Category Archives: Reviews

Extract American Amber Review

eamber-tastingTwo months ago we decided to jump back to our extract-brewing beginnings and see what kind of American Amber we could make.  We used amber malt syrup and gold malt extract for the base fermentables and some Crystal 10L and Amber malt for steeping grains.  We were pleasantly surprised by this one, although our expectations weren’t high to begin with…

Appearance: great amber color and after 6 weeks in the keg, very clear when held up to light.  Pours with a medium-dense head that sticks around for a while and clings to the sides of the glass.

Smell: sweet malt and some citrus, but not overly malty.  Even with the dry-hops and right after carbonating, it didn’t have a huge hop aroma.  Which is fine, since this wasn’t intended to be a hop bomb.

Taste: very mellow, balanced bitterness from the hops backed by semi-sweet malt but no grainy flavors.  A bit muddled perhaps, with all the malt flavors blending into one another for a single malty note.  This is perhaps the only let-down of this brew.

Mouthfeel: possibly due to the amount of crystal malt used, this brew has just the right amount of body for a traditional amber beer.

Next time: since darker malt extracts often incorporate specialty grains already (in this case, C60L and Munich in addition to the pale base malt) and we added more steeping grains, there might have been a bit too much crystal malt in this beer.  Next time we would decrease the C10L by half, use pure Pilsen malt extract instead of Golden Light (which includes Carapils), and add some Aromatic malt for extra malty flavor.  This should result in a more drinkable beer without sacrificing much color or maltiness.  Also, we’ll use more dry-hops for a hoppier aroma right out of the tap.

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.

Notes on Fresh Hop

fh-glassBack in September we brewed a Fresh Hop beer with almost 5lbs of hops.  There’s no easy way to say this, we put in too many hops.  Apparently there is an upper limit.  Right after tapping the keg it tasted like chewing on hop cones, so we left it alone for a while to settle down.

While it did mellow out, it’s still not “good”.  We think this was a combination of three factors:

  • Way too many hops added too early in the process, and too many fresh hops can supposedly give a “grassy” taste.  We do get notes of grass in both taste and smell.
  • We used the hops within 48hrs but not as quickly as we should have.  Hops begin to oxidize immediately after being picked unless dried and vacuum packed.  Ours weren’t.
  • The serendipity of an unknown hop variety can be irresistable but next time we’ll resist a bit more and put them into their own SMASH brew so we know exactly what they taste like

We think we nailed the malt bill though.  It’s not too heavy and has great lacing and isn’t too sweet.  We’ll use it again, just with different hops more suited to its clean profile.

But even when you get a beer that’s not quite right, but not quite wrong, you can mix it.  A total throwback play to the 1800s, but we discovered that a 45/45/10 ratio of our Imperial Stout/Pumpkin/Fresh Hop was great.  Don’t waste a beer!

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™.

American Amber Tasting

Earlier this year we brewed a Bock as our first attempt at a lager.  If you don’t remember, we split the batch and pitched half with US-05 to create an American Amber ale.  Today we’re going to taste that.

No lager here...
No lager here…

Appearance: this brew was actually kegged and carbonated in late January, so it’s long-since crystal clear.  Color is a spot-on reddish-amber.  Pours with a nice foamy head, not too dense, which gradually falls back.  Some lacing is present, but not as much as our Rye IPA.

Smell: all spice, no fruit, but not overpowering.  This is expected due to the use of “noble” Saaz and Hallertau hops which tend to have a spicy character.  Since this batch was not drop-hopped, no aroma explodes out of the glass like you’d get with an American IPA.

Taste: good taste, great bitterness for the style, and very easy drinking.  Spicy notes from the hops, no overpowering caramel flavors or cloying sweetness from the extra crystal we tossed in.  We think it’s well-balanced towards the bitter side.

Mouthfeel: there’s room for improvement here.  The brew finished at 1.024 SG, likely due to the higher mash temperature.  Next time, we’d keep the mash temps around 150 – 151F for less body.

Temperature Zones

A HERMS system (like we have) has multiple temperature zones.  First you’ve got the mash tun itself, and second you have the Heat EXchanger (HEX) in your Hot Liquor Tank.  They are not always the same temperature, and that means that both zones can affect the fermentability and mouthfeel of your beer.

If you’ll recall, mashing at a lower temperature (like 148F) increases fermentability because it favors the beta-amylase enzyme, which breaks starches into simpler sugars that yeast convert to alcohol.  Higher mash temperatures (like 154F) favor alpha-amylase, which breaks starches into larger chunks that yeast cannot process as easily.  Thus, higher mash temperature yields a less fermentable wort, and more unfermentable sugars, which create a fuller-tasting beer.

So, if your mash tun is at 149F and your HEX coil is at 154F, you’ll be getting starch conversion in both places, but quite possibly favoring different enzymes.  You need to keep the temperature between the mash and the HEX as close as possible to ensure the mash profile is consistent.  This is how we got more mouthfeel and less ABV on this brew without intending to.

For the future brews, we’ll try to hit mash temps more precisely, and reduce flow rates through the HEX to ensure that the wort in the coils isn’t a higher temperature than the mash itself.

Land of Pils

Poutnik Světlý Ležák
Poutnik Světlý Ležák

While recently in the Czech Republic, Brew It Right™ was clearly required to sample various Moravian brews and provide a full report.  This task was not taken lightly and required considerable sacrifice and concentration.  Obviously, almost all of the beer in Czech pubs are lagers, so you’ll find a precious few taps pouring ale unless it’s a hefeweizen.

First, a glossary:

  • Ležák – lager
  • Světlý – light
  • Pšeničné – wheat (usually hefeweizen)
  • Pivovar – brewery
  • Černé – black, meaning dark or dunkel
  • Tmavý – dark; see Černé
  • Kvasnicový – yeasty, unfiltered
  • Polotmavý – amber or gold

Copy this list to your phone and take it with you.  Or just do what we did; order one of everything on the list and try it.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

The Standout

While the local Starobrno brewery is great and their Starobrno Černé is (in our opinion) one of the better tasting regional brews in Moravia, the brewery is actually owned by Heineken. So if you’re trying to stay away from anything macro-related, they aren’t what you’re looking for.

Instead, try the Hotel Pegas in Brno, a hotel and restaurant with its own brewery.  Walk in and copper brew kettles are already on display right behind the bar.  And the beer is actually quite good, showing more variety than you’ll find in a lot of the pubs.  Pegas gets bonus points for attempting the only ale (besides hefeweizen) we found: a special porter.  But we’re deducting some of those points because it’s served in a smaller glass than any of the other brews, and after a week of lager we really, really wanted a full glass of ale.  The food is pretty good good too, though in typical outside-of-Prague Czech fashion, vegetables are nowhere to be found unless pickled.

Another to look for is Pivovar Poutnik which makes a couple pilsners.  For a respite from pilsner, try the Černé (dark) from Velkopopovický Kozel (though owned by Pilsner Urquell/SAB Miller).  Beware that many of the regional or local breweries (like Kozel or Starobrno) are all owned by international conglomerates, but many still make good beer.


Of course we had to try and find a homebrew shop, and found one we did: Pivo Ogar.  Unfortunately we got there five minutes late, but we did see a shelf of homebrew stuff and some sacks of malt behind the counter.  No kits though…

Rye IPA Tasting

Forever ago (well, mid December), we brewed a Rye IPA with 61% pale malt, 18% rye malt, 14% Crystal 60L, and 7% Thomas Fawcett Amber, with CTZ for bittering and Citra for the finish.  It was supposed to be a double IPA, but ended up with 7% ABV, so not quite.  But it’s maturing well.

Appearance: since it’s still recently dry-hopped, there’s still a few bits of pellet hops floating around, and there’s a haze from the rye.  In our experience, Biofine Clear (which we always add to secondary) takes a while to do it’s thing, especially at the 45F that our kegerator is set to.  Color is dark gold, almost amber but without any red; still within the bounds of IPA.  The head falls back slowly, has great lacing, and sticks to the glass.

Smell: not as much hop aroma as expected; the malt dominates.  The Thomas Fawcett Amber causes the rye to recede to the background enough that it’s hard to pick out, and this was supposed to be a rye-forward beer.  The dry-hopping with Citra and Cascade didn’t do as much for the aroma as we thought it would, but you can still detect fruity notes that pair well enough with the Amber malt.

Taste: can we say Thomas Fawcett Amber?  We had some to use up, but it’s very easy to pick out, and next time we’ll use less of it.  In any case, the taste is pleasantly bitter, and the dry-hops contributed more flavor than we thought they would: 1/2oz Citra for 7 days, and 1oz Cascade for 2 days.

Mouthfeel: very smooth and heavier on the body, though it finished at 1.016 SG.  It’s not as carbonated as we’d like, but that’s OK.

Next time: we’d use less Fawcett Amber malt since its character dominates and this was supposed to be a rye beer.  We’d also up the bittering hop additions and reduce the Crystal 60, as the beer was a bit too sweet for our tastes before adding the dry-hops.  Even so, this is still a good beer, just not what we were expecting.  We’ll still have a great time drinking 10 gallons of it.

I would drink Centennial dry-hopped Bud Light


Want to know what hops actually taste like?  Try this experiment: dry-hop Bud Light.  Many have done this before, but Brew It Right wants some input too.  The concept is easy; buy some Bud Light, drop-hop it, wait 5 days, and drink it!  Obviously it’s slightly more difficult, so learn from our mistakes:

  • Bud Light uses twist-off caps.  Re-capping with new crimp-style caps fails for half the bottles, so instead, try to re-twist the original caps using a towel to get a good grip.  Failure to seal has two problems. First, the Bud will foam on contact with the hops and may come out the top, which leads to the second problem: the beer will be flat and you won’t get much flavor or aroma.
  • Use around 0.1 to 0.2 ounces of hops per bottle, that’s usually a couple pellets per bottle.  This gives a good balance between aroma, flavor, and bitterness without creating grassy or tea-bag flavors.
  • After you’ve re-capped the bottles and the foam settles down, swirl the bottles a bit to make sure the hops don’t stay at the top.
  • Label your bottles and your glasses when tasting, otherwise you might mix things up and all will be for naught.  Masking tape works well, but you can class it up with blue painters tape for extra style points!
  • Use a small strainer to filter out any hop bits when pouring into the tasting glasses.  You want to sip the beer, not chew hops.

Due to #1, only the Simcoe, Centennial, and the Amarillo bottles held pressure, which made the flavor and aroma crisp and very apparent.  The others were muted and muddled, and pretty worthless for testing.  If you haven’t done this before, it’s very surprising how well the hops come through.  Centennial had a definite fruit smell and very clean flavor, while Simcoe had resin/earthy/pine notes.  While doing this you can just imagine what beer you can brew that will work well with the various hops.

And as it turns out, Bud Light goes very, very well with Centennial…

New Orleans Beer Time

If you’re in a town for a conference, you might as well find some good beer.

Crescent City Brew House

With a name that mentions nothing about it’s attempt to recreate a little bit of Bavaria in delta country, the Crescent City Brew House seems to be the only brewpub downtown.  Nice atmosphere, not trendy, not fancy.  The staff was friendly and helpful.  The food was OK, but this being NOLA it was quite meat heavy.

Beware they only do lager, the founder is apparently German and brews according to the Reinheitsgebot, so if you like hops look elsewhere.  And unfortunately for beer geeks, they haven’t jumped on the specs bandwagon, so no malt, hops, IBUs, gravity, or explanations for anything.  A bit old-fashioned, you could say.

  • Pilsner – billed as a “light, crisp, and traditionally hoppy beer, with a soft palette and floral bouquet”.  It met expectations.
  • Red Stallion – “A malty, aromatic and hoppy mixture. Copper colored, this beer is medium bodied and full of flavor. Vienna Style.”  I would have liked more malt, but this one was solid too.
  • Black Forest – “A full-bodied dark mahogany beer, with a rich malty texture. It is sparsely hopped, in the traditional Munich style.”  Also solid.

They also only serve 12, 20, and 24oz glasses.  No pint glasses here you English-loving tool!  All the beer was “solid” for German lager with no particular standouts

Final score: one thumb up from Brew It Right.

New Orleans Lager & Ale (NOLA)

One microbrew (besides Abita) that everyone seems to have on tap is NOLA Blonde.  This was the bright spot wherever I happened to be, because it’s a good, solid blonde ale.  You should try it.  It’s like Summit EPA: no matter what bar you’re in, they’re going to have it because it’s “local”, and that means you don’t have to drink Miller Lite like a chump.

Next up: Hopitoulas.  A great IPA, which you should try, but I can’t give you tasting notes or bouquets or backbones or resins or any of that stuff, as I was fairly drunk by then and I’m not going to take notes when I’m having fun.

Final score: two thumbs up from Brew It Right.