Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Brew News

Sooooo, I have been steadily brewing for about two years now.  I'd say I've averaged two brews per month over that time and I have learned a ton.  This blog clearly has not kept up, but hopefully I will be able to stay on top of it in the future.

Couple of news updates to start:

Since I last posted almost exactly a year ago, I entered my first homebrew contest in March 2011 with Aaron.  The Siciliano's competition is a local annual contest, now in its ninth year.  We gold medaled, advancing to the mini best in show round and scoring a 46 out of a possible 50 points.  Our entry was a Belgian Rye.P.A. using some sweet orange, and honey malt.  The funny thing is, I didn't really care for the beer all that much.  It was true to style, but just not really my cup of tea (or mug of beer as it were).  Anyway, doing well in the contest was a huge encouragement and I think I will be entering more contests in the future.

A new homebrew store opened up near me, O'Connor's.  They are fantastic!  Super helpful and friendly.   If you email them your order they will grind it and have it ready for you to pick up within the hour.  Awesome!  I highly recommend them for anyone near downtown or NE/SE Grand Rapids.

I brewed a number of cream ales over the summer and found that I quite like the style.  I plan on continuing this as a summer staple.  Between March and the end of the year I spent a fair amount of time brewing with a number of different people which brings me to my next update...

We (Aaron, Nick, Nick, (that is two Nicks, not a typo) Josh, Calvin, Kelly, Dylan, and I) started a brewer's guild.  Starting in November we decided to get together once a month to brew a minimum of three batches and generally have a nice relaxing day.  Our guild is, as of now, still nameless, but this coming Saturday, Jan 28th, may produce a name... if we get around to discussing it.  I'm set to brew an India Cream Ale with Nick (a brew buddy who has featured in previous posts).

A couple of technique changes over the past year include using a starter with all of my beers (when I remember) and this has significantly improved them.  My fermentation starts much more quickly and duration of fermentation has decreased while increasing attenuation.  I've also started to use less priming sugar when I bottle.  I used to use around 4 oz. of corn sugar for a 5 gallon batch, but found that after more than a couple weeks over carbonation became a problem.  Not necessarily gushing bottles, but just a higher level of carbonation than I desired.  Now, depending on style, I have gone to between 2 and 3 ounces.  Full carbonation usually takes a little longer, two to three weeks, but the end result is a much more balanced beer.  Plus the extra time in the bottle gives the beer a little more maturity and improved flavor.

I almost forgot.  When I first started brewing in January of 2010 I brewed a couple of partial mash batches.  An oatmeal stout and a dark belgian style.  They both turned out pretty terrible and so I dumped it all except about a six-pack of each.  They sat in my basement for a year and half until curiosity got the better of me, and a cracked one of each open sometime in July.  To my great surprise they both tasted pretty fantastic.  This was both exciting and disheartening as I only had a very limited amount leftover, and now realized that I had poured ten gallons of perfectly good beer down the drain.  Next time I will exercise and remember that I have more than enough bottles to let some beer sit for an extended period of time.

Guess that is all for today.



  1. Good job in the contest! I'm surprised you don't use an online carbonation calculator with a scale to measure out your priming sugar. I've done this with very good results (e.g. a highly carbonated hefe and a less carbonated sweet stout). The difference in carbonation between the beers not only helps match style, but I think makes for a better final product. This is the calculator I use: http://www.tastybrew.com/calculators/priming.html

    And I use a cheaper(but high quality) kitchen scale from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/EatSmart-Precision-Digital-Kitchen-Silver/dp/B001N07KUE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327463073&sr=8-1

  2. Thanks for the tip Brian. I do measure with a digital kitchen scale, but just hadn't thought to use a carbonation calculator. That is a sweet reference tool that I will definitely be using in the future.

    1. I forgot to ask what type of yeast you normally use. "Brew Your Own" just had an article an issue or two ago about how dry yeast doesn't really benefit from a starter and that sprinkling dry right on the wort has almost identical results. I haven't tried it, I normally at least rehydrate dry yeast and often add a touch of LME, but I'm thinking of giving it a shot the next time I brew... which hopefully will be all grain soon (Christmas gifts were largely equipment to do 10 gallon all grain batches).

    2. I typically use wyeast or white labs, but occasionally use a dry yeast. I really like the white labs California ale yeast as it is fairly versatile and can handle pretty high gravity brews. When I use dry I always direct pitch. For more robust beers I will pitch multiple packets.

  3. Wait, scratch that - the article was on how the dry didn't need to be rehydrated, I think a starter would always help things out (unless you use multiple packets like you use).

    Do you buy the liquid each time you brew? I'd love to use liquid like that except it's prohibitively expensive, proportionately to the price of the rest of the ingredients. I've heard of people getting food grade glycerine and freezing samples of liquid yeast to cut down on costs.

    1. I've harvested yeast on occasion but you have to be careful of contamination. The easiest way is to just pitch a new batch of wort onto the trub of a previous batch. Otherwise you can acid wash or just use distilled water to separate the trub form the yeast and pour it off while its in suspension. You add just a few inches of distilled water to the trub at the bottom of your carboy and shake it up. The trub will settle faster than the yeast and you just pour it off into another vessel. Usually I repeat this process two or three times. I have had just as much success with fermentis safale dry yeasts as the liquid. The liquid yeasts just tend of get a little more style specific.