Jan 312009

January has come and gone, and with it another Fermentation Friday. This month we asked readers to send us their “brew year’s resolutions” – those things you were going to start or stop doing to improve your brewing in 2009. We received quite a few answers – here is a brief roundup of everyone’s posts. Thanks to everyone who wrote in this month!

Mel & Ray over at Bathtub Brewery resolve to brew as many styles as possible. Mel resolves to tone down her adventurous recipes and shoot for technically perfect beer, while Ray is heading in the opposite direction, looking to brew with some unusual ingredients. Congrats on the upcoming wedding, guys!

The gang at Just Another Booze Blog sent in two entries. M. Randolph recaps a good 2008 and resolves to spend 2009 learning to brew more efficiently, cut down production costs, and to become a master of all things hops. B. James describes an all-too-familiar tale of brewing the perfect beer and being unable to replicate it. To that end, consistency is the goal for 2009.

Stephanie over at brew.cook.pair.joy also has consistency on the mind. She aims to gain precise control over every aspect of the brewing process, with an automated brew sculpture being the ultimate goal.

Rob over at Pfiff! must’ve done a lot more brewing than I did in 2008, since he had to host a party to make room for some new beers. While examining his inventory, he came to the realization that his beers tend to be a bit high on the ABV chart. He has declared 2009 to be the “Year of the Session” and hopes to create a lower ABV beer without sacrificing flavor and quality. He also is a fan of inane wordplay, so he gets some bonus points there!

I gotta hand it to Ted over at Ted’s Homebrew Journal – by cleverly making contributing to a Fermentation Friday one of his resolutions, he’s already got one he can scratch off the list! Sounds like he’s also working on some homemade wooden pub games and tap handles – Ted, send some pics in when you’re done with that stuff!

The creator of Fermentation Friday, Adam @ Beer Bits 2 sounds like he’s got a good thing going and wants to continue on that road in 2009. He already reuses yeast cakes, buys in bulk, and is working on a kegerator and brew basement. You can tell something about a person’s level of brewing by reading their resolutions, and reading a post like this makes me realize I need to step it up a few notches! Hmmm, what were my resolutions again??

Dave at Muckney Brewing wants to go all-grain, brew more often, and put a little research into running a brewery/brewpub. That last one is definitely a dream I share, so best of luck to you!

I like where Damon from Life With Beer is going with his goals this year – he plans to cook more with beer and barley, start making cheese, and tackle the brewing issues of water chemistry and malt aroma. Let me know when you throw a beer, cheese, and food tasting, Damon – I’ll be there!

Thomas at Geistbear Brewing Blog wants to make the move to all-grain and try a few interesting styles. He makes the best resolution of all, which is to keep the hobby of brewing fun. He also stumped me with the word scuppernong. Points.

Matt from A World of Brews ushers in his second year of homebrewing by resolving to brew more beer in 2009! On the list of to-do-brews is an American barleywine, a stout or porter, and a session ale or light fruit beer. Matt also mentions he will be at the NHC this year, and that is one of my resolutions – maybe I’ll see you there, Matt! Finally, Matt also resolves to try and get into all-grain.

Brew Dude John over at Brew Dudes has one up on all of us – he actually set some resolutions last year and uses this time to look back at his progress. John asks, “Is 2 and a half out of 5 ok?” Well, depends – 50% would be failing if we’re talking about a high school Spanish class, but for brewing resolutions I think you’re doing just fine. Once again, switching to all-grain makes the list!

John from Northern Table set nine resolutions for 2009. They include brewing with some wild ingredients, making a sour beer, getting into wood aging, and starting to make lagers. John also resolves to help someone get into all-grain this year. That should be an easy one – looks like plenty of people want to take the plunge!

Finally, last but not least, Rich left a comment with three succinct goals – make two ales, make a few lagers, and get into all-grain.

Well, there you have it. It would seem that switching to all-grain is the #1 brew resolution of 2009, followed closely by brewing more beer and gaining better consistency over our results. Thanks to everyone who contributed – I had a blast reading your posts! If you didn’t participate but wanted to, drop me a line with your post! It’s never too late for brew year’s resolutions!

Jan 052009

Fermentation Friday was started by Adam over at Beer Bits 2, and it’s a chance for all homebrew bloggers to sound off on a singular theme at a set date – the last Friday of each month (check out Adam’s post explaining the origins).

So, happy 2009! I think I am still hosting Fermentation Friday this month, so it would be a good idea to get a topic out there! In the spirit of the New Year, your assignment is to give us your ‘brew year’s resolutions’ for 2009 (sorry for the horrible wordplay). Was 2008 a good brewing year for you? What can you improve on or change that will make 2009 even better? Any promises to yourself, like brewing a certain style for the first time, going all-grain, or upgrading your system? Put it all out there, and we can all convene over a brew in 2010 and see how we did.

Posts should be submitted by Friday, January 30, 2009 – you can email them to me or leave them as a comment. Just a note – if it is your first time commenting on the blog, it holds the comment until I approve it. I don’t like doing this, but it stops the enormous amount of comment spam that winds up here every day. Anyway, if you comment and it doesn’t immediately show up, fear not – it is probably just queued for approval. If you want to be extra sure I received your link, email it to me and I’ll reply confirming I got it.

Thanks to Adam for letting me host – I am really looking forward to reading everyone’s posts!

Sep 292008


Avocado beer?

Fermentation Friday was started by Adam over at Beer Bits 2, and it’s a chance for all homebrew bloggers to sound off on a singular theme at a set date – the last Friday of each month (check out Adam’s post explaining the origins).

This month Fermentation Friday is being hosted by Marcus at FinalGravity, and he has asked us to answer the following question: What indigenous brewing ingredient have you used or would you like to brew with and what style would that beer be?

Thanks to Marcus for hosting, and make sure to check out the roundup post to check out everyone’s responses!

Good topic this month. My tastes definitely lie towards beers featuring interesting ingredients. Fruit, spices, vegetables, whatever – I like adjuncts of all kinds in my beer, even if it’s only for the novelty factor.

The way I see it – I know what most beer styles out there taste like when they are brewed “by the book”. A perfectly crisp and clean Kölsch; a silky smooth stout that pours as dark as your childhood nightmares. I enjoy beers brewed to style, and I often brew to style as a way of refining my process. Aiming for a set target with defined OG, color, and bitterness values is a great way to keep your system and process properly calibrated. However, brewing to style is not a terribly creative process.

When cooks get creative, they take established recipes and turn them on their head using interesting and unusual ingredient pairings. When brewers get creative, they do exactly the same thing. Take a Mexican lager and throw some chile pepper heat in there. Take that velvety stout and add some vanilla, some hazelnut, maybe some chocolate and cherry notes. Add some fruit to a basic American wheat, and you make an entirely different beer. Mess around with the grainbill and change the mouthfeel or the “chewiness” of the body. This is the stuff that gets me excited to brew – pushing the boundaries and perhaps coming up with the Next Great Beer.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to really stretch my wings that much. I’ve messed around on a few recipes, but for the most part, I’m still being cautious, because I don’t know enough about how ingredients interact yet. Most of my brewing takes established recipes and changes one or two variables, so I can gain the knowledge and confidence to really take it up a notch.

And there’s one ingredient I’ve been dying to use.

I’m not even sure if this is possible, or if it’s been done before (casual web searches say no).

It’s almost certainly not advisable.

Yes, I’m talking about avocado.

There’s just something about the creamy, unassuming taste of the humble avocado. It forms the backbone of guacamole. It finds a home in salads. Why not land a starring role in beer? Heh, my girlfriend thinks such a concoction would be horrible, and she might be right. The conspicuous absence of any avocado-beer recipes might be a sign that this is not a wise idea. However, I think if it was done correctly, if it could be done correctly, it would be tasty. Or disgusting. Hmmmm.

Aside from the fear of creating a nasty, undrinkable brew, I wonder about the oily avacado’s impact on head retention and other such issues. I need to go read my copy of Radical Brewing again and see if avocados are mentioned.

Please, if you have tried this, or know of a brewery that has, let me know. I know I can’t be the first to think of this, and I’m sure if I really searched I could find more info about it. In a way, though, I don’t want to look that hard – every time I thought I had a great, original idea for a brewing ingredient, a quick websearch told me I was brewer number 53,204,285,274,127 to give it a try. This is the only hope I have left to be a trailblazer – to go where no brewer has gone before. So, maybe you shouldn’t tell me about that great avocado beer your local brewpub has on tap every year – let me give it a shot and at least pretend I had an original idea. My girlfriend will let you know how it turns out.

Aug 292008

Fermentation Friday was started by Adam over at Beer Bits 2, and it’s a chance for all homebrew bloggers to sound off on a singular theme at a set date – the last Friday of each month (check out Adam’s post explaining the origins).

This month Fermentation Friday is being hosted by Bunz at The Panhandle Beer Snob and Redneck Brewery, and he has asked us to answer the following question: What, in the opinion of others, is the best beer you have ever made and why?

Thanks to Bunz for hosting, and make sure to check out his roundup post to see everyone’s responses!

This is an interesting question for me, because there are not a lot of people out there who have sampled my beers. None of my friends are huge beer drinkers, and those that have tried my brews did so very early in my brewing career – I fear I may have scared them off. So, the only consistent audience I have had is my girlfriend and her parents.

Girls like beer

My girlfriend likes my beer!

I’ve come a long way from those first brews, and every brewday finds me tweaking the process just a little bit more, shooting for that perfect batch. I’ve absorbed a huge amount of knowledge from books, online forums, and my (get ready for some crazy alliteration) beer and brewing blogger bretheren (whew!), which has helped me hone my skills. As I have developed as a brewer, the beers have gotten much better. Because of this progression, an easy answer to the question is: Whatever beer I brewed last was the best, according to girlfriend et al.

Now, I think my skills are starting to plateau. My equipment is pretty much where I want it, and I’ve gotten much better at dialing in my system and hitting my numbers. I have the procedures down, and am much more comfortable with all aspects of the brewing process. This means my beers are reaching a consistent level of quality. In other words, I’ve got all the big stuff down – now it’s time to start working on refining the small details of brewing and try to reach the next level.

How does all this relate to the question at hand? Well, if I had to pick the one beer that had the best reception, both in my own opinion and the opinion of others, it would have to be the beer I recently made where everything “clicked” and turned out exactly as I had planned. That beer was my Sunset Wheat Clone recipe that I brewed back in June of this year.

This beer turned out wonderfully – the finished product had all the great characteristics of a refreshing summer wheat. The mouthfeel was smooth with a touch of wheat creaminess (which I attribute to the protein rest I did during the mash). The flavor held a slight hint of lactic sourness, but it was balanced perfectly by the light hop bitterness and hint of boysenberry sweetness. The alcohol content was low enough to enjoy a few in the summer heat, but high enough to not taste like a light beer. The Kölsch yeast I used provided a nice, clean, crisp flavor.

The summer wheat got rave reviews from all who tasted it, and I have already been forced to promise several repeats. While I am proud of the brewing execution and how all my planning and hard work paid off, the style itself probably had a lot to do with the good reviews. The beer was the perfect bridge brew, light enough to be inviting to non-beer drinkers, but with enough complexity to appeal to us beer snobs as well.

It thrills me that I feel in control of my brewing now, and that other people can enjoy the results. Hopefully, their favorite of my beers will be whichever one is in their glass at the moment!

Jul 252008

Ah yes, another glorious Friday, and it also happens to be July’s Fermentation Friday! Fermentation Friday was started by Adam over at Beer Bits 2, and it’s a chance for all homebrew bloggers to sound off on a singular theme at a set date – the last Friday of each month (check out Adam’s post explaining the origins).

This month Fermentation Friday is being hosted by John at Brew Dudes, and he has chosen the following theme: What one tip would you give a beginner homebrewer before they brew their first batch and why? (We can only give one tip, and it can’t be “Relax!”) Thanks to John for hosting, and make sure everyone heads to his roundup post to read everyone’s responses!

I thought about this topic for awhile – I pondered discussing how to make a yeast starter, or how to best avoid boilovers. However, I realized many of the tips I had were based on my system and my process, and might not apply to all brewers out there. After some consideration, I came up with a tip that I think all new brewers can benefit from:

Take it slow, start small, and do things the hard way for awhile.

Too often, I see posts on brewing forums to the effect of “Hi, I think I want to start brewing, should I get the Sabco BrewMagic system, or just go straight to the fully-automated 40bbl pilot brewery?” These posts irritate me… It’s a simple fact that it’s always a bad idea to jump into any hobby with both feet and your wallet – you don’t even know if you’re going to enjoy brewing, and if you change your mind in a month, good luck recouping the several thousand dollars you just dropped. Trust me, I know all about having more money than sense, but start off small! There will be ample opportunities to drop coin on this hobby down the road. Get a decent starter kit for $150 or so, and take it from there.

More important than losing your money, however, is the fact that you are going to miss out on so much that makes brewing fun. Brewing is art and science combined, and part of the beauty is that anyone can do it. If you plan carefully and take your time and learn the ins and outs, you can make beer on a stovetop that will rival a batch made on one of those super systems.

The reason you go for an automated system is predictability – the ability to eliminate lots of variables and produce the same results consistently. Sound good? Not when you are starting out! You want variables, you want to make mistakes, because that is how you learn! Your first few batches won’t be your best – do you want to consistently reproduce mediocre beer? Making mistakes will frustrate you and force you to analyze your methods and equipment. Naturally, you will zero in on areas which need improvement, and your system and skills will grow as you progress in your brewing journey. This is the real joy of brewing – starting out with a vision and trying to make it reality. Sometimes you nail it. Sometimes you don’t. Almost always, you will wind up with drinkable beer, even if it is not exactly what you planned. Once in awhile, something will turn out better than you expected – relish these moments, cherish them, then go out and try to make it happen again!

I’m also a big believer in paying your dues. How are you going to appreciate all of the cool features and automation a system provides if you don’t do it “the hard way” first? Brewing is a lot of work, but that adds to the satisfaction you feel when you pour a pint of great homebrew. What satisfaction will you get from pushing a couple of buttons and watching TV for an hour? Put the work in, make some beer, progress to whatever point you wish – the enjoyment should always outweigh the effort.

So start off small and enjoy the journey. You’ll know when it’s time to upgrade equipment, and you’ll understand why an upgrade will help you. You’ll drink a lot of beer along the way, and have the satisfaction of watching (and tasting!) your skills grow with experience. Most of all, have fun with it – it’s a great hobby!

Jun 272008

Today is my first Fermentation Friday, the brainchild of Adam at Beer Bits 2, and I’ve been looking forward to it! Unfortunately, I had two wisdom teeth removed, so this is getting posted a bit late. That is my level of commitment to the beer blogging community – not even oral surgery and a tummy full of Vicodin can keep me down.

This month’s Fermentation Friday is being hosted by Travis over at CNYBrew – thanks for hosting, Travis, and I can’t wait to read everyone’s submissions.

I fear my entry might be on the boring side of the spectrum. I’ve had several brews which went bad, but only one I can think of where I created something I would call “crazy”. Until recently, I just didn’t have the space or equipment to brew the way I wanted, so every chance to brew was extremely valuable. I never wanted to waste a brewday experimenting too much. One night, however, a perfect storm of leftover ingredients and boredom gave birth to a Frankenbeer.

Question mark

What the....?

I had just mixed up a one gallon batch of Joe’s Ancient Orange mead (I’ll post an article with a recipe and process soon – it is an extremely easy and low maintenance way to start making mead).  I had an extra one gallon jug sitting around, and as I cleaned up from the mead session, I started wishing I could’ve brewed that night. At the time, I was still living in an apartment and making partial-mash beers on the stovetop. I was putting away some equipment when I saw some leftover DME and a half pound each of Crystal 40 and 2-row malt. I knew I had a pack of US-56 dry yeast in the freezer, so I got the bright idea to make a one gallon batch of mystery beer.

I cooked up my wort and went to the freezer where I thought I had some Hallertauer hops. When I realized I had used all my hops in my last batch, I didn’t know what to do. I knew I couldn’t brew this thing with no hops whatsoever, so I was about to toss the wort when inspiration struck (famous last words).

I had read about spices brewers used before hops were common. I just happened to have a bunch of rosemary sprigs sitting on my kitchen counter, so I figured, “why the heck not” (other famous last words). I added some rosemary at 60 and 15 minutes into the boil, chilled, and racked the wort into the jug. I clocked the gravity at 1.040, pitched the yeast, and went to bed.

The next day, the stuff was fermenting like crazy! I started thinking this might turn out to be a great beer! I would post my findings online and be heralded as a crazy and experimental brewer like Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. I started preparing answers for the inevitable interviews from Brew Your Own and Zymurgy magazines. This was going to be cool!

Days passed. As the mead started smelling better and better, my freakshow brew started smelling worse. It kept fermenting and fermenting, and I started having some doubts. I told myself the slightly rank odor was just fermentation byproducts – after all, no beer really smells good when it’s fermenting. I posted my little experiment on a beer forum and got only one response:

Might make an excellent marinade for chicken.

Finally, the day came to try the concoction. I was filled with nervous anticipation as I poured a bit in a taster glass. I gave it a sniff – hmmm, it was a cross between rotten rosemary and old gym socks. I touched the glass to my lips, tipped it slightly, and…

…spat the nastiest stuff I had ever tasted into the sink. I quickly poured the rest of the “beer” down the drain as well, and threw away the jug for good measure. If I had been thinking clearly I would’ve buried it out in the Rockaways somewhere.

So there you have it – my first foray into “scrap brewing”. It didn’t turn out the way I planned, but I haven’t given up. I have plans to create a garlic brew in the near future – primarily for cooking, but who knows? It might just land me in BYO after all!

Jun 122008

This is pretty cool – Adam at Beer Bits 2 (now an official Friend of Lootcorp!) has started up a new, um, “beer blogging community day” – for lack of a better term… You know, where beer bloggers agree on a topic and all post about it on the same day every month.

We have The Session, started by Stan Hieronymus of Appellation Beer back in early 2007, where all the bloggers post about a particular beer style or beer-related topic on the first Friday of every month. However, Adam thought it would be cool to have a beer-blogging day just for homebrewers and homebrew-related topics, and I couldn’t agree more. He has hereby designated the last Friday of every month “Fermentation Friday”, the homebrew blogging day, and I am happy to say that lootcorp.com has already signed up as a host! Many thanks to Adam for the opportunity!

Now, the bad news…this idea was such a success that the host roster filled up pretty quickly, and I’m going to have to wait until January 30, 2009! So, for now, just mark your calendars, and drop me a comment if you have any suggestions for a good early winter homebrewing topic. In the meantime, I’ll be participating in Fermentation Friday every month – this month it is being hosted by Travis at CNYBrew.com, topic TBA (check out the list of scheduled hosts for future months). I can’t wait!