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Strawberry Peppercorn Short Mead

Every once in a while I make stuff other than beer to put on my 4th tap that houses a 3-gallon keg. What was originally an oversight in designing my kegerator (not being able to fit a 4th 5-gallon keg in the keezer) turned out to be a convenient excuse to make smaller experimental batches that I’m OK with having less of on tap. I purchased the book “Speed Brewing” by Mary Izett recently and made one of her recipes as a 3-gallon batch (her book listed it for 1-gallon, but just scaled up).

  • 2.5 gal cold water
  • 3 lb Strawberries
  • 3 lb Honey (from Costco)
  • 1.5 tbps crushed peppercorns
  • 0.25 tsp yeast nutrient
  • WLP001

// Puree strawberries (removed leaves and and white from the middles), combine with peppercorns and yeast nutrient in plastic tub. Add 1.5L off-boil water, stir and let sit for 10 minutes.  Add honey to carboy (measure w/ weight scale under carboy), followed by hot strawberry mixture. Add cold water, shake/stir until honey is dissolved from bottom of carboy. Oxygenate for 30s, add yeast and seal. Brewed 6/4/17. //

6/7/17:  Airlock slowing down, gravity at 1018. Gave carboy a shake to help finish.

6/8/17: Moved to fridge to crash cool.

6/9/17:  Kegged. Gravity at 1008. Beautiful pink color and delicate fruit flavors. Carbonation already settled in a little and already tastes wonderful. Lost a bit of product due to strawberry sludge, so only wound up with around 2.5 gal. Can’t wait til this is ready!

6/15/17: This one is going quick on tap! I’m really enjoying this. Beautiful cloudy pink rose color. Super light, refreshing, and the peppercorns add a perfect balance to the sweetness of the honey and strawberries, which actually implies a little bitterness like a beer would with hops. The recipe is perfect, can’t really identify anything worth changing. Letting it ferment out a little more would be OK, but I wanted to save some sweetness since I don’t always like when my ciders dry out so much. Never took an OG reading, but I estimated it should be in 3.7% ABV range with this FG. I’ll 100% be making this again (and will be trying some other recipes from the book) – and, be sure to pick up a copy of “Speed Brewing” if you’re interested in making other cool stuff like this!

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Hoppy English Red Ale

Next up is a red ale, trying to emulate what I remember from Cooperstown Brewing Company’s Old Slugger. It had a delicious malt and hop balance that leaned a little into the toasted malt dimension. I dreamed up this recipe that has a toasty malt component but with moderate hopping. I wanted something that has a touch of a hop bite (not aggressive), with some soft herbal hop flavor and a bit of a floral nose.

  • 10.75 lb English Pale
  • 1.25 lb Victory malt
  • 0.1 lb Carafa II
  • 1 oz First Gold, 60 min (3% a.a.)
  • 0.25 oz Cascade, 30 min (7% a.a.)
  • 0.8 oz First Gold, 10 min (3% a.a.)
  • 0.5 oz Cascade, 3 min (7% a.a.)
  • WYeast British Ale II (1L starter)

// Mash-in w/ 4.8 gal at 152F for 50 minutes, raise to 168F. 2 tsp gypsum to mash. Sparge w/ 3 gal 168F water. Collect around 6.5 gal 1054 wort. Boil 75 minutes, collect 5 gallons 1062. Chill to 60F. Pitch half decanted starter. Left to ferment at 66F. Brewed 12/27/16. //

12/28/16: Good airlock activity.

1/2/17:  Gravity down to 1020. Still slightly sweet but malt/hop flavors are getting there. Will let sit for a few more days then crash.

1/4/17:  Moved to fridge to crash cool.

1/5/17:  Added gelatin.

1/8/17:  Kegged. Super clear. Flavor doesn’t impress me – harsh hop edge with malt flavors that don’t really jive. We’ll see how it turns out once conditioned. Tasting notes.

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Three Gallon Batch Process

Brewing small batches has its advantages – it’s quick (I can normally knock out a batch in about 3 hours flat), it’s great for experimenting and not worrying about wasting too much time/resources if things don’t turn out well (most of my early sours were small batches), and it’s more manageable for brewing indoors for me at least. Here’s my standard process for making a 3-gallon batch.

Recipe Design

Using brewing software I usually design the recipe for slightly higher volume (3.5 gallons) but with target gravity IBU/color/OG that I want. I’ll lose about 1/2 gallon to trub and i’ll be diluting the wort slightly with ice (more on this later).

Mash

I use the brew-in-a-bag method in a 4 gallon stock pot. Mash-in like normal, usually around 1.5 to 1.75 qt/lb, calculating such that you’ll have around 3 gallons of pre-boil wort. I realize this seems low for a 3-gallon batch, but hear me out.  Rest the mash for however long you want – around 45 minutes works for me. I usually don’t do step mashes; it’s more work and I’m usually focused on speed for small batches. Mash-out if desired, making sure to consistently stir while you heat since there’s no pump for recirculation. The mash near the base of the pot will get significantly hotter than the surface otherwise.

Sparge

Lift the grain bag out of the pot and then use a pasta strainer to hold up the bag over the pot and let it finish draining. I have a nice metal one with the handles of the strainer wide enough such that it’ll just rest on the edges of the pot, suspended above the hot wort. To sparge, I’ll either pre-heat some water in a side pot, or, if you’re super lazy like me, use an electric tea kettle to heat up water in small batches and then drizzle it over the suspended grain bag, making sure to wet all parts of the bag evenly. It’s super effective, and I usually get pretty good efficiency in the 75% range. The tea kettle only holds about 1.5 liters, so i usually do two rounds of water to get my pre-boil volume up to about 3 gallons. The tea kettle is design to boil the water, so just watch it witha thermometer until it gets to 170F and then you’re good. While you’re sparging, start bringing the wort to a boil.

Boil

Boil like you normally would, just watch closely for boil-over.

Chilling

I don’t have a good way to use a wort chiller indoors on my kitchen sink, so I use a less-than-ideal but still very practical way of chilling down to pitching temperature. Ice. Just dump as much ice as your freezer can hold directly into the hot wort. Yes, this will dilute the wort, and yes you’re adding unsterilized water to the batch. Don’t worry – it turns out great every time.

The amount of ice you add will affect how low the temperature gets. Mine usually only gets down to around 110F to 120F. At this point, if it’s cold outside, I’ll sit the kettle outside (covered) until the next morning and it’ll usually be around 60F. Or, if you have room in a refrigerator, that’ll work too.

After the wort chilled to pitching temperature, use a funnel to pour it straight from the pot into your fermentor. I use regular 5 gallon glass carboys. There will be a good layer of trub that has settled to the bottom of the kettle – it’s up to you whether you transfer this to the fermentor, but I usually stop pouring as soon as i hit the trub and discard the rest. You do lose about 1/2 gallon or wort, so be sure to factor that into your water volumes.

Yeast

I usually don’t make a starter since the volume of wort is less. That being said I usually feel way more confident about the fermentation quality if I use a starter, regardless of whether it truly makes a difference in flavor. If it’s a stronger beer (>1060) I’ll make one regardless.

Summary

This all may seem a little hacky, but it’s easy and effective. It took me a couple batches to hit my numbers, so don’t be discouraged if you go through this and wind up with only 2.5 gallons rather than 3, or 1045 wort instead of 1050. Just adjust accordingly for the next batch and it’ll work out fine. Good luck!

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American Wild Ale Tasting

First attempt at using wild yeast cultured from my backyard and sour room to make a beer. It’s a surreal feeling knowing that microbes just floating around in the air created this beverage, and it’s similar to how beer was made centuries ago. And, the end result was drinkable! Here’s the recipe.

Appearance: Hazy golden yellow with substantial white head that fades after about 30s.

Aroma: Esters of banana, lemon, pink grapefruit. Somewhat saison-like, but unique. Summer-y.

Mouthfeel: Light body, fairly thin with medium carbonation.

Flavor: Hefeweizen immediately comes to mind – with a healthy does of ripe fruit and pine. Soft bready flavor with lots of esters, still kind of hefe-ish but not as much banana/clove. The pine is not IPA-hoppy, but more sharp and green. Ester flavors and touch of funk carry though the finish.

Overall: Fun experiment, not so great beer. I expected it to be a little more funky and “wild” than it was, but it did dry way out which made it very refreshing and clean despite how fruity it was. Maybe there was some Brett in there, maybe not. The flavors were complex but I feel like I let it sit too long and the hops may have oxidized a bit, lending to that weird pine-y flavor that developed over time. The most encouraging part of all of the this was the yeast starter – first, the fact that it actually “worked” and created beer, but that also it got pleasantly sour before pitching. Next time I’ll probably try a full-on sour with minimal hops and see where it goes.

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Jaryllo Blonde Tasting Notes

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This was a single hop blonde ale from a 10 gallon split batch. It came out way maltier than I anticipated, and, because I fermented it cooler, was fairly clean and resembled a pale German lager. I entered it as a Kellerbier (wasn’t quite clean/bright/hoppy enough for a pilsner) in a competition and scored 3rd place (out of 9 entries) in the Continental Ales category. I’ll update with judges notes when they come in.

Appearance: Golden yellow, slight haze. Average white head that lasts for a few minutes and leaves moderate lacing.

Aroma:  Breaded malts with a touch of butterscotch and noble hops.

Mouthfeel: Carbonated to medium level, fits the bill. Medium body with a slight astringent finish.

Flavor: Malts dominate with breaded pils malt and some herbal/floral hops in the finish which help to cut through the sweetness and provide balance. Slight buttery flavor which compliments the malts well.

Overall: This may be my new favorite “quick” blonde/pils-ish recipe. It’s heavy on the breaded malt flavor, but bumping up the hops wouldn’t hurt it. The Jaryllo hops were pretty muted, but overall they worked really nicely in this recipe being a close relative to noble hops. I’m pleased with the English yeast’s performance – it really moves the malts out in front, and adds that little diacetyl note which makes me think “lager”. I was a little nervous about entering it as a Kellerbier (or anything German), thinking that someone would call my bluff on the English yeast, but no one seemed to notice! Booyah!

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Cherry Lambic Tasting

I liked some things about the Belgian Table beer with cherries that I did last year; the color was a beautiful reddish purple with a cotton candy pink head, and there was a very subtle fruit flavor. However, my main thought was that the beer would’ve been much better if it were sour.  For this batch, I decided to double the amount of cherries and pitch only a lambic blend from Wyeast. This batch aged for a grand total of 15 months and yielded around 2.5 gallons.

Appearance: Deep burgundy/purple with an off-white/pink head.  Moderately clear.

Aroma: Sweet cherries, plum, dark fruit, with a touch of barnyard funk.

Mouthfeel: Prickly carbonation helps to bring out some sourness.

Flavor: Well rounded cherry with a hint of sour/vinegar and funk in the finish. Surprisingly sweet for how long this fermented. I would have imagined this to be much drier by now.

Overall:  This turned out to be a very “mature” tasting lambic, IMO. The cherry flavors were smooth, soft and balanced, almost like a cherry wine. There was some definite funk present, but the sourness just wan’t quite there. I wound up blending 1/2 and 1/2 with some Berliner Weisse that was considerably more tart. That helped a little, and there was so much cherry flavor in the unblended half that cutting with 1/2 Berliner didn’t have a huge effect on the overall magnitude of cherry flavor. I’m not totally sure that if I had kegged this 6 months sooner it would have been better or worse, but I feel like some of the sharp cherry acidic notes faded. Regardless, this ended up also being a small lesson in blending of beers, so that was cool.

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Light & Dark – Split Batch

Brewing a 10 gallon batch on my outdoor propane-based system is kind of a pain. From setup to cleanup, it takes around 7 hours.  I can do stuff around the house during the mash and boil, but usually I need to keep an eye on temperatures because I don’t have any automation implemented. Yes, part of that could be slimmed down by investing in additional equipment, but there will always be that tradeoff.  The 10 gallon set up does have its advantages, though. In general, I feel like the beer comes out more stable and repeatable than my 3 gallon set up. I can utilize a wort chiller rather than just adding lots of ice and cold water to chill the wort down post-boil.  I can boil hard and not be worried about boiling over onto the pavement as opposed to all over my kitchen stove. Also, you get 10 gallons of beer, not 3. Bonus.

I decided to try and split a 10 gallon batch in a different way than I normally do. There are couple standard ways to split a 10 gallon batch and create two different 5 gallon batches. Here are a couple to note:

  1. Mash, sparge, boil. Pitch the same yeast in two carboys. Lots of the same beer!
  2. Mash, sparge, boil. Pitch a different yeast in each carboy. Great way to experiment with different yeast strains.
  3. Mash, sparge. Split into two boils. Use two different hops schedules and/or two different yeasts. Makes for two (potentially) very different beers, and a great way to experiment with single hops.

I decided to do option #3, but I didn’t want the same malt bill even though I planned on doing one big mash… so I just steeped some chocolate malt on the side, and add that right at the end of the boil on half. This should create two completely different beers from a 10 gallon batch!

Base beer for mash:

  • 20 lb Maris Otter malt (Muntons)
  • 1.5 lb Biscuit malt (Dingemans)

Pale half:

  • 0.25 oz Jarrylo @ 60 min
  • 0.5 oz Equinox @ 20 min
  • 1 oz Equinox @ 10 min
  • 1 oz Equinox @ 5 min
  • 1 L starter WYeast 1056 American Ale

Dark half:

  • 1 lb Chocolate malt (Muntons)
  • 0.75 oz Challenger @ 60 min
  • 0.5 oz Kent Goldings @ 10 min
  • Slurry of Wyeast 1968 ESB yeast from Dark Mild

// Mash-in 1.4 qt/lb at 154 for 40 mins, raise to mash out. sparge to collect 13 gallons 1048 wort. Split into two 6.5 gallon kettles. Boil 60 minutes. Steep chocolate malt for 30 mins in 1 gal 155F water. Add to wort ad flameout. Pale – around 4.5 gallons 1.058, Stout – around 5 gallons 1056. //

Outside water pipe was leaking, got the pale down to 68F but had to chill inside for the stout to 80F.

// Water: 100ppm Ca – 1.5 tsp gypsum 1 tsp CaCl2 to mash, 1.75 tsp gypsum 1.25 tsp CaCl2 to sparge. //

3/11/16:  Both beers are progressing well. The pale half is my favorite. The hops are subtler than I expected, but the beer is very balanced. Awesome body and great malt flavor, with the hops being an accent. Gravity at 1016.  The dark half is appropriately roasted, but slightly burnt. Gravity at 1020. The temperature was around 68 but raised to 75 inside during a few hot days.

3/12/16:  Start crash cooling the pale half, added 1.3 oz ground Ethopian Peets coffee to the dark half.

3/16/16: Kegged both beers.

Tasting notes!

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