Category Archives: Recipe

Extract Throwback – American Amber

We last brewed an extract beer on December 5th, 2012, an English Bitter with left-over malt syrup and some year-old Munton’s yeast.  Since then we’ve brewed 45 all-grain batches on both our large and small electric breweries, some using up to 52lbs of grain, a hopback, fresh hops, first-wort hopping, whirlpooling, continuous hop additions, a pH meter and refractometer, sacks of imported base malts, and (almost) all the other brewing bling money can buy.

eamber-ingredientsWhy not go simple again and just brew a straight-up extract beer? Using nothing but what a beginning brewer would use?  Of course!

The Recipe

Name: American Amber (Extract)
Batch size: 5 gallons
Expected OG: 1.052
Expected FG: 1.012
Expected IBU: 30

6.0 lbs Amber malt syrup (1/2 late addition)
1.0 lb  Briess Golden Light dry malt extract (late addition)
1.0 lb  Briess C10L (steeping)
0.5 lb  Thomas Fawcett Amber (steeping)

2.0 oz Cascade (leaf) 3.2% AA @ 60m
1.0 oz Cascade (leaf) 3.2% AA @ 10m
       Whirlfloc              @ 10m
1.0 oz Cascade (leaf) 3.2% AA @  5m

1 pack Safale S-05 dry yeast

This is closely based off Northern Brewer’s American Amber recipe with substitutions for stuff we had on hand.  Instead of using two 3.15lb jugs of Amber malt extract ($10 each) we bought one 6lb jug ($18) and used a bag of DME we already had.  For steeping grains we used some Crystal 10L we had on hand instead of the 20L from the NB recipe, and we added a bit of Thomas Fawcett amber malt because there’s a bunch lying around and we haven’t used it in a while.

Next, we used some Cascade leaf hops that we bought for $1/oz a few weeks back from a guy who was selling them out of a cooler.  He didn’t know the exact alpha acid but said it was “in the low 3s” so we guessed 3.2% and called it a day.

We stuck to using only tools that extract brewers would typically have on-hand, which means no pH meter, no refractometer, no counter-flow chiller, no brewing salts, no yeast nutrient, no oxygenation, and no fermentation temperature control.

The Brew

eamber-steepingThe first step in a normal extract brewing process is to heat as much water as your stove can handle to about 150°F for steeping grains.  If your stove can do a full boil (~6.5 gallons) then great!  We haven’t yet found one that can, so we chose to do a partial boil of about 3 gallons.  Once it’s at steeping temperature, put your milled grain into a grain bag and drop it in, letting it steep for about half an hour.

eamber-maltThen pull the grain bag out, toss it into a colander, and press to get as much worty liquid out of it as you can.  Add that back to the kettle and heat it all up to a boil.  Once it’s boiling, add half of the malt extract, and then rest near the end just to sanitize it.  This is done because as the extract boils it darkens, so adding the rest of the extract at the end keeps the beer within the desired color range.  Late extract addition is more important for lighter colored beers like pilsners, lagers, and pale ales, but since we’re just following the recipe we’ll do it too.

Whenever adding extract, always turn off the heat and add it slowly, stirring constantly to avoid scorching the extract.  Since liquid extract is heavier than water, it will sink down to the bottom where all the heat is, caramelize, and possibly burn, making awful beer.

eamber-boilNow that the wort is boiling, add your hops according to the schedule.  If you’re using pellet hops you’ll definitely want a hop sock, but since we were using leaf hops we just threw them in and fished them out later with a strainer.

Once the boil is done the hot wort must be chilled down to yeast pitching temperature below 80°F and lower if you can.  So grab your immersion chiller (if you have one) and hook it up to your laundry sink or garden hose and chill away.  If you stir with a sanitized spoon it’ll chill faster and you won’t waste so much water.  If you’re doing a partial boil, one trick is to chill down to 80°F and then top up to 5 gallons with cold water, which should bring the temperature down below 70°F.  Then pitch your yeast.

After pitching make sure that the beer has cooled further down to 65°F within 8 or 12 hours by sticking it in a cool place like a basement or closet, or putting the carboy into an actively cooled fermentation chamber if you have one.  Letting the temperature stay too high can produce off-flavors, and fermentation actually raises the temperature a few degrees.  Keep it below 70°F; 66°F is even better.  Of course, this all depends on your specific yeast too.

We didn’t bother measuring the original gravity, since malt extracts have a well-known gravity potential and we were lazy.  The Amber malt syrup has a potential of 1.036 Points-Per-Gallon (per pound) and the dry extract has a potential of 1.043 PPG.  This adds up to (6lbs x 36) + (1lb x 43) = 259 total gravity points.  Divide that by 5 gallons and we get an Original Gravity of 1.052.  The steeping grains don’t contribute enough gravity points to count.

The Fermentation

Next up: Extract Irish Stout

We cheated a bit and fermented in a keg, which most extract brewers probably don’t do.  Our keg was filled close to the top, and since we were only using what a beginning extract brewer would use, we opted to skip Fermcap S for fermentation foam control.  This meant that we got some great blow-off after 2 days as yeast and krausen filled the air lock.  But that’s a good sign.


Simcoe IPA Tasting

tastingWe brewed this in late March and it’s almost gone, because people keep asking for growlers.  We’ll take that as a good sign.  It’s also entered in a competition, although in the ever-popular IPA category, and we’ll post an update if it wins anything.

Appearance: straw gold, very clear (ignore the picture, that’s the end of the keg).  IPAs are typically darker than this (which may cause a point deduction in the competition) but since Pilsner is the only malt in the beer, this is no surprise.  It pours with a one-finger head which quickly falls back to a thing ring around the top, which clings to the glass.

Smell: some said “grapefruit”, but we get some mango.  There is none of the supposedly typical Simcoe pine-tree or cat-urine.  We do smell the sweeter notes of Pilsner malt too, but overall, even with the dry-hops and higher carbonation (which carries the smell to your nose) we don’t get a ton of aroma.

Taste: Pilsner, like a Czech Pilsner.  And citrus.  Some said “grapefruit peel” and we do get a bit of that.  There’s a good initial bitterness but not overly agressive, dissolving into a mellow citrus-flavored finish.   All in all, a great easy-drinking summer beer.  We think it’s a bit too sweet due to only using the Pilsner malt, so next time we’ll be using it 50 or 60% 2-row.  No longer a SMASH, but hopefully a more balanced beer.

Mouthfeel: nicely balanced body, not thin at all.  It’s light enough to drink a couple pints but heavy enough that you know you’re drinking an IPA.  Nailed this, despite 0% crystal malt or Carapils, possibly due to the higher mash temperature (152°F) and higher carbonation.

Next time: we’ll probably use 40 to 60% 2-row (or maybe even Marris Otter) to cut down on the Pilsner sweetness to create a more “American” style beer.  We think the hop schedule worked extremely well, though we might add 1/4oz more 60 minute hops for a more aggressive start.  We Brewed It Right.

Simcoe/Pilsner SMASH IPA

Northern Brewer keeps having 20% off sales, so what are we supposed to do?  Clearly we’re supposed to buy expensive items like sacks of imported malt and 8lbs of PBW.  When you buy it in bulk, it’s already cheap.  When you buy it 20% off, it’s stupid cheap.

So after we bought a sack of Best Pilsen malt, we needed something brew.  We also have a lot of Simcoe hops lying around.  Why not a SMASH?  Doing a Single-Malt-And-Single-Hop beer lets you taste each ingredient by itself and experiment with hop schedules to determine the best amounts for bittering, flavor, and aroma.

The Recipe

Name: Simcoe/Pilsner SMASH IPA
Batch size: 5 gallons
Expected OG: 1.065 (75% efficiency)
Expected FG: 1.016
Expected IBU: 85 (60 boil, 25 whirlpool)
Mash: 90m @ 152°F

 12.5 lbs Best Maltz Pilsner malt

  0.7 g canning salt (mash addition)
  1.8 g pickling lime (mash addition)

  1.0 oz Simcoe 12.7%AA @ 60m
  1.0 oz Simcoe 12.7%AA @ 10m
         Whirlfloc & yeast nutrient @ 10m
  2.0 oz Simcoe 12.7%AA @ 0m
         Whirlpool 20m @ 180°F
  1.0 oz Simcoe 127.7%AA dry-hop 5 days
1 pack Safale S-05 dry yeast

Simple, right?  Just one malt to measure out and one kind of hop to find in the freezer.  Buying them in bulk saves money too.

Obviously, the only brew-day variables you can change are mash temperature and hop schedule.  Since there’s only one kind of malt, you can experiment with hop additions to figure out how much bitterness, flavor, and aroma you get at different times without malts getting in the way.  For example, how much harsher bitterness do you get when you add 75% of the IBUs in the first addition?  How much flavor do you get from a whirlpool addition for 10 minutes versus 20 minutes?  That kind of thing.


On the subject of bitterness, there’s a concept in brewing called the Bitterness Unit (BU) to Gravity Unit (GU) ratio, which expresses the bitterness and maltiness of common styles of beer.  Hoppier beers are typically 1.0 or higher while malt-forward beers are less than 1.0.  For example, an aggressive American IPA with an IBU of 75 and an original gravity of 1.065 has a BU:GU ratio of 75:65, or 1.2.  A typical Oktoberfest with an IBU of 25 and an OG of 1.055 has a BU:GU ratio of 25:55, or 0.45.  Thus the BU:GU ratio is one number that gives you an idea of how hop-forward or malt-forward a specific beer is.

But not all IBUs are created equal, especially when whirlpooling gets involved.  An app or an IBU calculator always gives you an estimated IBU, but you still need to play around with the recipe to get the right balance of punch vs. flavor.  For example, this SMASH recipe has an estimated IBU of 85 (from the Brewer’s Friend app) but it has nowhere near the punch of a Stone Delicious IPA with 80 IBUs.  We’ve found that the IBUs that are attributed to the whirlpool seem to be less “bitter”.


Different hop compounds isomerize (that is, rearrange their chemical structure to become soluble in water) at different temperatures. The acids which create bitterness must be boiled to isomerize, but boiling drives off more volatile compounds that typically contribute flavor and aroma, which isomerize at lower temperatures.  A temperature-controlled whirlpool strikes the right balance between boil, time, and possible infection, extracting as much flavor and aroma from the hops as you need.  Experimenting with multiple temperature steps and hop additions can achieve some unique flavors you won’t find elsewhere.

Since we’re trying to keep this IPA simple we chose a single whirlpool temperature of 180°F and a single whirlpool hop addition.

The Brew

Prior to the mash, we’re experimenting with higher strike temperatures than normal since our mash tun looses a significant amount of heat when transferring strike water despite Reflectix insulation.  The Brewer’s Friend app we use usually estimates our strike water temperature around 165°F, but we’ve found this causes too low of a mash-in temperature.  This time we heated our strike water to 180°F which dropped to 168°F in the mash tun.  After adding the grain the mash temperature dropped to 156°F which was still too high.  So we over-compensated with a cold water addition and ended up at 150°F, slightly lower than we hoped for.  Next time we’ll lower our strike water temperature slightly, and manage any cold water additions better so that we hit our mash temperatures dead-on.

Since the grain bill contained no roasted or crystal grains, our mash pH started too high at pH 5.6.  We adjusted with lactic acid to drop into the optimal range of 5.2 to 5.4 relative to mash temperature.

The sparging process yielded 8 gallons at 11° Plato (1.044), so we boiled off about 1 gallon to end up on target with 7 gallons at 12.5° Plato (1.051).  Then we started the boil clock and added our bittering hop addition.  Our boil ended an hour later almost on target at 15.5° Plato (1.063), whereupon we added our 0m/whirlpool hop addition recirculated through our counterflow chiller until the temperature dropped to 180°F.  After setting the boil kettle PID’s temperature to 180°F we let the whirlpool circulate for 20 minutes.

The Fermentation

Fermentation was uneventful.  Unlike many of our experiences with Wyeast 1469 (East Yorkshire) the Safale S-05 yeast we used for this brew did not blow out the airlock.  After two weeks in primary, we kegged almost 5 gallons of 1.014 beer for an ABV of 6.4%.  The hydrometer samples exhibited floral flavors but not much bitterness, and almost none of the pine tree and cat pee notes that are characteristic of Simcoe hops.  We hope dry-hopping will bring more of that out.

For dry-hopping we use a stainless canister designed for kegs (like this one) to contain the pellet hops, which is quite easy to remove once the desired level of dry-hopping is achieved.  Multiple dry-hop additions are also easy without fear of contamination.  This gets dropped into the serving keg before racking the beer from primary.

Will it taste like an over-hopped Czech Pilsner?  We’ll find out soon enough…

Bonus Pumpkin

High-tech mash tun

With Pumpkin #2 our efficiency was good enough to produce 5.5 gallons of additional runnings at 4°P (1.020) when we drained the mash tun before cleaning it out.  We thought it would be a shame to waste all that wort, so we didn’t.  We brewed a bonus beer instead.

A bonus beer is great way to use up small amounts of specialty grains and hops you have lying around.  You can’t accurately reproduce the recipe, so it’s like a free batch of no-pressure, OG-be-damned beer that you were just going to dump down the drain anyway.  Plus, it can mash while you’re boiling and chilling the parent beer, so all it takes is another hour.  Why not?

The Recipe

Name: Bonus Pumpkin
Batch size: 5 gallons
Expected OG: ~1.040
Expected FG: 1.012
Expected IBU: ?
Mash: 60m @ 130°F + 15m @ 152°F

 5.5 gal 1.020 wort from Pumpkin #2
 2.5 lbs Briess 2-row
   8 oz  Briess Victory
   8 oz  Muntons C60L
   4 oz  UK C150L
   4 oz  Belgian Aromatic

 1.0 oz Northdown 7.9% AA @ 45m
 0.7 oz Northdown 7.9% AA @ 20m
 1.0 oz Northdown 7.9% AA @ 10m
 1.0 oz Northdown 7.9% AA @  5m

1 pack Safale S-04 yeast

The Brew

We scrounged up some Victory, C150, and 2-year old Briess 2-row from our malt library, milled it, and tossed it into large grain bag.  The bag was then placed into a bucket with the final runnings from Pumpkin #2.  Because all the enzymes from the original mash were denatured due to mashout and the final runnings were well below the target mash temp of 148°F, we added some amylase enzyme to help conversion along.  We also attempted to top up with boiling water to move closer to normal mash temps, but couldn’t get much higher than 135°F due to lack of space in the bucket.

To compensate we dumped the contents of the bucket into the boil kettle on top of the left-over hot break and trub from Pumpkin #2.  Then we added the grain bag, set the PID for 152°F, and recirculated for 15 minutes to attempt more complete conversion.  After squeezing out the grain bag as much as we could, we got about 6 gallons of 9°P (1.036) wort.

We then proceeded with a slightly abbreviated 45 minute boil since it was already late.  We kegged 4.75 gallons of 10.5°P (1.042) wort, sprinkled on some S-04 yeast, and cleaned up.  Fermentation proceeded normally at 65°F and two weeks later we had 4.5 gallons of 1.010 beer for an ABV of 4.2%.

The Evaluation

bonus-glassThe beer is a nice amber color and quite clear.  It pours with a nice foamy head that soon settles back but leaves a nice ring of foam on the outside.  The smell is mostly spicy malt with no fruity or flowery notes.  Taste is initially malty which quickly fades to a slight sweetness with a hint of spice, but overall a drier beer.  And as you’d expect with a 1.010 beer, mouthfeel is thin but countered somewhat by a higher carbonation level.

We’re surprised with how well this one turned out, since we weren’t expecting much from a bunch of old malt and some second runnings.  But we got a pretty good beer with just a bit more work.  Bonus!



We whipped up our first pumpkin ale back in September when pumpkins were new and the world was young.  It went over so well we barely got any ourselves.  Now we have to rebrew it.  We went for something much more subtle than Pumking but still clearly a spiced pumpkin beer.  Our base recipe was an amber ale inspired by nothing in particular except a lust for sweet malty goodness and a bit of spice.

The Recipe

Name: Pumpkin #2
Batch size: 5 gallons
Expected OG: 1.065 (75% efficiency)
Expected FG: 1.016
Expected IBU: 45
Mash: 90m @ 152°F

 9.0 lbs Rahr 2-Row
 2.5 lbs Weyermann Dark Munich 10L
   8 oz  Briess Light Munich 7L
   8 oz  Briess Victory
   8 oz  Muntons C60L
   8 oz  Briess C120L
   6 oz  Belgian aromatic
   6 oz  rice hulls (not milled)
   3     pie pumpkins (8.3 lbs before roasting)

   1 oz  Northdown   7.9%AA @ 60m
   1 oz  Willamette  4.7%AA @ 15m
   1 oz  Willamette  4.7%AA @ 10m
 1/2 tsp cinnamon           @ 10m
 1/4 tsp ginger             @ 10m
 1/8 tsp nutmeg             @ 10m
 1/8 tsp allspice           @ 10m
   1 oz  Willamette  6.5%AA @  5m

1 pack Wyeast 1217 Northwest Ale

The astute among you may recognize the spice schedule as coming from Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer’s Brewing Classic Styles.  Jamil recommends tossing half the spices into the boil kettle and the other half into the fermentor if needed, but we found adding all the spices to the boil gave just the subtle hint of spice we were looking for.

The Brew

Magic goodness

While it doesn’t look very appetizing, these are pumpkin bits and they go right in the mash.  Each pumpkin gets cut in half, seeds scraped out, placed cut-side-up on a baking sheet, and receives about a tablespoon of dark brown sugar in the middle.  After 1 1/2 hours of roasting at 325°F, drain the brown sugar liquid pumpkin nectar from each half into a bowl and save for later.  Then flip each pumpkin half over and roast another hour until soft all the way though.  Scrape out the pulp, discard the skins (see above), and dump the pumpkin into the mash with the grain.

pumpkin-mashinBecause pumpkin isn’t as granular as malt, you’ll need some rice hulls to prevent stuck sparges.  These help buoy the grain bed in the mash tun, forming a filter to catch pumpkin and other particles before they clog the mash screen.

(The first time we brewed this recipe we used the Brew-In-A-Bag (BIAB) method with the pumpkin and the grains in separate bags, and it worked fine.  If you don’t have a 3-vessel setup, then BIAB will definitely work too.)

Pumpkin doesn’t contribute many fermentables to beer, so don’t expect a big gravity increase.  All you get is a small amount of flavor and bit of mouthfeel, with most of the flavor coming from the spices and the malt.  This means the beer needs to be excellent without the pumpkin, since you don’t have much to hide behind if the recipe is weak.  The pumpkin and spice enhance the recipe instead of taking the place of anything else.

pumpkin-bitsAfter mashing in the pH dropped way low (5.05) so we corrected with 1/2 tsp baking soda to bring it back up around 5.25.  Odd, since there aren’t many dark grains like chocolate, roast barley, or black malt, which are the usual pH-reducing culprits.

First runnings were 15.5° Plato (1.062) and at boil start we had 7.5 gallons @ 13° Plato (1.052).  Remember the brown sugar pumpkin water nectar goodness collected during the pumpkin roasting?  Throw that into the boil kettle now for an extra pumpkin shot.

At the end of the boil there was a ton of hot break, helped along by Whirlfloc at the 10 minute mark.  We finished with 5 gallons of 16° Plato (1.065) wort, chilled, kegged, oxygenated, and pitched the Wyeast 1217 Northwest Ale yeast.

The Fermentation

Unfortunately, our fermentation fridge was filled with tapped kegs, and our Son of Fermentation Chiller got infested by ants last summer and had to be tossed.  So this beer’s fermentation was at ambient temperatures of about 65°F during the day, and 60°F at night. If the temperature dropped below 63°F a seedling heat mat was used to raise the temperature slightly, to ensure complete fermentation.  Even with the lower temperatures, fermentation was vigorous and almost explosive, finishing at 1.012 for a total of 6.3% ABV.

Tasting the blowoff foam indicated a good amount spice may have been lost out the airlock, since the spices are light and buoyant.  This may have tempered their effect on the final taste, but we’ll have to ferment a future batch in a large bucket to be sure.

The Evaluation

We found Pumpkin #2 to be less malty than #1, which we attribute to a different yeast (Wyeast 1217 instead of the original 1469) and lack of Maris Otter malt which the first version contained.  Number 2 also finished about 7 gravity points lower than the first, so we carbonated it more highly to increase mouth-feel.  That combined with a slightly sweeter taste from the Special B gives this brew just the kind of pumpkin pie flavor we wanted.  We believe this version achieved the right balance of spice, crystal sweetness, and grain maltiness that we want out of pumpkin beer.

Ringwood Old Thumper

Continuing the fine tradition of Using Stuff Up, we have another British clone.  Oddly we’re almost all done with the bag Maris Otter we bought in April, which means we’re about 6 months ahead of the last bag we bought.  Keeps things fresh.

This one is another clone from Graham Wheeler’s Brew Your Own British Real Ale (3rd Edition).  We really wanted to do something else from Pattinson’s The Homebrewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer but almost everything in it seems to require invert sugar and we didn’t have 4 free hours to make any.  No fear though, we’ll do that soon.

Wheeler lists Old Thumper at 5.7% ABV, while Ringwood itself gives 5.1% ABV.  Old Thumper might have previously had a higher ABV, or possibly the bottled version has a higher ABV than the cask version which is sometimes the case.  No clue about that, but we’ll take the high end.

The Recipe

Name: Ringwood Old Thumper
Batch size: 5 gallons
Expected OG: 1.056 (75% efficiency)
Expected FG: 1.013
Expected IBU: 39
Mash: 90m @ 151°F

 9.4 lbs Munton's Maris Otter
  10 oz  Briess Torrefied Wheat
   7 oz  Munton's Crystal 60L
   1 oz  UK Chocolate 350L

   1 oz  Challenger    8.7%AA @ 90m
 0.4 oz  Kent Goldings 6.5%AA @ 10m
 0.6 oz  Kent Goldings 6.5%AA @  0m

1 pack Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire

Our recipe has higher IBU than Wheeler specifies due to the alpha acid of the hops we had.  We’re also using Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire yeast, a strain we’ve had great luck with in British ales.

The Brew

Not much interesting here.  We hit our pH target (5.35) using carbon filtered city water with no lactic acid required.  Mash-in was a bit cool at 142°F but we fixed that in due time.  The sparge yielded 8 gallons at 10° Plato (1.040) which we boiled vigorously for 105 minutes, to 5 gallons @ 15° Plato (1.060).  Right on target.  Chill, oxygenate, pitch, and done.

Fermentation was very active, even with Fermcap S in the fermenter.  We lost a pint or so to blowoff through the airlock.  Upon kegging two weeks later, it landed at 1.012 for 6.3% ABV.

And it tastes great; there’s a new-ish local fish and chips place, and what better to drink with fine cod/haddock/walleye than a fine real ale?  Cheers!

1867 Barclay Perkins EI

beerguideIf you haven’t read Ron Pattinson’s “Shut up about Barclay Perkins” blog or leafed through a copy of his recent book The Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer, you’re missing out, especially if you like British beer.  The book is crammed full of recipes for historic British ales, painstakingly recreated from actual brewing records.  It’s a gem, and a must-have addition to your British real ale library along with Graham Wheeler’s Brew Your Own British Real Ale and Dave Line’s Brew Beers Like Those You Buy.  We’ve had Vintage Beer in our library for a while, just looking for an excuse to brew something from it.  Given the cooler weather and leaves and pumpkins and stuff, we thought a porter would be perfect.

The Recipe

Name: 1867 Barclay Perkins EI
Batch size: 5 gallons
Expected OG: 1.061 (70% efficiency)
Expected FG: 1.019
Expected IBU: 85
Mash: 90m @ 152°F

 8.5 lbs Munton's Maris Otter
2.25 lbs Munton's Crystal 60L
   2 lbs Brown malt
   8 oz  Black malt

   2 oz  Fuggles       5.7%AA @ 90m
   1 oz  Kent Goldings 6.5%AA @ 60m
   1 oz  Fuggles       5.3%AA @ 60m
   1 oz  Fuggles leaf  4.9%AA @ hopback
1 pack Safale S-04 Yeast (rehydrated)

The original recipe specified Goldings all the way through, but we had few Goldings and many Fuggles.  The hopback addition is also not in the original recipe, but when you’ve got bling you have to use it or you loose a lot of cred with the cool kids.

Note the use of brown malt, which is a 1867maltrarity these days in commercial brews, supplanted by much more efficient pale malts with small amounts of black malt for color.  Only Fuller’s still uses brown malt in quantity for their London Porter.  But with the rise of craft brewing you can find brown malt just about anywhere.

Also note the higher percentage of Crystal 60L compared to most other recipes you might have seen.  Crystal malts contain more unfermentable sugars than base malts like 2-row, Maris Otter, and Pilsner malt.  Furthermore, higher mash temps like this recipe specifies favor less fermentable sugars during the mash and thus contribute mouth-feel to the finished beer.  So we expect this porter to be fuller-bodied and sweeter than most other English beers we’ve brewed.

The Brew

Our mash efficiency was good, resulting in a much stronger pre-boil wort (8 gallons @ 12° Plato) than we expected.  But our boiloff estimate was too low, resulting in less-but-stronger wort at the end of the boil (4.5 gallons @ 18° Plato).  Ideally we would have diluted the initial wort, boiled off the same amount, and ended up right on the money.

1867boilOne reason our mash efficiency was better was that we flipped around the worn washers in our Chugger pump heads.  Since they’re almost 18 months old, and washers do wear down, the large washer at the rear of the pump head against which the impeller rides had developed a concave appearance.

This caused the impellers to rub against the rear of the pump head when the output flow was restricted, which is exactly what want when you’re sparging.  Our previous two brews suffered efficiency because our sparge rate was too high, caused by opening the pump outputs more to prevent screeching due to the worn washers.  We’re trying to track down replacements, but apparently it’s hard.  Do other brewers just not run their pumps as much as we do?  In any case, we’re glad to have found out what the issue was, and fix it for at least a couple more brews.

1867hopbackOn a side note, we’re having trouble hitting our mash temps using the Brewer’s Friend strike calculator, probably because our mash tun is a 25 gallon stainless kettle that we’re not pre-heating at all.  So all that strike water hits cold steel and chills down pretty fast.  In the future we’ll start raising our strike water temperature in an attempt to more accurately hit mash targets, which is all part of dialing your system in.

We kegged 4.5 gallons of 1.074 SG wort pumped through our hopback, and fermented at 67°F for two weeks, ending up with 1.026 SG beer for an ABV of 6.3% ABV.  That’s a much higher finishing gravity and lower ABV than we expected, which could be due to the high percentage of Crystal 60L malt.

What’s Next?

How should we use up the rest of our Maris Otter?  We’d love to brew a “stock ale” from The Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer so maybe we’ll try making our own invert sugar, which most of these recipes seem to require.  Till then!

Fresh Hop

vinesMost “seasonal” beers seem to contain spices associated with a holiday (pumpkin or spruce), added fruit flavor to be more refreshing (lemon and shandy), or follow a style that’s brewed at a specific time of year (Oktoberfest and Maibock).  But fresh hops make beer truly seasonal the same way corn-on-the-cob means summer and pumpkins means fall.

Hops are typically harvested around late August and early September, and once picked they must be used immediately or dried.  While they can be stored fresh under the right conditions (eg, refrigerated without light) for at most 48 hours, over that time the fresh hops gradually oxidize and loose their flavor and aroma.  The sooner you brew with fresh hops, the better.

The part of the hop used for beer is the “cone”, the light-green flower-like groups of petals shown above.  The base of the cone contains lupulin glands which have the good stuff we brewers really want, including the bittering, aroma, and flavor compounds that make beer taste like beer.

So when a friend mentioned she grew hops and nobody wanted them, we jumped at the chance to spend a beautiful morning picking almost 5 lbs of Cascade and Nugget, and a day later, 4 oz of another unknown variety from a neighbor down the street.  Since they are all home-grown almost everything was unknown; we have no idea what their alpha or beta acid contents are, we don’t really know what they taste or smell like, they’re just there.  Use them or loose them.

So we used them, but how?  So many ways…

  • Mash hops: added to the mash; supposedly adds aroma and flavor that carry through the entire process to the final beer
  • First Wort Hops (FWH): added to the boil kettle while sparging the mash; soaks them in hot wort for longer, extracting more hop goodness
  • Bittering hops: added near the beginning of the boil to provide bitterness by isomerization of the hop’s alpha acids, but most flavor and aroma compounds are driven off by the extended agitation of the boil
  • Flavor/aroma hops: added late in the boil to contribute flavor and aroma but little bitterness; due to the short boiling time the compounds are not boiled off
  • Hop bursting: many, many hops added within the last 20 minutes or so of the boil; the large amount contributes some bitterness, but is described as less harsh than early boil additions
  • Whirlpool hops: added when the wort has cooled to around 180F after boiling, and recirculated for some period of time (typically 15 to 45 minutes) to extract yet more flavor and aroma
  • Hopback: a canister filled with hops, through which boiling wort is pumped before being immediately chilled and put into a fermenter; contributes even more aroma that most other methods

We decided to do them all, because we Brew It Right.  Well, except Whirlpool hops, because they are incompatible with using a hopback since the hopback requires near-boiling wort to extract maximum aroma, while the whirlpool chills the wort to much lower temperatures.  But we’ve got 5 lbs of fresh hops, so why not?

The Recipe

Name: Fresh Hop
Batch size: 5 gallons
Expected OG: 1.060
Expected FG: 1.014
Expected IBU: ??
Mash: 60m @ 150°F

  11 lbs Rahr 2-Row
   8 oz  Vienna
   8 oz  Brewers Crystals
   4 oz  Crystal 10L
   4 oz  Carapils

   5 oz  Fresh Nugget    (mash hops)
  10 oz  Fresh Nugget    (FWH)
  10 oz  Fresh Cascade   (FWH)
  12 oz  Fresh Nugget  @ 10m
  12 oz  Fresh Cascade @ 10m
  12 oz  Fresh Nugget  @  5m
  12 oz  Fresh Cascade @  5m
   2 oz  Fresh ??      @  0m
   2 oz  Fresh ??        (hopback)
1 pack Safale S-05 Yeast (rehydrated)

The Hops

Cascade, unknown, and Nugget

The mash hops stop touching wort at the end of the mash, but the first wort hops stay from the time the sparge starts until the boil is done, so they contribute most of the bitterness.  Then we hop-burst with two-and-a-half times as many hops in the last 10  minutes to maximize the flavor and aroma, which is where fresh hops really shine.

Many other recipes recommend using dried bittering hops instead of fresh hops, since fresh hops can cause a grassy taste when used in quantity, and you can’t control bitterness because you don’t know the alpha acid content.  But we’re going all fresh here, so dried hops don’t work for us.

But how much should we use?  Since we don’t know what the alpha acid content is, and we don’t even know which variety one plant was, we have no idea how bitter the beer will be.  We can get a rough estimate by taking the mid-range alpha acid content, and using 5 to 6 times as much fresh hops as pellet hops (since they still contain lots of water), but it’s still just an estimate.  That doesn’t help at all with the unknown variety, so we used it only later in the boil and in the hopback.

The Malt

When fresh, we want hops to be the star.  But we still need some malt backbone too.  A fresh hop beer should be simple, with mostly two-row malt.  The Vienna should add some malty notes, but 8oz (4%) isn’t enough to bust through and take over.  The Crystal 10L (2%) should provide a touch of sweetness but again not enough to pick out.  And a dash of Carapils for body and head retention.

Hmm, what about the Brewer’s Crystals?  More on that below…

The Brew


We had three hiccups with the brew.  First, we use Chugger magnetic-drive pumps where the liquid side is completely separated from motor itself to ensure sanitary conditions.  Unfortunately, there is a Teflon thrust washer that the impeller rides against, and these do wear out.  Our HLT pump screeches whenever the flow is low (like during the sparge where slow is better) so we had to keep a higher flow.  This meant we were under gravity by about 5 points (7.5g @ 1.040 instead of 7.5g @ 1.045) at the beginning of the boil because the quick sparge couldn’t rinse as much residual sugar out of the grains.

But we had Brewer’s Crystals lying around, just waiting for our first attempt at cloning the pride of Baltimore, Natty Boh.  They look like white sugar but mimic the profile of wort. So while corn sugar dries out the beer and contributes no body, Brewer’s Crystals should produce something more beer-like.

Second, since there was so much debris in our boil kettle from the fresh hops, the hopback clogged halfway through the chilling process.  We packed way too many hops into it, which did their job too well.  Every brew is a learning experience, right?

Finally, our Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale smackpack didn’t swell, so we tossed it and used Safale US-05 dry yeast instead.  We bought the 1332 in May when it was fresh, but liquid yeast viability decreases about 20% per month, compared to 4% for dry yeast.  So by September only 15% of the cells in our pack were alive and well.  Had we used it we would have severely under-pitched, leading to stressed yeast, longer lag-time and increased infection possibility, and increased ester formation.  To ensure a great fermentation, always pitch a sufficient amount of yeast and always maintain a correct temperature range.  And always keep a spare pack of dry yeast around for situations just like this.

The Result

After these minor setbacks, we ended up with 5 gallons of 14P (1.057) wort, which smelled extremely hoppy, tasted very floral, and had a mellow bitterness.  The fermentation chamber smelled even better during our daily check-ups.  We’re excited about this one, and we’ll do a proper tasting review when it’s ready!

English Stout Rebrew

After the previous batch ended up on the floor of the freezer, we re-brewed the Use-it-up Stout last month.  This time we’ll call it English Stout, because we had used up all the old Maris Otter malt and had to buy more.  Now that we’ve been able to sample all five gallons we think it turned out very well.

This time we also entered it in a local homebrew competition in the American Stout category (13E) and it received a mediocre score.  We believe this was for three reasons:

  1. It was brewed about 25 days before the competition and did not have sufficient time to carbonate correctly, despite having been shaken at 30psi and then left at 16psi @ 40F for a day or two.  When bottled for competition the beer was almost flat.  Unfortunately, a week later it was correctly carbonated.
  2. The beer is best after about 4 to 5 weeks of aging, so the beer we sent to the competition was still too green and the flavors had not mellowed enough.
  3. American Stout was probably the wrong category for this beer, and it was docked points for not being to style.  Unfortunately, we’re not sure what category it does belong in, but re-reading the style guidelines, it may fit better in the Foreign Extra Stout category.  We’re not sure why we didn’t pick that category in the first place.

So if you’re going to enter a competition, do your research and pick the right category.  Also, know when your beer is at its prime, and make that the time when the judges crack the bottle open.

Use-it-up Bitter


The Maris Otter is almost gone.  Seriously.  And seeing as how it’s no longer cold outside a nice, simple, drinkable beer is required.  Digging deep into Graham Wheeler’s Brew Your Own British Real Ale we came up with Big Lamp Bitter.  Here we’ve adjusted the recipe for US/Standard measurements and added a few IBUs so that we don’t have any partial ounces of hops left-over.

Name: Big Lamp Bitter
Batch size: 5 gallons
Expected OG: 1.042
Expected FG: 1.010
Expected IBU: 30
Mash: 90m @ 152°F (Brew-in-a-bag)

  7.1 lbs Muntons Maris Otter 3L
    6 oz  Muntons Medium Crystal 60L

1 oz Goldings      5.5% AA @ 60m
Whirlfloc + yeast nutrient @ 10m
1 oz Fuggles       5.7% AA @  5m

1 pack Safale S-05 Yeast

OK, so it’s not really a traditional bitter since we’re using S-05 yeast instead of a real British variety.  And we’re only hopping for 60 minutes while Wheeler adds the hops at the start of the 90 minute boil for all his recipes.  But whatever.

The Brew

This time we decided to use the Brew-In-A-Bag (BIAB) method instead of the traditional 3-vessel setup, mostly to see if we’d hit the numbers and if the brew day would be shorter.  If you’re not familiar with BIAB, here’s the basic process:

  • fill your kettle with the full pre-boil volume of water, plus whatever the grain will absorb
  • heat all the water to the strike temperature (be sure to use a calculator for this, since there’s more water the temperature will drop less than regular methods after adding the grain)
  • secure your bag in the kettle, then mill your grain and dump it into the bag
  • stir the grain in the bag to break up dough-balls
  • proceed with your mash
  • pull out the grain bag, optionally rinse to extract more sugars, and squeeze to get as much liquid as you can
  • proceed with your boil

In theory BIAB should take less time and less equipment, and for the most part that’s correct.  We’ve actually done BIAB on this system before we finished building the HLT and the mash tun, so we have some data to go by.


We heated almost 9 gallons of strike water to 155°F and added the grain, which dropped the mash temperature to the expected 152°F and a pH of 5.6, which we adjusted to 5.4 with lactic acid.  A half-hour into the mash the wort was 6°P.  But now it was dinner time so we let the mash recirculate for a total of 2 hours.  Upon return, after squeezing all the liquid we could out of the grain, we ended up with 8.5 gallons of 6.5°P (1.026) wort, while we actually wanted 8 gallons of 1.028 wort instead.  Boil-off time!

After 30 minutes of boil-off, we had 8 gallons of 7°P wort (1.028) and started the real boil.  Uneventful.  90 minutes later we had 5 gallons of 1.040 wort and an excellent hot break, all of which we dumped into the fermenter.

Did BIAB save us time?  Yes, some, but not a lot.  We keep trying to save time and never quite do it, so maybe the problem is us…  Did we hit the numbers?  No, not really, but we weren’t that far off.  Had we mashed with less water, and boiled less vigorously, we may have gotten closer to the expected gravities.  But did BIAB make cleanup easier?  Definitely; only one kettle to scrub!

The Beer

big-lamp-bitter10 days later, after fermenting around 65°F, we transferred the 1.009 beer to a keg.  A week after that we had a light refreshing beer with a sessionable ABV of about 4%.  It’s not very complex (obviously) but it’s a great summer beer.  We’d brew this again, which means we Brewed It Right™.