Tag Archives: Home Brewing

My (Last Year’s) New Beers Resolutions

Last year I set out a list of my hilariously named New Beers Resolutions and as one notorious for both rarely making or rarely keeping resolutions I thought I would re-visit the list to see how I did or didn’t fare on my goals.

  1. Relax and enjoy the act of drinking craft beer i.e. take a break from diligent note taking and photographing in order to actually savour the experience. Actually I think I did pretty good with this one though those who know me will interject with the fact that I have become a little co-dependent with the Untapped app on my phone; however, I like to think I can now take a quick picture, write a few thoughts or just bestow a couple of stars and voila I am back on track to just enjoy the experience of savouring a great beer. I rarely carry around my rate beer notepad and I have taken to relying on my memory more than any physical proof that I really did try and enjoy any given beer.
  2. Learn more about the ‘craft’ aspect of craft beer. Hmm, this one is a little subjective but in the course of various blog posts I have done some further research into what constitutes a ‘craft’ beer or ‘craft’ brewery and while I cannot say with certainty that any hard and fast label will remain in perpetuity to distinguish craft from macro I like to think  it will always be the beer drinkers who decide what truly represents the ‘craft’ aspect be it size, motivation, quality or a combination of many factors.
  3. Visit more of our local BC Breweries and tap houses. I did do this, in fact, I even spent a day at Steamworks Brewery assisting with their beer production. I also made a point of trying several new Washington and Oregon brewers anytime I was down in the States instead of simply re-visiting the places I know and love.
  4. Be discerning in my beer purchasing habits i.e. stop buying bottles with cool labels and start cultivating a means of selection. I like to think I am getting better at this but then along came my Pumpkin and Christmas Beer countdowns and all my bad habits re-surfaced with a vengeance i.e. funny beer names and creative labels became a de facto means of selection. Though I have to say I did my best to only splurge on beer styles I know and love, which means I have a little cache of Russian River sours and barrel aged stouts on hand for emergencies.
  5. Go to the Great American Beer Festival. Just didn’t do it so I am putting this back on the list and if I don’t make it to GABF I will got to the GCBF this year.
  6. Drink more beers on tap. In conjunction with my quest to try more tap houses I fulfilled this resolution with gusto. I am a big fan of draft beer often preferring what’s on tap to what’s in the bottle so this one wasn’t too hard for me.
  7. Get out of my comfort zone with home brewing. Not really but I do have another batch of ingredients ready to be made into a beer and I chose a random porter recipe to try so I think that kind of qualifies as meeting this resolution. To be honest, reflecting back on my decision to make this resolution I have to say I do not ever see me being a big home brewer, I really like to try different beer and the thought of being saddled with a lot of any one style is somewhat distressing.
  8. Become a certified beer judge (I see this as working in conjunction with resolution 1 since I would have a designated venue for critical drinking). Nope. I looked into becoming a beer judge and becoming a cicerone, both require a lot of work and commitment and I am uncertain about the degree of my desire to pursue either of these avenues. I think both certifications would be interesting challenges but at the end of the day I don’t see an immediate applicability to my workaday life, perhaps if someone in the industry wants to hire me I could consider beer judge or cicerone as career extensions.
  9. Make myself a beer calendar so I can keep on top of my inventory. Not really but I have been more on top of my inventory to ensure no lager gets left too long and no barley wine gets drunk too soon.
  10. Find additional ways to bake with craft beer. I did do this by incorporating pumpkin ale into a batch of chili, reducing golden ale with garlic and onion for an Irish stew and adding ice cream to stout for beer floats (not technically baking but creating nonetheless).
  11. Do more blogging (posting and reading) to get to know more people in this amazing family of craft beer enthusiasts. According to my handy dandy year end report from WordPress I really stepped up my game in terms of output last year increasing not only the number of posts but more importantly the numbers of both views and visitors for which I am eternally amazed and grateful.
  12. Help my cat cut back on his drinking problem… Well it’s been a tough haul for Merl but we finally got him switched over to hard liqour.


Merlyn and his Scotch


Happy New Year to all my readers and I am looking forward to a 2013 filled with many great beers, great beer events and the company of great beer geeks!


Coming Full Circle Back to the Barrel

Like the wheel, the invention of the barrel had lasting and momentous consequences for the advancement of humankind and for their desire to consume spirituous beverages.

For much of its life beer was fermented in wooden barrels until that pesky thing called human nature kicked in and we became woefully skeptical of all things germ related. You see wood is porous, it breathes and expands, it sucks liquids in and creates pockets for air and yes bacteria and while this was good enough for us to consume for hundreds of years (and remains good enough for wine and spirits) by the time the 1950’s rolled around it was no longer cool for beer.

So it was during this period that brewers’ transitioned to the use of cold and impersonal stainless steel, which while good for sanitation and frankly for the production of mass-market lager did little to retain that unique and funky character that can only be imparted through time spent in the barrel.


The Benefits of Wood

According to Mosher in Tasting Beer wood contains chemicals that dissolve in the beer over time producing woody, oaky, vanilla and other flavours in the beer. He goes on to speak about how porosity affords the creation of oxidized flavours and the growth of microorganisms, which lambic and sour beers depend on to create the bacterially driven tartness that defines these beer styles. With all this potential it makes you wonder why craft brewers stayed away from the wood for as long as they did.


So how to craft brewers come back to the barrel?

Well as usual it was intrepid home brewers who re-ignited the barrel-aging trend. It turns out that while beer may have turned away from the wood distillers and wine makers continued on using wooden barrels often only once to preserve the integrity of whatever they happened to be creating. This meant there was a surplus of oak barrels infused with wondrous notes of bourbon, of whiskey, of wine etc. just waiting to be filled with something …something beery. Mosher recounts how a group of Chicago-area brewers pooled resources to purchase spent bourbon barrels and many gallons of imperial stout; add A to B and presto you have a bourbon barrel aged stout.

After this experiment proved a rousing success the flood gates opened so to speak and all of sudden everyone was trying their hand at putting beer back into the barrel. There are many, many wondrous pairings from blonde ale in gin barrels to whiskey infused strong ale to fruit beers fermented in pinot noir to sour ales conditioned in chardonnay and my personal favourite anything dark and/or strong aged in bourbon barrels.



A Stellar Example of Why Wood is Good

Hair of the Dog Bourbon Fred from the Wood (Bottle Conditioned 2012) ABV 12%

Fred from the Wood pours a deep caramel colour with lots of cloud and sediment (try to leave the sediment in place by pouring this one slowly). There is tons of thick creamy head that remains firmly in place on top of the beer. The nose is an amazingly rich blend of bourbon, malt and toffee. This beer is big bodied with a creamy cloying mouthfeel. It is like Christmas in a glass, warming and heavy with candied fruit notes, vanilla, toffee and liquor. Fred likes to warm up to let all these complex flavours come into balance, it is also most definitely a sipping beer. Sweet liqoury finish with just a little touch of warmth reminding you just how strong this one is. If you have never had this beer go and try it immediately!

(Mis)adventures in Homebrewing – The Final Class

Creative Labels from my Classmates

Well last night was the big finale, the epic showdown, the battle royale or more accurately the night we finally got to sample our homebrews. So did it go well? Short answer: No, not really. Long answer: We learned many important lessons about the potential pitfalls in homebrewing – not sure this is making me feel better yet but time heals all wounds even pride. To be fair it was not an unmitigated disaster, some of us had highly drinkable beers and none of us had anything so repugnant that we poured it down the drain. But somewhere in this homebrew middle ground, or beer limbo if you will, there were definitely a range of interesting tastes and smells. I think the most surprising thing for me was despite all following the same recipe we ended up with different tasting beers. This can be partially explained by the fact we did not all stick to the recipe exactly; one person dry hopped their beer, one used honey for their primer, and another got creative with two different sugars. As we learned later, many other variables can impact the final taste. To begin our tasting we went over some of the common descriptors used in judging beers and got evaluation sheets to assess our beers. We sampled all of the beers and discussed the different qualities we were getting. What follows are my notes on the individual beers (based on the class recipe*) bolstered with comments from our instructor Adam and the other class members:

Beer Aroma Appearance Flavour Mouthfeel Overall Impressions
1 Subtle hops, fruity (banana like); quickly dissipates Light amber orange-red; slight cloudiness, nice head retention; off-white head Slight hop bitterness on the finish; nice malt/hop balance Light body; little carbonation Could use more hop presence

Fixes: hop pellets, higher fermentation temp, different grains

2 Malty sweetness with an almost floral hop element Lighter amber more orange than red; slight cloudiness; good head and lacing Nicely balanced with more bitterness than the first beer; clean Slight creamy or slick taste (possibly diacetyl); a bit of astringency Better hop to malt balance

Fixes: Change yeast to accommodate low fermentation temperature

3 Sweet fruit, apple like nose Golden-orange; minimal head retention Fruit again but not sweet more like fermented fruit; metallic taste Little carbonation; slightly astringent; dry A distinctly different taste than the first two beers

Fixes: Sanitation issue

4 Sweet, fruity with nutmeg on the nose; Spicy Medium Amber; Nice head but did not linger; sedimenty Hop at the forefront that gives way to a burnt aftertaste More body than the other beers; dry Definite spice,  heavier all around beer, stronger

Fixes: Lower fermentation temperature

5 Banana, fruit nose; little hop Medium Amber; too much carbonation at opening; somewhat clear; off-white head Sweet maltiness; prominent hop; Phenolic elements (plastic, medicinal) Light body; lots of carbonation A taste element that should not be present

Fixes: Sanitation issue

6 Pleasant subtle hop nose with a different sweetness Golden-orange; clear with off-white head; good head retention Strong honey taste; hops not a strong element; too sweet Light body; very clean to drink Feels immature but unique with the honey taste

Fixes: Longer fermentation

*Two class members opted to make spiced beers; one made a pumpkin beer and the other used cardamom and mace.

Closing thoughts on my first homebrewing experience: I am glad that I took a course to give me some experience before brewing my first beer at home. As a hands-on learner I really need to see the process and participate to fully understand. In some ways I almost feel like the class gave me too much ‘other’ information since there are a lot of technical terms, variations in equipment and differing techniques one may use but this does not all have a direct bearing on that task at hand. For me, this was my first time even seeing homebrewing equipment so I was as green as one could get. I will definitely try another hombrew recipe but I am not sure I will ever endeavour to be a hardcore homebrewer. Don’t get me wrong it is a lot of fun; however, I feel like I would have enjoyed the process a lot more if I had access to a bigger space and more equipment. Perhaps next time I will just jump the queue and try my hand at commercial brewing : ) Also, I am a bit of a fickle beer geek; I get bored of even my most favourite beers rather quickly and I want to be constantly stretching and challenging my palate. Next time I will brew a smaller batch so I do not end up with sixty-six of the same thing. In many ways the class made me want to head in the direction of beer judging (those who can’t brew judge?) I really enjoyed learning the vocabulary to accurately describe what I am tasting and smelling when I drink a beer. In the meantime I am going to revisit my homebrew to see if I get lucky with another bottle…

Bottling… The Penultimate Adventure

I have completed another phase in my home brewing experience and I dare say the most gratifying one – the bottling of my beer. It is gratifying to know that it is now pretty much out of my hands, the brewing worked or it didn’t, the wort fermented well or it didn’t, the bottles were sanitized to perfection or they were not. Since there is nothing I can do about any of that now, I just have to cross my fingers keep the bottles dark and comfortable and in two to three weeks I will have a proper ale (or not). What I learned: bottling is not my favourite stage of the home brew process, cleaning off bottle labels is a bitch, the sanitize setting on my dishwasher takes forever, not all bottles like to be re-capped and no matter how nicely you ask them they won’t tell you one way or the other, no rinse sanitizer is evil (it makes everything incredibly slippery) and to keep your sanity you must sweet talk any and all friends to come participate in the bottling process (possible fieldtrip for a grade school class? Prison work release?). In the end I rewarded myself with a small glass of my home brew; it is a nice deep amber, clear and a little on the sweet side. Overall I am pretty happy with the taste and here’s hoping it just gets better with age.

Now onto the gritty details; First up I had to transfer my brew from the secondary (carboy) back to the primary in order to prime my beer. Priming beer means the addition of sugar to add carbonation to your beer for bottling or creating that psst sound when you open a bottle. I boiled organic cane sugar with some water on the stove to make a super concentrated version of simple syrup; once the sugar boiled I put it into the bottom of the primary and started siphoning the beer back in. As instructed, I did my best to keep a minimum of air from getting into the beer by having the tubing submerged in the sugar syrup. Transferring really clarified my beer as I had quite a bit of sediment (spent yeast) remaining in the carboy. Once the beer was back in the bucket I lined up my sanitized bottles and got down to it. Bottling is mostly monotonous and the old adage ‘many hands make light work’ is quite apt. Dan, from Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies, suggested I would need the bottle filler to attach to the rack and caning tubing and it really did make bottle filling quite easy. BUT, and there is always a but, capping is not my new best friend. First up, Brooklyn Brewing seriously what is up with your bottles? After nicely sanitizing them and removing the world’s most adhesive labels I found out that they do not recap. Howe Sound, the friend to many a home brewer, was no friend of mine since those silly hinges kept interfering with my ability to get the bottle capped. A few of my beers took bottles for a test drive, decided they did not like them and ended up in different bottles. C’est la vie! My beer is now contentedly resting under the stairs in a dark, somewhat warm, home beside my vacuum –guess I can’t vacuum for a few weeks lest I disturb my beer!

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Adventures in Home brewing continued

Last night I attended the second class in my home brewing course at the Vancouver Pastry School. We learned how to prime our beer (how to make our beer carbonated by adding sugar), we transferred our beer from the secondary (carboy) back to the primary (five gallon paint pail), and we got down to the business of bottling. As a group we swapped stories on our individual adventures in brewing. Luckily no one had any major catastrophes – at least none they were willing to fess up to. However, it seems we all had a tough time cooling our wort and managing our time so we weren’t brewing well into the morning. Temperature regulation was a bit of an issue since it is pretty difficult to maintain a constant temperature when the Vancouver weather is doing silly things. The bottling, though monotonous, is not too complicated and having a mini assembly line of classmates definitely sped things up. We all tried our hands at filling and capping and yet more sanitising. After our class brew was put to bed so to speak we got down to other beer geekiness such as learning about fermentation temperatures, how to get rid of head the sample in your hydrometer (just use an oily finger), beer judging criteria and using beer software to create our own home brew recipes. Look out world (and Russian River) I am making an IPA and a coffee stout.

With respect to beer evaluation, we sampled two wit (white) beers (one home brew and one commercial) to explore the different facets of what makes a good beer. According to our instructor Adam, home brews are assessed using the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines, which look at Aroma, Appearance, Flavour, Mouthfeel and Overall Impressions for each style of beer. This was an interesting exercise to do as a class because it really highlights the differences in people’s palates and the usefulness of having a standard by which to measure a beer. Left to our own devices there would be an unending list of tastes and smells that people perceive in their beers. Notably we all seemed to prefer the homebrew to the commercial beer. It seems like home brews have both a freshness and a subtlety that can be lacking in commercial brews – perhaps fear of ruining a batch lets the home brewer err on the side less is more when adding flavour elements or perhaps the smaller scale contributes to the difference. More tasting is required to be sure.

Now back to the business or brewing: This morning I transferred my beer from the primary to the secondary. This step can be skipped but it contributes to the clarity when you siphon the beer off and leave the gunk in the bottom of your container. Hauling all the equipment around can be a bit of a challenge so make sure you intersperse your home brewing with trips to the gym, and if you have too much space and too much money get yourself a giant sink to bath all your brewing paraphernalia. I set my primary on the counter and the carboy on the floor to assist the laws of physics. I practiced siphoning with my sanitizer, which does not really taste that great despite being food safe. Then I got my beer going into the carboy and it was a beautiful thing; my brew had been hidden away in the primary for so long I had forgotten how lovely it looked. Transferring was quick and easy and I managed to avoid sucking up the spent yeast in the bottom of the pail. I had a little trouble getting my airlock to fit in the carboy, it seems to want to pop back out, but a heavy text book has taken care of the issue. The amount of beer looks good right around the top line on the carboy before it tapers. I liked this quick and easy step and here’s hoping bottling goes well …stay tuned.

*Warning: With the rising price of gas and my newfound talent at siphoning I would like to extend fair warning to my neighbours to keep their garages locked at night : )

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Beer Geek Evolution

I think I took a proverbial leap forward in my evolution as a craft beer enthusiast when I enrolled in a home brewing course at the Vancouver Pastry School. In my mind, and probably only in my mind, there is a progression beer enthusiasts pass through on their path to enlightenment and it goes a little something like this: mass market beer drinker — dabbler in craft beer six packs — brew pub customer — partaker of craft beer singles — buyer of beer books — brewery visitor (for educational purposes) — beer blogger — annoying beer know-it-all — enlightenment ‘I think X beer could be improved by…’ home brewer. As a wise man once said, “Give a man (or gal) a case of beer and he’ll drink for a day. Teach him to brew and he’ll drink for a lifetime” (creed from Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies How to pamphlet). So over the next few posts on this blog I will be chronicling my experiences in the home brewing course and my very first attempt at making my own beer!

First a bit about the course: It consists of three four hour sessions held on Saturday evenings. The timing of classes is designed to coincide with the course of the brewing process. The instructor is Adam Henderson certified cicerone, owner of Rain City Brands and home brewer extraordinaire so we are in more than capable hands. During the first session we learned the basics about equipment and ingredients as well as how to tell our IBU’s from our SRM and how to spell lovibond. We are making one beer in class and we were sent home with enough ingredients to make our own home brewing attempts. The six of us are working from the same recipe, an Extra Special Bitter/Strong Bitter (English Pale Ale), which is similar to Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale; we did a tasting to get a rough idea of what our home brew should turn out like. During the evening we went over the first steps in creating our beer: we steeped our grains, boiled our malt, added hops, sanitised countless apparatus, chilled our wort, transferred the beer from our kettle to our fermenter, pitched our yeast and measured our original gravity. It was all very hands on with everyone taking turns stirring, adding, sampling etc. Armed with knowledge, lots and lots of knowledge, I turned my attention to converting my own kitchen into a makeshift brewery.

Since I am a super keener I headed right back into Vancouver the next morning to pick up my starter kit from Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies.  I patiently waited out my work work and on Friday night it was finally time to give birth to my beer. I amassed everything I would need and got started on the first step, steeping my grains in the kettle. No problems here and I have some great leftovers for making dough. Next I added my malt and waited and waited and waited until it finally managed to come to a rolling boil. At this point I panicked and turned the heat down in case I over-boiled and somehow invited the apocalypse. In hindsight this was a really stupid idea since it took another eon for my kettle to get going again. A caveat here if you will: paying $19 for a brew kettle means that the pot will not be the most efficient heat conductor you will ever come across. The payoff at this point is the awesome burnt toast/sweet smell as the malt heats up. Sweaty but persistent I got that damn pot to boil consistently and added my 60 min hops; another great olfactory payoff here. At this point I felt like the end was in sight, the yeast was proofing away happily in its smack pack, I had a sink full of sanitizer and the timer was set for the addition of Irish moss and the final batch of hops. A couple of insights at this point; it is not necessary to hover over your pot the entire time, quite a bit of water will be lost to evaporation and don’t panic if everything doesn’t play out exactly like the neat and tidy diagram provided by your instructor. Now to the chilling part, which lived up to its name in more ways than one. Beg, borrow or steal (or make or buy) one of those copper pot cooler thingies and it will make your life MUCH easier; please just take the word of the girl who used every ice cube in a fifty mile radius and gallons of cold water to chill her wort. I got it done, it wasn’t pretty, but I got it done. After that it was time to put my wort in the fermenter, add the yeast, stand back and yell ‘let there be life’. Oh, I also used my hydrometer to measure the original gravity. Now she (my beer) is sitting in a cool area of the house happily bubbling away. Looking at the sweaty tired mess I was after, the yelling at my sympathetic partner and the heavy lifting I have to say it really did feel like I gave birth to something but what …stay tuned to find out.

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