Monday, February 28, 2011

What's Next? I mean, besides more brewing.

I have been pondering where to take my beloved hobby next.  Ideally, I would brew more, but considering that brewing takes a chunk of 6 hours or so, and could only be achieved on a weekend or two a month (at best)...I do have idle time nights and odd lunch hours.

So, I ponder....Should I...

Write a book?
Study and take the Beer Judge Certification Program Exam?
Join a Club?
Volunteer at competitions (and perhaps the Great American Beer Festival)?
Build on or add equipment?

Feel free to add your two cents...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Un-Bitter Disappointment

I am utterly disappointed in our wheat beer.  I am sitting here drinking it, and thinking that I would rather have almost anything else, certainly anything that I have brewed (save the watermelon, and maybe even that).  I am not entirely convinced that the only thing wrong with it is that we missed on the gravity (too low).  It also may be that my personal tastes have left this beer behind in the same way that I avoid American Pilsners in all but the hottest weather.

I am also discouraged on the various flaws of our last three maybe four beers.  The wheat is what it is, the Porter has aged well, and tastes nice, but doesn't have the nice head (and isn't as good) as last year's Porter, the West Coast was hazy (too hazy) and finished way too high of gravity for my expectations....not that it didn't taste good, it just wasn't pretty and it wasn't perfect.  The Brown according to my brother's memory, wasn't as good as before either.

Now, if you know me, I am far from a perfectionist....but I feel like our last batch should have been better than the one before....but after all the changes and so called "improvements" to the brewery, I can't say that.  It isn't better, the brewday hasn't been easier....nothing.  I am feeling that I am a crappy brewer....oh, and my friends are only being nice....insult to injury.

I really need to start focusing on the brown ale.  I need a good beer (I will settle on good, rather than great), and an easy brew day....and it won't hurt that it is a malty beer either.  I have learned this much about myself, though, I love my malty beers, not a fan of Hefe's, and can have a hop bomb once in a while.  Oh, and I love to brew the beer I drink.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Got the Oktoberfest/Marzen into the carboys and into the window our tradition of making one lager (outdoors) per year continues....and if this beer is as good as last year's Oktoberfest...I can't wait to drink it.

We had new configurations of our mash tun and boil kettles.  Problems with our design created a stuck mash in the Mash tun, so that we needed to move all the grist and water to our boil kettle and use the boil kettle as the mash tun (they are set up to do just that).  We fixed (we think) the problem with the mash tun and used it for the boil.  We had no problems transferring from the kettle to the carboys.  This leads me to believe we fixed the problem with the mash tun (being used this time as the boil kettle).  We haven't had a problem free transfer in about 4 batches.

We used the new hot liquor tank with the heat exchanger, but with our mash tun problem, had trouble getting the temps back up to mashing temps.  I think that if we could have established the mash temp we would have an easier time maintaining the temp and raising it to 170 for mash out.  More work is needed on process, but the equipment is showing promise.

After we solved our most pressing problems my brother and I had a long talk about where we should go with our next batch.  After talking it over, we both agreed that while we would like to try something new, we need more practice with our new system.  Our next batch will be our brown ale.  For one, we love having a brown ale available, for two, this next brew will be the first time we haven't modified anything in a major way.  I expect we can get together in two weeks or so to brew or in 4 weeks to bottle and brew.  I am just glad to be brewing again.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Feelin' Funky

I have not been in the mood for our light American Wheat beer.  It is a little sour, I think....not bad, but more effervescent...where the carbonation makes it thinner and metallic and I perceive it as sour.  Not that I am against sour beers....I love the Flander's Red and Old Bruin styles....I have a definate thing for the Duchess of Bourgogne, and once in a while a lambic or kriek.  Our wheat beer is more suited to summer time, so it hasn't been what I wanted in a beer.

Today, my taste was for something bold, something unusual....well, not that unusual.  I like my malt forward beers, but today it wanted to be something big.  I went to the liquor store and spent a good long time staring at the Belgians.  As I stood there staring, I started thinking about all of my favorite Belgian Style beers, St.Bernadus ABT 12, Gulden Draak, Goulden Carolus, Chimay Grande Reserve (blue)....all of these are Belgian Dark Strong Ales.  They are funky malty things with all kinds of dried fruit and bready flavors all derived from the malts and the yeast.  They can run upwards 10% ABV and done poorly, can taste like shit.  I so wanted to pick up a couple of bottles to taste test tomorrow with my brother (plus the one that I needed tonight), but each of these bottles run about 15-20 bucks a piece.  I started talking to the guy at the shop, and was amazed how much I actually knew about a range of Belgian beers.  Even the local and National craft versions of this style were in the $10-$12 range.  I know much less about the american versions, but one thing I do love is all of the names the American craft brewers give these beers.  Names like Concentrated Evil, Salvation, Monk's Blood, Holy Sheet, Rude Elf's (formerly Ruldolf's) Ale, and Brother Thelonious, just to name a few.  In the end, I couldn't do it.  I couldn't drop $50 bucks on three bottles of beer.  I left without buying anything.

Instead, I noted online that Great Divide has their Grand Cru seasonal available now (which is also a Belgian Dark Strong Ale).  A 5 gallon keg will run $42 (with the 20% AHA discount).  I intend on picking one up before it goes away in April.  It is 10+% ABV and should last me a good long time as a sipper (and it will age well, too).  Being a homebrewer, I have a hard time paying for premium beers, and even more so for imports that are often notorious for being shipped under less than ideal conditions.  The keggerator brings the price per unit down to a reasonable level and those AHA discounts at my local breweries kick ass....I only wish that my brother lived closer.

So once again I implore you to buy local when you can, and ask for the AHA discount if you are a member....
and tip well for good service.  

I do wish I could sip on a St. Bernardus right now, though.....I would be asleep in minutes.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I am kind of ashamed to say that I finished off the keg of Ballpark Brown Ale.  With a little (very little) help from my friends, it only took 1 month, which means that I averaged about a pint and a half a day....more when you consider that for half the time I had my own wheat also on tap.  I did waste a lot of beer in foam trying to figure out what I was doing....but still.  It is a little too fun pulling that tap handle.

I am also kind of ashamed to say that I haven't gotten around to brewing that Marzen yet, nor using our big expensive Hot Liquor Tank and its heat exchanger.  We are planning to brew it this weekend, finally.  It can not come too soon.

But what should we brew next?  We need to knock out a few beers quick.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Finally.....learning balance.

I have been tinkering with my keggerator system for the better part of a month to get it to perform the way I want it to.  I originally started my system by setting the temperature at 40 degrees and then proceeded to play with various pressure settings on the regulator (and thus adjusting the carbonation).  I just couldn't get it right, no matter the pressure high or low, my first 2 or three pints would be all foam.  I am using 8 foot of 3/16 beer line and was (at 1-2 foot elevation gain and 5,500 feet above sea level), and figured that I should have a balanced system somewhere around 15 psi.  I then started the same experiments with 45 degrees, but with the same result.  It wasn't until I tried 36 degrees that I got a decent pour at 12-16 psi, right about where it calculates out to.  I am still getting a little foam as the beer in the faucet is a little warmer, but it cools quicker with colder beer, but it is about 3 or 4 ounces before the beer runs clear instead of 30 ounces.  Temperature isn't discussed as a reason for foaming unless your keg has not been in the fridge long enough.  My figure is that 40 degrees is just too warm.  It shouldn't be, but it is.  Maybe at 36 degrees the compressor runs enough to keep the line and the shank cool.  I don't know.  What I do know is that I was frustrated with wasting beer and was wondering why kegging was enjoyed by so many homebrewers.  I also know that now that I have little waste, I can use my smaller glasses (the size I like to drink in a sitting) and that I drink less.  I think I have balanced my system.  I may try the system at 38 degrees, and I may try pumping up my wheat beer to 3 volumes for grins, but now I have an understanding of the sweet spot and that I can reconfigure and return it to something that works if I want to experiment.

I am pretty happy sipping beer out of my GABF tasting glasses this evening.

Monday, February 7, 2011


The power of positive reinforcement.  A couple of posts ago, I spoke of the excellent impression that the staff at Brekenridge Brewery left with me.  After a few days, I was still so impressed that I wrote to them to tell them how AWESOME their staff was.

This was their response....(see the picture, right).  They sent me one of their tap handles and a custom Brown Ale sticker on it.  As far as I know, I am only one of two locations in the world currently "officially" serving this beer....the other is the Brekenridge Ballpark Brewery location.

I also think i have mentioned why I like Brekenridge before (I mean, besides the beer), their marketing and logos and train theme strike a chord with me.  I laughed as I went back to my old posts.  I wrote about Seth and Uncle Marvin and Pale Ales while under the influence of Brekenridge's beers.  I also have a fond memory of their beers on the old Ski Train (from Denver to Winter Park)....but alas, the train is no more.

I now can say that I have some of Brekenridge's swag though.
Disclaimer: This post was written under the influence of Ballpark Brown Ale from the Brekenridge Brewery.  It is an a Traditional English Northern Brown Ale....the author likes this beer very much (but now I have free swag from Brek).

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I am not sure anyone can deny the power of the internet and the transformation it has made on the lives of almost everyone who owns a computer.  As I write this on my little netbook, I am laying in front of the fireplace with a cup of coffee while my kids play around me.  Actually, my oldest is laying on top of me.  Before I started to write this, I checked my e-mail, my financial institution's website for my balances, craigslist, and the American Homebrewer's Association Website, all while listening to a podcast from the Brewing Network.

After thinking about it for a few minutes, I almost never watch television or read a newspaper anymore.  I used to be religious about the news, and now I log on to read it on-line and almost in real time at my convenience.  And as the Superbowl approaches this weekend, I find that I may not watch it at all, because although I got to see Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" live, I can always watch in slow motion on the internet later.  I also think of the way the internet has transformed my job and completely changed the process of others.  I have a friend that is studying to become a librarian.  In the future, the library may not exist (as we know it), but there will still be a place for the librarian to assist with research.

The transformation by the internet of my homebrewing hobby has also been staggering.  When I started brewing in 1994, I got my first kit via mail order from Williams Brewing (  They got my business because they mailed me a nice color catalog so I could drool over the equipment and educate myself about their products.  I don't know where I learned about their catalog, probably an ad in a beer publication.  Ironically, I still get their catalog, and look forward to getting it....but I am on their website a fair amount as well.  I also had only one homebrewing shop in my town.  It was run by an old hippie and really had very little choices compared to what you expect to find today.  I also had joined a homebrew club at the time, but I found that many of the people were there to drink beer, and few had more knowledge than I about brewing matters.  Technical information came directly from a handful of books and the bi-monthly issue of Zymurgy.

Today, I have 100's of websites and blogs (including mine) devoted to every aspect of beer, brewing, and equipment.  There is the Brewing Network ( which functions as an internet radio station devoted to beer and a virtual homebrew club.  I like these because I have access to brewers that are far more knowledgable and experienced than I (for years, I have brewed without such access to can be done).  I am actually jealous of the BN as I actually had a similar idea way back when I started brewing (remember, I have a broadcasting degree), but didn't believe that I could make it work (and at the time, I bet I couldn't have...both the technology and the sophistication of the homebrewer wasn't there).
I also wonder if companies like Blichmann Engineering, Sabco's homebrewing division, and  Stout Tanks could survive with the amount of advertising necessary to make them viable.  A good website and free advertising (and sponsorships on the BN) on the forums in word of mouth is all that is necessary these days to make an impact.

But my all time favorite tool on the internet is Craigslist.  Thus far, I have purchased my chest freezer and a complete keggerator system.  I then sold the old fridge for half of what I bought the system for, and just now, I traded the old sanke commercial keg for a homebrew Corny keg.  I keep an eye on craigslist for just the opportunities that arise.  I have my eye out for a deal on parts or a keggerator system for my brother (his requirements are that it look good in the den).  The latest keg trade had me giving up something I figured I would never use (the keg was too beat up in my opinion to use for my brewing purposes) for something I was going to buy anyway.  The guy also sold me another one of his kegs for an additional $30 (which is $14 less then the LHBS and about $10-15 less than others on Craigslist.)  Last year I bought my March Pump and another 1/2 bbl kettle with valves for $200.

Another nice thing about buying good Homebrew equipment from advanced homebrewers is that the equipment is usually well cared for and clean.  The kegs I traded for and bought were far cleaner than the unreconditioned ones you get from the homebrew shop which still have soda syrup in them.  The two that I got had a piece of duct tape on each that told the last time each got new o-rings (which is a great idea).  So in this case, the kegs are ready to go for $20 less (and less work) than the ones bought from the LHBS.  It has been well worth the effort to meet up with these sellers.

If I were to start homebrewing today, I would buy the entire starter kit off of craigslist.  Those are going for anywhere from $40-$75 (more with carboys, less with buckets), and often will include things like caps, corn sugar, and bottles.  You can find a nice outdoor burner for 50 to 75 cents on the dollar, and a basic 5 gallon stainless brewpot

As the popularity of our hobby grows, and the first adopters start aging, look for ever more intensive and professional level equipment being offered on Craigslist.   Some of it might actually be a good deal if it goes ot a good home.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Observations on Kegging

I have been holding off on writing about my kegging system until I understand it more, but I do have some observations.

1. Pressure, line length, height of faucet from keg, altitude and temperature are a lot of variables to deal with when drinking.
2. You can get drunk on only foam.

I am still figuring out how to adjust my kegging system, and with so many variables, it is hard to only change one variable a day to see what the effects are.  I have kept the temperature at 40 degrees (actually, low for both lagers and ales, but bars serve American lager colder) and my line lengths for the commercial tap at 8 feet and the homebrewed wheat beer on my 5' cobra (think of keggers from college....that black plastic tap) faucet line.  I have figured out that the 5 footer pours nicely at about 8 psi, but 8 psi at 40 degrees at 5,000 feet above sea level is less than 2 volumes of CO2.  A wheat beer should have 2.5 to 3.0 volumes.  The brown ale pours nicely at about 12 psi, at 8 foot of beer line, and about 2.2 volumes.  The problem I have with the commercial brown guess is that the beer came from the brewery way overcarbonated for my system.  The other problem I have is that the faucet sticking through the wood collar causes the beer in the back of the faucet and the end of the beer line to warm, so the first pint or two at a time is foamy.  This means that unless I have a friend over, my first and only beer is fairly foamy.  I am patient, but I have been trying to see if there is a way to improve the first pour.  Right now, I get a pretty good pour for the third pint (or more when pouring less).

I have tried a number of different pressures, but I think that I may try a higher pressure but warmer temperature.  I have not yet tried this yet.  A warmer temp means that less CO2 can be suspended in the liquid at any given temperature.  So, to maintain the volumes of CO2 that I have been working with, I will have to increase the pressure coming from the tank.  It is my figure that if I raise the temp of the ales into the 50's and increase the pressure to compensate, the temperature differential between the inside of the keggerator and my basement is less, and I will get a better pour.  This obviously works for ales, but not necessarily for lagers that are supposed to be stored and served cold (Oktoberfest Lager is our next beer....when we finally get to it).

I have a hard time throwing away the foam, from a first and second pour, so I have chugged it....causing inebriation from 2 pints of foam and then a pint of beer.  Self education is a tough path.