warmer than March in Germany (that is a guess on my part, as I have never been to Germany...someday I would like to).  Colorado's Front Range can be cold and snowy, springlike and rainy, or downright hot in the month of March.  Sometimes you get all three in the course of a week.  With a lager, you don't want to swing the fermentation temperatures too much, and you want to keep it from 30 to 45F.  Right now, and for the foreseeable forecast (about a week),  the highs are to be in the mid 40s and the lows in the mid 20s.  I figure the beer itself (below grade and in the shade) will not swing but 5 degrees on any given day.  That is not perfect, but it is as best as we can do.

Our Marzen/Oktoberfest brewing day was uneventful except for the stuck mash (my second in a row now).  Our milling was from my homebrew shop with their new mill.  I received our new mill the day after I bought grain, so I didn't get to try our new toy.  I suspected that this would be the case, but I was not able to do anything to prevent it, mostly because I am lazy.  We will have to devise a better sparging system in the future.  On the plus side, we had a great efficiency so that we were able to add water to the boil to lower to our target gravity.  Officially, our efficiency was 65%, but our yield (number of bottles per batch) will be much greater than usual, which means our real efficiency was above 70%.  Near the end of the sparge, I checked our gravity and noted that we could sparge a lot more sugar out of the grains, but in doing so, we would have needed to boil longer to reduce all of that liquid.

I can't wait to dial in our mill to have some kind of predictability in this process.  If we get better efficiencies, we can use less grain, which saves us money.  Using less grain also allows greater efficiencies and it is easier to prevent a stuck mash.  Less grain means less water and grain weight pressing down on the mash.  Our processes need to have us go slower (not a strong point for us) in sparging and longer boil times to get the most out of our grains.

Oh, and more good news, my home brew shop lowered their bulk base grain prices from $49.99 per 50lb bag to $47.99 (basically, 4 cents a pound), but raised their per pound prices on the same grain to $1.49/lb.   This will lower our break even point for the mill even more.  My original justification had a basic savings of about $64 per year.  That savings is now $85/year without any efficiency gains.  With a 10% efficiency gain, the savings will be over $100.  That is a two year break even at last year's brewing pace.  We brewed twice in January, we are thus far on pace to eclipse last year's. 

Anyway, our Oktoberfest will be ready in the late spring, so strike up the Oompah Band and join us for some rounds of singing German drinking songs in our Colorado Alpine environment with a fresh malty German Oktoberfest Lager.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Overhaulin' the Brewery

I finally bottled our Festivus Ale, and for the first time since Thanksgiving, I don't have a beer in the carboys (fermenter).  I don't know if I will like the Festivus Ale or not.  It does have a lot of spices, cinemon to be exact, that I hope mellow over time.  Even with 8 other gallons of beer around, it will be hard to not sample this beer for a while.  It does need to age.

With empty carboys and the brewing equipment being unused for a few days I decided to do some long overdue  overhauling of the equipment.  I had noticed some deterioration of the weld on the inside of the kettle, and am currently trying to find a welder that will work for cheap to fix it and install another threaded hole to add a thermometer well.  The weld is not leaking, but I don't like all of the rough areas inside the kettle, especially since we use the vessel for bottling.

The various pipe fittings on the kettle are stainless steel and brass.  I took each of them apart and soaked them in Oxyclean.  They all had discoloration and remnants of the teflon tape in the threads which I cleaned as best as I could retaped and reassembled.  I should take it apart more often.  This was the first time in  5 years, and probably it should come apart every two uses or so.  As I expand our brewery this coming year, I have to make a decision about all of the pipes, tubes, and fittings.  I can go with the extremely cheap threaded brass fittings (which I currently use), more expensive threaded stainless steel fittings, or exhorbanantly priced professional grade sanitary tri-clamp fittings.  Tri-clamp fittings have no threads and have all smooth surfaces to easily clean.  They clamp with a two hinged (three or tri piece) clamp around the fitting's ends.  It is a small scale version of what is used in the food industry and almost all professional breweries.  After trying to clean out our fittings, I can see the utility of the tri-clamp, but it would almost be cheaper to buy new brass fittings every year.  If money was no object, it would be the tri-clamp fittings, for sure.  But, if money was no object, I would either buy a Sabco Brew Magic system (computer controlled) for $6,000 or just go into the brewing business for myself (or both).

I can't decide if the threaded stainless fittings would be worth the money or save any headache.  I think that they are just shiny (and that is why I like them).  But shiny also might make them easier to clean, and be more difficult for gunk to embed themselves into the threads.  I don't know.  I put a question into the American Homebrewer's Association Tech Talk Forum to see what the homebrewer consensus is.

In the meantime, we are scheduled to brew again on Saturday (Oktoberfest/Marzen) so, I don't think I will get the welding done in time.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Too Much Reading

I have been pursuing a lot of projects in my brewing hobby as of late, which translates to a lot of research and reading.  I have been researching grain mills (along with my justification).  I have been researching upgrading my primary brewing equipment, moving towards a recirculated infusion mash system (RIMS).  I also received a copy of Charlie Papaazian's Microbrewed Adventures for Christmas that I just finished.  I have also been going down to the Denver Public Library's Western History Library, doing research on Denver's Pre-Prohibition brewing scene.  As a result, I am currently reading a coffee table book by Bill Yenne called The History of Beer in America.  I have also been reading up on our next brew scheduled sometime in early February (a window well Oktoberfest).  I don't know why I am compelled to read and study so much on this hobby.  I have always been this way.  

When my wife and I were poor graduate students and I was investigating starting this hobby, I read, and read, and read, and read, and I guess I would talk incessantly about it because finally my wife told me to go buy the brewing kit already, and leave her alone.  So, finally, I did.  That was 1994.  I had worn out most of my equipment and replaced select items to go for all grain brewing over 5 years ago.  And now, it is time to upgrade, and so I read and obsess.

Meanwhile, I have an empty carboy and two filled with our Festivus Ale that need to be bottled.  These things are also nagging me.  The brewery is scheduled to transfer to my brother's house for a while, so I shouldn't brew right now anyway, although, I have been thinking of sneaking in a quick beer this week.  If I were to do this, I would need to go buy the stuff today, get it brewed on Tuesday, and bottled by next Tuesday at the latest.  I think I need to let this opportunity pass.

I need to buy the mill, however, but have been waiting until February.  I need to not buy anything else until we get a few brews down with the new milling equipment, anyway.  So, I read.  If I find anything of interest about  Pre-Prohibition Brewing, who knows, I may have a book brewing.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Boulder Upstart Voted Best Pale Ale in America

I stole this verbatim from the e-mail Upslope sent me.  I hope they don't mind.

Upslope Named Best Pale Ale by Maxim Magazine

Boulder, Colorado -- Upslope Pale Ale has been awarded Best Pale Ale by Maxim Magazine. In its upcoming February issue, the magazine's cover feature, “The 25 Best New Beers In America” highlights Upslope as Best Pale Ale among other “top new brews of our nation's beer renaissance.”
After sampling hundreds of new American beers, Maxim writer, Mike Dawson, declared Upslope Pale Ale to be among ... “the 25 tastiest, most life-affirming concoctions to hit the shelves recently.” Chosen as Best Pale Ale, Maxim's review of Upslope goes on to say, “These guys opened shop in late 2008, and they already own our taste buds thanks to their pale. It's the most palatable craft beer we've gulped in a while. Check the ingredients: ‘Snow melt, malt, Patagonian hops, yeast.' We're officially down with Upslope.”
Still feeling the rush of bringing home two bronze medals from the Great American Beer Festival in September, Upslope is thrilled to add Maxim's recognition to the young brewery's momentum. “We're honored by Maxim's distinction as Best Pale Ale and couldn't be more pleased to be considered among the ranks of such breweries as Oskar Blues, New Belgium and Great Divide,” said Matt Cutter, Founder of Upslope.
Upslope Brewing Company, a new microbrewery located in Boulder, Colorado, taps into today's on-the-go beer enthusiast's active lifestyle by offering superior quality hand-crafted ales in cans. The teaming of fine ales in cans allows Upslope's products to be fresh, mobile, and easily part of an active lifestyle. Shared with friends after a long mountain bike ride, enjoyed at the end of skinning up and skiing down a snowy trail, or ordered in a local pub, Upslope is a natural fit for the active beer consumer.

I have to admit that I have not yet been up to Boulder to check these guys out.  They are only open after 4pm Wednesdays through Saturday, when I am unavailable for sampling.  Ironically, I (helped) design the neighborhood that they are in.  It used to be a Drive In, but is now a New Urbanist neighborhood.  I worked on the permitting and land entitlements as well as the engineering infrastructure and dealt with the Boulder Planning Department.  That was in a past long ago.

This Upslope upstart brewery is notable, as it is located in a town that already has 9 other breweries and brewpubs (Boulder, Avery, Twisted Pine, Mountain Sun & Southern Sun, Colorado, BJ's, Boulder Draft House, Walnut), has one just outside of town (Asher Brewing, that I have never heard of).  Oskar Blues, Left Hand (both breweries), and Pumphouse (Brewpub) are 10 miles away in Longmont.  There are also another Oskar Blues (brewpub) in Lyons, and the Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery in Nederland.  The whole county (Boulder County) has 300,000 people and at least 15 brewing establishments (not including some excellent Meaderys) which is one per 20,000 people.  That means that there is a lot more room for breweries almost everywhere.  The requirements for any brewery in towns that have established breweries is that the beer has to be good.  Still, that is no guarantee of success.  Boulder is a beer town.  It is home to the University of Colorado, has a ski town in the county (Eldora), and is home to the American Homebrewing Association (AHA) and Brewers Association (BA), of which I am a member (AHA, and someday the BA).

I definitely need to make another trip up to Boulder (it is only 30 miles from my house) to specifically check out Upslope.  In the meantime, will have to pick up a six pack of their pale that I can get at the store.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

APA is In Bottles

I got my dry hopped American Pale Ale into bottles on Tuesday, and I am quite excited about it.  We had a lot of problems from a stuck mash and protracted run-off, so that we cut off early and added too much water to make up for it.  A comedy of errors took this beer into the light or session beer catagory.  The taste out of the fermenter (which means warm, flat, and green) was very citrusy (from the American hops), but not overwhelming in any way.  I hope that the carbonation, chilling, and aging in the bottles does not diminish this beer's delicate hop profile.  I am ever optimistic.

Now, I need to start moving some beer.  I need to find boxes.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Three things in My Top Ten (all of them are good cold)

It is rare for me to catch any Red Wing's Hockey these days.  They are not doing well this year, and I don't live in Hockeytown (my heart does, of course).  I was lucky to see that they were broadcast nationally on NBC and at a time that I could record them.

So, nap time for the little one, a new DVR (we got for Christmas), and a cold beer (I am drinking Oskar Blue's Little Yella Pils, a GABF gold medal winner (from a can no less)).  What is necessary to make this perfect?  Kielbasa.  

  If you know me, you know that I have a weakness for almost any sausage including all beef hot dogs, breakfast links (and patties), brats, knacks, chorizo, italian, pepperoni, salami, smoked, game meat, dried, raw, even a little kieska (blood sausage)....if the meat is good, it is usually good for me.  Although I need to admit that kieska is good in only the smallest amounts.

I have never found a good Polish meat market or butcher with anything near good sausage here in Denver.  Every time I hear about something, the place has been closed for six months before I got there.  While traveling in San Francisco for business, I happened upon a traditional Polish meat market (a big Polish Eagle painted on the side of the building brought me over 3 lanes of traffic despite being late for my flight).  I talked to the guy for a half hour and spent $20, and walked out of there not only with an armful of 4 or 5 different sausages (made by hand by this guy and his family for the last 80 years), but also a quarter of a pan of cheesecake that was just like my grandmother used to make.  I ate nothing but sausage and cheesecake for three days.

The Kielbasa that I bought for myself today is the crappy Hillshire Farms turkey stuff from the grocery store.  The meat is not tightly packed, and it only faintly resembles the good stuff I have had all of my life.  But it is enough to remind me of childhood.

I didn't even cook it.  I just nibbled on it cold; with a cold beer, and ice hockey....cold heaven.  Too bad my team lost on the last shot of the shootout.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Cost of Making Beer

One of the most common questions I get when someone asks about my brewing hobby is how much it costs.  My usual answer would be to give them the cost of the grain/hops bill of my most recent batch.  Most of the time I figured on $60 for a 12 gallon batch.  Broadly applied, $5/gallon, about 10 bottles per gallon equals $0.50 per bottle.  Of course it is more complicated than that, as there are other costs than the ingredients such as fuel, cleaners, caps, adjuncts, water, electricity, etc, and the bottles per batch vary too (sometimes you get more, sometimes less), as do fuel costs, and even the raw materials (grain and hops) have changed batch to batch.  You get the picture.

Since I went about the task of justifying a grain mill purchase based on a potential cost savings, I figured I ought to make a rough estimate of all of my costs.  Of course, I only had the receipts for a few batches, and had to guess and estimate usages on other things.  If I couldn't ascertain what I actually paid, I used today's prices to estimate.  My good records only go back to June (when I started using qbrew software), and I found I rarely made note of the number of bottles we actually got.  There were also costs I couldn't estimate such as electricity (used for washing/sterilizing bottles in the dishwasher (with no detergent)) and water (much water and hot water is used to clean) which I ignored altogether.  And of course, there are no labor costs, and since I recycle my bottles, no costs there, either.  Nor is there any equipment depreciation  or packaging costs.  

What I came up with was about $0.57 per bottle on average.  I also figured that I could reduce the costs to under 50 cents a bottle with the grain mill and buying in bulk.  Still, to compare to the retail cost of a craft beer six pack of $7.99 to $9.99 (or $1.33 to $1.66 per bottle), or the $2-3 for bar prices and I am personally ahead, but if I had to use new bottles for each batch (like the pros), my costs would be about $1.15 per bottle.

I have to figure that professional craft brewers can make beer for about 25-40 cents per bottle of comparative material costs (Iess for mega breweries).  This is a wild-assed guess on my part; it could be 6 cents per bottle for all I know.  That means that labor, packaging, marketing, profit, equipment depreciation, shipping, and distributor and retail mark up is about $1/bottle.  So, for professional brewers volume discounts on materials, high efficiencies, and large volume batching are the keys to profitability.  I have no idea what a craft brewery's profit per bottle actually is, and have no way of guessing.  With the cost of a Super Bowl ad, you must figure that advertising/marketing is one of the largest costs for the big breweries, but you rarely see TV or radio ads for any brewery smaller than Sam Adams.  You could also surmise that a small brewery's selling merchandise might be the difference between profit and loss.  This is why I have no good free brewery swag.

The business of brewing intrigues me.  It takes so much more than good beer to become successful.  I haven't quite even gotten up to good beer, but I am a harsh critic of my own abilities.  People like it....most of the time.  I do wish I could sell it, though.  It would be difficult, but it might beat working for a living.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Observations on Aging and Dry Hopping

I dry hopped my American Pale Ale today.  Dry hopping is a technique of adding fresh hops to the fermentation tank (primary or secondary) in order to impart a fresh hop aroma.  I put the hops in steeping bags and stuffed them into the carboys, suspending them from the top.  I have to say that I find this and aging beer (the Festivus Ale) quite unsettling.  You can see the hop bag suspended in the carboy.  The beer looks like it is still fermenting, but it is not.  The krausen just hasn't settled (with this yeast, it doesn't like to).

I don't like beer hanging around in the carboys.  I have an almost unresistible urge to bottle the high gravity Holiday Ale.  I feel like nasty bacteria is sitting in my basement, contemplating and scheming on ways to get into the carboy and feast on and copulate in my beer like a drunken Roman Orgy.  Maybe they are already in there (see below).

I also didn't like shoving hops into my beer.  Although hops are a natural preservative, I felt like I was inviting in the nasty bacteria that was sitting around contemplating how to get in.  How generous of me.

I will not feel good about all of this until I taste the finished products.  At that point we will see if it was worthwhile.  I am, however, keeping with my New Year's resolutions about brewing more, and learning more.  I am pushing myself to try new techniques (dry hopping isn't exactly new, but I never bothered with it). 

Yesterday was my birthday.  My wife got me a subscription a the beer of the month club.  I guess that I will get two six packs a month from this.  Goodness, what in the world am I going to do with all of this beer?  I need more friends.  My current beer cellar has a case of Porter, two cases of our West Coast Red Ale, and 9 gallons of holiday beer along with 12 gallons of American Pale Ale aging and dry hopping (21 gallons = about 210 beers of finished product).  That is 280 beers sitting around....not all of it is mine, but still.  I am planning on brewing a lager by early February, and who knows what next after that?

So, who needs a beer?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Do I Really Need to Justify This Purchase?

Is it enough to want to purchase something for a hobby for the hell of it because it is shiny and new or a neat thing to have?  There are pieces of equipment that I would like to have that will make only marginal improvements to the quality of the beer or the brewing session but are sexy (a stainless steel conical fermenter comes to mind).  Buying a specialized grain mill, however, will actually improve the consistency and efficiency of the beer, save money and incrementally save time.  It is a purchase that I have been weighing ever since we went to all grain brewing a few years back and I think it is time.

I went through my brewing records for 2009.  We used just over 160 lbs of 2 row malt last year.  It is our base grain, in which all of our recipes use a majority of.  My local homebrew shop's (LHBS) cost on that grain is a reasonable $1.40/lb. (other local shops sell the same malt for more).  So, we spent a little over $224 on a majority of our grain bill.  My LHBS also offers to sell 50 pound bags of that malt for $49.99 or roughly $1.00 per pound.  So, buying in bulk and grinding our own will save approximately 40 cents per pound ($6-$8 per batch, or 3 to 8 cents per bottle).  

If last year is a baseline year (which is more than we ever brewed, but less than I hope to in 2010) the savings is about $64 per year.  At this estimate, three years is our break even point for a mill.  Not bad.  If we can find bulk savings on one or two of our specialty grains that we use often, we can increase that savings.  We do, however, also need to invest in storage and a scale to store and weigh our grains.  I will ignore that for the time being, as I can probably use bins I have here for storage and also the bathroom scale for gross weighing of grain.

Another advantage to milling our own grains is increased mash efficiencies.  The mash efficiency refers to how much starch is converted to sugar during the mash and how much is extracted (rinsed) from the grain into the wort during the sparge.  100% efficiency is a theoretical maximum based on the amount of starch that actually exists in a grain of barley, and would be impossible to actually achieve in actual brewing conditions.  Again, referring to my 2009 brewing records, our mashing efficiencies varied from 58% to 72% last year and the most efficient mashes were from grains milled at a different homebrew shop.  My LHBS's mill was giving us efficiencies averaging in the low 60's.  Many homebrewers get efficiencies in the high 70's and even high 80's.  It is a balance between the milling process, the mashing procedures, and the amount of time it takes.  I spoke with people at my LHBS about their mill (and my crappy efficiency).  Their mill is a 2 roller factory non adjustable unit, but it wears out over time.  They replace it a couple times a year from such high volume use.  They showed me one that they replaced, and you can actually see that the middle of the rollers are worn so that there is a visible difference between the gap at the end and the middle of the roller.  It looks like the rollers are bowed outward in the middle and as a result they are barely cracking the grain.  This explains the crappy efficiency numbers (but also the easy mashing/sparging).  I was considering offering to buy their used and worn mill until I found out that it can't be adjusted.   The efficiency would stay the same and eventually get worse.  A new mill is likely to last us a lifetime.

It is not a stretch to say that we can get a consistently higher efficiency if we can control our own grind.  A 20% improvement would likely be achievable, but even 10% would save us $16 per year using bulk pricing.  So, the total yearly savings comes to over $80/year on the two row malt alone.  Including a 10% savings on specialty grains that require mashing (Munich and Victory malts are the main ones we have been using), we could easily save another $10 per year.

We could spend less on a mill.  Most two roller mills cost about $45 or so less than the 3 roller unit I want.  The theory behind a three roller variety is that the grain passes through twice (the first pass is a wider gap than the second) which is more efficient and a little gentler on the grain's husk and thus less flour is made....supposedly better.  I am sure it probably doesn't matter.  You could spend more with larger diameter rollers or stainless steel rollers, too, for more durability and longer life, but the upgrade I chose supposedly makes a difference on the quality of the grist.

Of course, buying in bulk (including malt and hops) won't save me many, if any, trips to the LHBS.  I will still be buying select specialty grains, hop varieties that I don't or can't buy in bulk, and periodically new and different strains of yeast.  It may save us  time spent at the shop, however (which is nice), as grinding the grains can happen while waiting for water to heat or even the evening before a brewing session.

Mostly, a grain mill will allow us to reproduce beers with a level of certainty what our starting gravity will be.  That alone would be worthwhile if only to reduce my own aggravation and ensure the beer meets a profile we are shooting for.  If you add in the cost savings (break even point being 2 years or less) and a possibility to spontaneously brew a simple beer periodically (with all of the raw ingredients sitting around and a couple extra hours time), this purchase becomes a no-brainer.

Birthday Gifts

I just got approval from the family CEO for a brewery purchase for my birthday.  The problem is, I can't afford (really justify is a better word) what I want.  I need to talk to my brother (aka brewing partner) about the purchase as well.  He is all in, I just like to hear his perspective as it serves as a grounding for my own.

We were looking at selling some of our old unused equipment as well.  But, I need to save a little money to make the purchase.  Unless, the brewing fairy leaves a 3 roller monster mill with hopper under my pillow, or someone makes a donation or two...I am looking at $210 including shipping.

My personal justification is forthcoming.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Pale Ale: A Compendium

I have never brewed a pale ale before.  Isn't that strange?  I have been brewing for 15 years and have never attempted a pale ale.  I don't really have any idea why.  So, I brewed an American Pale Ale yesterday...and it gets confusing for the uninitated.  What makes a Pale Ale American?  What makes it an India Pale Ale?  And what the hell is an American Imperial and/or Indian Pale Ale?

We can thank the British for starting us off on a confusing foot.  They screwed this one up.

The style Pale Ale is of English origin.  The beer itself is part of the Bitter Family of beers, and some will tell you that a Pale Ale is nothing more than a bottled Bitter as a Brown Ale is nothing but a bottled Mild Ale.  The actual definition of Pale Ale was any ale made with pale malt as opposed to dark or brown malt.  The Pale is pale only compared to brown.  I think that the easiest way to look at Pale Ale is to discuss the various sub-sets of Pale Ale as a continuum of progressively bigger and hoppier beers.  Hops are definitely the hallmark of Pale Ale, especially hop flavor and aroma.

The original Pale Ale is the English style Pale Ale.  For us Americans, think Bass.  Bass Brewery was established in 1777 in Burton on Trent, England and is often referred to as the Original Pale Ale.  Burton on Trent became a brewing center largely because of its water supply, which is heavily laced with dissolved salts, most notably gypsum.  The salts aided the brewing process in maintaining the Ph balance allowing a better yield from the grains.  Pale malt is a lightly malted barley fired with coke instead of wood or peat, allowing the maltster more control in the process and giving the grains a light color and neutral taste.  The combination of the water and the pale malt allowed a wholly different beer than brown, stout, and porter ales that were popular at the time.  So broadly applied, English Pale Ale is anything from England that isn't a dark ale.  English Pale Ale is noticeably medium to dark copper color by use of crystal malt (not what we would call pale) and its trademark is a liberal dose of finishing hops (taste, aroma), and often characterized by dry hopping (adding hops to a secondary fermenter) to give it a fresh hop aroma.  English hops are featured (Goldings family or Fuggle) displaying a more tobacco like flavor/aroma (not like cigarettes, but more earthy).

An American Pale Ale differs from an English style by the lack of crystal malt and a more traditional gold/yellow color.  Like the English style it often has a distinctive hop aroma and flavor from late additions and dry hops of American hops such as Cascade, adding a much more citrusy, grassy, or fruity flavor.  

India Pale Ale is a style developed in England for export to India (then a British Colony), and has become wildly popular here in the United States.  It is traditionally higher in alcohol content and hop bitterness, as the beer was designed to survive a sea voyage across the equator and around the horn of Africa to the British Subjects in India (and around the world).  Hops are a natural preservative, as is the alcohol.  The color is still medium to deep copper.

American style India Pale ale is a hoppier and sometimes stronger ABV version of IPA, it can be deep golden to deep copper prominently featuring all aspects of hops.   Think Dogfish Head Brewery's 60 or 120 Minute IPA.  The 60 or 120 denotes the extra time in the boiling kettle with the hops to derive more bittering out of the hops.  There is often a confusion as to what constitutes a American IPA or an American Pale Ale.  The high end of Pale Ale overlaps the low end of American IPA and often the names are interchangable.  Also, to further confuse the issue, many breweries don't differentiate between English style and American IPA styles.  It is good to inquire when deciding on new beers at a bar or brewery.  I like to say that the American Pale Ale shouldn't knock your socks off with hops' but all bets are off with IPA in the English or American variety.

Imperial Pale Ale or American Imperial Pale Ale is a hop head's delight, and this is not a starter beer..  Hops, hops, hops, with a liberal dosing of ABV (alcohol by volume, content) as a means of balance.  (try keeping your balance with a few of these under your belt).  It is strong, bitter, and smells and tastes of everything that my wife hates about beer (hops, that is).  This is an angry beer my friend, for the advanced.

Pale Ale is a wide swath of beers, firmly in the junction of the family tree of beers....even Belgian Strong and Biere de Garde has heritage in Pale Ales.  Next time, ask the bartender what kind of Pale Ale....if he/she gives you a strange look, move along.  The differences are often slight, but it matters.  The continuum goes English, American, India, American India, and Imperial from milder to stronger in both ABV and hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma.  You may find that English and true American style PA's suit you (like me), but avoid those along the IPA, AIPA, and Imperials, or vice versa.  Also remember that each style overlaps, so that an American Pale Ale might have more crystal malt character than an English PA, or more hop bitterness than an IPA.

Disclaimer: This post was written under the influence of Trademark Pale Ale from the Brekenridge Brewery.  It is an American Pale Ale....the author likes this beer very much (but still has no free swag from Brek).

Disaster Mitigation Update

It was a huge sigh of relief.  I woke this morning and wandered into the brewery to check on the fermentation.  I left last night with no signs of life in the beer, not a bubble, not a spec of hops debris floating, nothing.  I found this morning that a normal fermentation was going with a nice frothy top and the carbon dioxide was bubbling out of the top as it should be.

After yesterday, I was fully expecting the worst.

Now, if I just can find my camera.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Brewing Session 1: Disaster Mitagation (an American Pale Ale)

"Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods"  Albert Einstein
It was one of those days.  It was supposed to be an easy day, but everything went wrong.  I have been brewing some decent beers as of late.  I was bursting with pride.  I was starting to think I was hot shit, but now I know myself to be a fool.

The high was 11 degrees today, but the cold just made a bad day miserable.  The brewing session started badly.  We got a late start.  My friend had purchased the grain from his local homebrew shop but the weather delayed his arrival.  So, I was in a hurry to get going.  I poured the grains in the mash tun without checking to see if the false bottom was properly seated.  It wasn't.  I had to dump it out, reclean out the vessel and start again.

Since the grains came from a different source, I knew that their milling was going to be different, and from the last time we used this source, I knew it would be a little finer.  It was a lot finer.  For the first time, I had a stuck mash (where the grains get compacted and won't allow wort to flow out of the mash tun).  I had to stir the grain bed to get the wort out.

Since the sparge took extra time, I had a boil over when I was pre-heating the first runnings. We didn't have enough water to sparge (with the stuck mash and all), so had to heat some more.  For some stupid reason (I can't fathom now), I thought I should add water pre-boil to make up for some of the loss.  No sooner did I add it then my friend came out with the last of the wort (I thought I had it all).  So after all that, we didn't have the time to boil off my mistake.

Oh, and I almost forgot.  I used extra water to rinse some of the boil over out onto the driveway.  Where it promptly turned to a sheet of guessed it.  I set myself a trap and went sprawling on my way to the dumpster....thank goodness I wasn't carrying the hot kettle, or holding a beer.

I also decided to use my American II Ale yeast for a 4th generation, but instead of racking onto the yeast cake like I had done the other times, I racked the last beer and took a cup per carboy or so of the cake a couple of days ago.  It had shown signs of life in the jar, but so far, after 4 hours, no signs of fermentation in the carboy.  If there is nothing in the morning, I will have to grab fresh yeast from my local homebrew shop..

At the end of the day, I have a 1.044 starting gravity on a beer that was supposed to be 1.055, and may not have it fermenting.  I did learn a couple of things, however.

First.  The stuck mash convinced me that I need to buy a good grain mill like this one from Monster Brewing Hardware to control my own grist milling.  My homebrew shop obviously doesn't mill it as fine as others (as such, this is probably the reason that my efficiencies are consistently so low).  I also learned that when you have a more fine milling, my usual method of batch sparging does not work.  The weight of the water compacts the grains and creates the stuck mash.  The slow sprinkle method using a sparge arm finally makes sense to me now.  We were only able to get the sparge going by adding just a little water at a time.

Other problems were caused because I set up my mash tun in the basement (usually it is outside near our boiling operation) due to the cold weather.  I did not know that I didn't have all of the wort, and added water.  There was nobody there to question my actions since my friend was downstairs doing some clean up.  It would be nice if I could work all in one area.  This is a flaw of my house, my brewery set up is kind of like a bad kitchen layout.  My clean up area is in my laundry room on the north side of the basement, the spigot outside is on the south side of my house, and my boiling area is in my detached garage on the west side of my lot.  A lot of trouble would be solved if I had a sink in my garage and could do fermentation out there somehow.  I have to work out some better system.  Maybe someday I will build me a proper brewery/shed/man cave with running water.  Another item for the wish list.

Well, the beer won't be what we expected, but if it starts to ferment at all, it will be beer, and it might surprise us.  I hope that this brewing session isn't a harbinger for 2010.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Brewing More in 2010

I brewed at least 9 batches of beer in 2010.  That equates to over 3 barrels (approximately 96 gallons total) of beer and somewhere between 900 and 1,000 bottles of beer.  I didn't drink them all.  Half went to my brother or other co-brewers, and I like to give away and share beer with my friends, family, and neighbors whenever I can. 

One of my goals for this year is to brew More, even though I brewed more last year than I ever had before.  I think the emphasis is on the word More.  I would not be upset to brew less than 96 gallons.  I might, however, be upset to only brew 9 times.  I would be pleased to brew only 6 times if I knocked my own socks off with the beer I brewed.  That said, I want to practice brewing whenever I can.  Real life is sure to get in the way, as my wife and kids have their own agenda involving me, but I want to get the most (get more?) out of every batch I brew.  

I wouldn't mind brewing with more people.  I got the chance last year to show brewing to a person that had never brewed before, and do all-grain beers with two people that had previously only brewed with extracts.  It was a lot of fun teaching, but I had good and motivated students.  It might be nice to brew with other people on their equipment, especially those who might have nicer (or more complex) rigs then I.  Everyone does things a little differently, and emphasize different aspects of the process.  I am in need of learning more hands on tips, tricks, or see equipment used that improves the beer or makes the process quicker, easier, or safer.  I should join a local brewing club, but am not sold on the idea.  I have been reluctant to do so for many personal reasons and past experiences, but perhaps this is the year I just suck it up and do it.

I had also had the chance to brew by myself a few times this past year.  I usually brew with my brother (or occasionally friends).  I did enjoy the quiet time and introspection of this personal endeavor.  I do like having company for the clean up, though.  If I get the chance, I should try to brew alone more, especially if I make improvements to my brewery and need to understand procedure.

Brewing more means I want to brew with absolute intention.  I want to have each beer turn out how I think it should, how I intend it to.  I would accept the beer turning out better than hope for as well.  The beer should not only look and taste how I want it to, but I would also like for it to have at least the starting gravity and volume that I am shooting for (without adding adjuncts or extract to hit that gravity).  This might be a bridge too far, as another resolution of mine is to make process and equipment changes to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and try to be environmentally and economically friendly.  So, I want to experiment more.  Definitely, I want to get more satisfaction out of brewing, get more better beer, and experience more and different brewing experiences.  I want to learn more about what is happening from what we do as brewers.  I want more people to taste my beer, and I want more (and better) feedback.  This probably means I need to enter my beer in more competitions, even though I am not really competitive.  I don't want to necessarily win (although it might be nice).

Certainly, I want more out of 2010 than I had gotten out of 2009.  I intend to push for it. 

Friday, January 1, 2010

Contemplating 2010

I have been thinking about what I want to accomplish in 2010. While my personal list is a mile long, my brewing specific list boils (pun intended) down to a few general themes.


1. Brew More (Do More, Learn More, Teach More, Live More)
2. Spend less per batch/beer, and try to be more ecologically friendly
3. Improve processes
4. Replace/upgrade equipment that will enable us to accomplish goals 1, 2, and 3.

I plan on expanding on these in the next few days. I hope I can outline my plans before I brew again (tentative plans to brew a batch with my friend this coming week). If you have ideas along these lines, please make comments along the way. Your journey is mine as well, constant reader.

My best regards to you and yours this year,