Monthly Archives: October 2014

How to brew beer at home

This Saturday is Learn to Homebrew Day. As regular readers of this page will know, we planned on having a Learn to Homebrew Day event, but it was eventually cancelled due to a forecast with a 90% chance of rain and 23 MPH winds.  Kind of makes brewing outside problematic.

The plan was to brew a 10 gallon, all-grain batch of a special beer I came up with last year in honor of our grandfather who died after a long battle with Parkinson’s.  We would have been using equipment and techniques including a mash-tun, a large boil kettle, propane burner, grain mill, wort chiller and a huge yeast starter that would be a bit much for a first time brewer. In the spirit of Learn to Homebrew Day, I decided to develop a simplified version of the recipe that requires nothing more than a basic starter kit you can pick up at a local hombrew shop like Beer & Wine Hobby or online, and other items most people have in their kitchen already.

When I started the blog I decided early on not to make this a “how to” type of blog. John Palmer and Charlie Papazian are infinitely more qualified than I am to teach and explain the brewing process. Instead I took a similar approach to James Watt and Martin Dickie on the TV show Brew Dogs. Watt and Dickie brew what they brew, and if there is a process or concept that they feel warrants additional explanation, they will explain it as they go. That is what I have always tried to do considering that the blog is hosted on a newspaper website and most of my Facebook fans aren’t homebrewers.

The grist in the all-grain version is very basic, so in this beginner’s recipe there are no specialty grains to steep. All you need to do is boil the extract and add the hops at the appropriate times. I substituted Nottingham dry yeast for the liquid yeast in the all-grain recipe eliminating the need for a yeast starter. Nottingham is one of the cleanest fermenting and highest floccuating ale yeasts, so the finished beer should have more of a lager-like flavor and clarity as opposed to using S05, or other popular dry yeasts.

If you have never brewed anything in your life you can go to a homebrew shop, pick up a very basic starter kit, print this article, and have somebody who works there help you find all the ingredients to brew this as your first batch. I brewed this Thursday night, took lots of pictures, and created a slideshow almost every step of the way for you visual learners.

Pa’s Videoboard Lager (Extract)


  • 9.15 lbs Pilsner Liquid Malt Extract (LME) &
  • 1lb Pilsner Dry Malt Extract (DME)
  • or 9.9 lbs Pilsner Liquid Malt Extract
  • 1 oz Pearle Hops
  • 1 oz Liberty Hops
  • 1 Packet Nottingham Yeast
  • 5 oz Corn Sugar
  • Water (If your tap water is good enough to drink, it is good enough to brew with. Otherwise purchase 6 gallons of bottled water)


  • Stock pot (at least three gallons)
  • Fermentation bucket or carboy
  • Small cup
  • Sanatizer or bleach solution
  • Airlock
  • Thermometer
  • 2 lbs of ice or two 2 L soda/1 g juice bottles filled with water and frozen

For bottling day you will need bottle caps and 2 cases of pry-off bottles (approx 48 12 oz bottles, or 12 22 oz bombers). You can buy these, or clean and sanitize used bottles from store-bought beer. Just make sure they are not twist-offs!

  1. Assemble all of your ingredients making sure you have everything you need to get started
  2. Soak the extract in a pot or sink filled with hot water. This will make it easier to pour out of the container.
  3. Bring 1.75 gallons of water to a boil in a 3 gallon or larger stock pot (brew kettle).
  4. Remove the boiling water from the burner, quickly dump in all of the DME, and slowly add 3.15 lbs of Pilsner LME. Stir as you add the LME to prevent the extract from scorching at the bottom of the kettle. If you purchased three 3.3lb cans of Briess Pilsen Light LME, just go ahead and add the entire can; it’s close enough.
  5. Once the LME and DME is fully dissolved in the water, put the kettle back on the burner and slowly bring to a boil. The liquid in the kettle is now called wort.
  6. As the wort approaches boiling temperatures, a foam will start to rise called a hot break.
  7. When the wort starts to boil, wait a few minutes for the hot break to boil off, then add the 1 oz of Pearle Hops. I always smell the hops after opening the bag and before adding to the boil.
  8. Set a timer for 58 minutes for the next hop addition.
  9. While the wort is boiling, sanitize your fermenter, lid, airlock, the small cup, or anything else that will touch the wort or yeast after it is boiled. If you have, or if your kit came with a no rinse sanitizer like Star San or Iodophor all you need to do is soak your equipment. If not, a solution of 1 TSP of bleach per 1 gallon of water will work. It just needs 15 minutes of contact time, and be sure to rinse thoroughly.
  10. When the timer is down to 3 minutes, start to prepare an ice bath in a tub or sink. Add your ice or frozen bottles.
  11. Add 0.5 oz of Liberty hops and set the timer to 2 minutes. If you don’t have a scale that can measure weights that small, just add approximately half the package of hops. This doesn’t have to be exact.
  12. When the timer goes off again turn off the heat and add the rest of the extract. Stir as the LME is added to avoid scorching.
  13. Once the additional LME is dissolved, put the wort in the ice bath to cool. Set a timer for 20 minutes.
  14. Take the yeast packet and the sanitized cup. Fill the cup with water, sprinkle in the yeast, and stir until the yeast is fully hydrated and free of clumps.
  15. Add 2 gallons of cold or cool water to your fermenter.
  16. Once the timer has gone off and the wort has had 20 minutes to cool, add the wort into the fermenter and the water already inside. Then add additional water until you have about 5.25 gallons of total wort.
  17. Place the thermometer in the wort. Once the temperature is below 80F, add (pitch) the yeast, put on the lid or bung, and seal with the airlock making sure it is filled with sanitized water or alcohol.
  18. Find a cool dark place for the fermenter. The temperture range for this yeast us 57F-70F. Ideally this beer should ferment on the lower end of the range to have more of a clean, lager-like flavor. If you don’t have a place that cool, the beer will still be fine. It may just taste more like a blonde ale than a lager.
  19. After two weeks siphon (rack) the beer to a secondary fermenter and add the leftover 0.5 oz of Liberty Hops. Keep in the secondary fermenter for 1-3 weeks. If you do not have a secondary fermenter, just add the dry hops and be sure to bottle in 1-2 weeks.
  20. Bottle: Boil the 5 oz of corn sugar in 1 cup of water. Sanitize 2 cases of bottles and an appropriate number of bottle caps. Add the sugar solution to your sanitized bottling bucket, rack the finished beer on top of that, fill your bottles about half way up the neck, and crimp on the bottle caps.
  21. Have the finished beer sit at room temperture for 2-3 weeks. I usually sample the beer at two weeks to see if the beer is carbonated yet.
  22. Once the beer is carbonated it can be stored cold, or cool if you do not have fridge space for all of this beautiful homebrew. For best results let the beer refrigerate for two days.
  23. DRINK!

A few additional pro-tips:

  • After pitching your yeast and putting on the airlock, give the fermenter a good shake and make sure there are plenty of bubbles on top of the wort. This will help make sure the yeast have enough oxygen for fermentation
  • After fermentation, oxygen becomes the enemy. Rack your beer as quietly as possible and minimize splashing when transferring from one vessel to the next.
  • Store the extra hops for the dry-hop step in a ziplock back in a refrigerator or freezer.
  • Start a brewing journal and take detailed notes about your brew day and how the beer ends up tasting. If something is off it will help identify the reason why.
  • As you start your boil keep a spay bottle of water handy. If the hot break starts to boil over, turn the heat down immediately and spray the boil over with the water to cool it down rapidly.
  • If you are dying with anticipation to try your beer while it ferments, go brew something else! All you need is an additional fermenter and ingredients. If you really get sucked into the hobby, you want to keep the pipeline moving. If you brew once a month or every couple of weeks, you will have a new beer to try every month or every couple of weeks.
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Brew Day: Hot Stove Porter (Robust Porter)

They may not have been the two best beers I had this summer, but they were the two beers that got my wheels spinning as a brewer. Riverwalk Brewing’s Screen Door, which I had when I visited the brewery, and Wanderlust by Foundation Brewing in Portland, ME took your traditional summer wheat beer and turned it on its head. Instead of using citrus, these beers tasted like a summer ale using no citrus. Screen Door was dry-hopped with Cascade hops, Wanderlust used citrusy American hops and if I remember correctly saison yeast to give the beer added complexity.

By the time I had these beers it was too late for me to brew another summer beer. Instead what I set out to do was apply these lessons to a winter beer. The winter might be my least favorite season for beer. There are too many beers out there that are too heavy and overly spiced. Thank god for Great Divide’s Hibernation Ale, the best Old Ale I’ve had made in the US, and Celebration Ale which proves a superlative IPA is appropriate in any season.

The past two years we brewed a spiced honey porter. In 2012 we were still neophytes and brewed an extract batch. I thought it was excellent. When we entered it in our first ever competition the judges thought it was lacking in roasty flavor. I came to realize that was a limitation of dark malt extract. Since then I always use light extract with steeped or mashed specialty grains to get the desired color and flavor. Last year I brewed a partial mash and included a pound of chocolate malt to tick the box in terms of roasted flavor. It came out exactly how I wanted until the entire batch became infected about three weeks after bottling.


This year I started with a clean slate as I sought to make a spicy winter beer using only water, malt, hops, and yeast. The spicy flavor will come primarily from late hop additions. I used the lesions I learned from The Sustenance by having a first wort addition, with most of my additions with 20 minutes or less in the boil. Some winter beers like Samuel Adams Winter Lager use bitter orange peel. I want to replicate that citrus by blending more earthy and subtle English hops with more assertive American hops.

The one I hop I knew for sure I wanted to use was Northern Brewer. The earthy, almost minty flavor is too perfect for a beer like this. From there I did a search of hops that were classified as “spicy”. Cluster, which I have a well documented fetish for, showed up in the results as well. Having brewed a Cream Ale with only a 30 minute Cluster addition I know exactly the level of bitterness and flavor it would provide. When Mosiac showed up my eyes lit up. It was a hop I have wanted to use and I think it will work perfectly. It has such a unique flavor while being high in alpha acids I used it for the first wort addition, flavor addition late in the boil, and will use it as a dry hop addition. I will also blend in two British hops I’ll be using for the first time, Progress and First Gold.

The grist is American 2-row barley (and light malt extract), malted oats, carabrown, chocolate, and black patent malt. I considered using honey malt in lieu of actual honey, and flaked rye which would certainly add spiciness, but was concerned about having too many specialty grains that the different flavors would drown each other out. Having never used malted oats before I am anxious to see what they contribute in terms of flavor and mouthfeel.

I was torn between using WY1318 London Ale III yeast that I have used before and love, or trying the WLP023 Burton Ale. When Beer & Wine Hobby was out of London Ale III the day I visited, but had Burton Ale my decision was made for me. According to White Lab’s website the yeast will provide subtle fruit flavors like apple, pear, and clover honey. With any luck it may . Burton Ale also appears to work well with the next two beers I have in the pipeline. I also can’t not brew a Burton IPA with Burton Ale yeast!

I also applied what I have learned about water chemistry by mimicking the water profile in London where so many great porters were traditionally made. I added a little bit of gypsum to add calcium and balance my sulfate to chloride ratio to help balance the malt and hop flavor. The chalk/calcium carbonate will harden the water and accentuate the roasted flavor.


The brew day itself went ok. My efficiency wasn’t what BeerSmith had estimated, so the alcohol of the finished beer might be 0.5% lower than I had hoped. I need to get in the habit of taking a refractometer reading toward the end of the boil so I know exactly how much fermentable sugar I have. If it is less than I estimated or wanted I can add sugar or malt extract to make sure there are enough fermentable sugars to get the alcohol levels I am going for.

To be ready on Black Friday, the seasonably appropriate time, I probably should have brewed this a week or two ago. As it is, it will be ready in time for Christmas parties. This is a five gallon batch so there will be plenty to share!

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New toys! Yeast stir plate

Just like my grain mill and wort chiller, this should be a lifetime investment that will improve the quality of my beers immediately and as long as I brew. After doing a couple yeast starters for recent batches, and only using yeast that has never been used in another full batch, I have found that doing it is not as much of an inconvenience as I thought and I think it will lead to better beer.

Let’s start at the beginning. Yeast are living beings like us, and as such they need oxygen. The more oxygen they have, the healthier the fermentation, and the more the yeast will reproduce additional cells. For a healthy fermentation of your wort you need to make sure that you pitch (add) enough healthy yeast cells. If you don’t have enough yeast you may experience: infected finished beer, higher than normal final gravity, excess production of objectionable flavors caused by fusel alcohols, esters, diacetyl and sulfur compounds. I assure you all that stuff is bad.

There are a few of different ways to make sure you have enough healthy yeast. If you use dry yeast, those packets almost always have enough cells. With liquid yeast you can buy additional vials/packages, but that can get expensive in a hurry. The alternative is a yeast starter. All you do is use some dry malt extract to create a low gravity wort, pitch your yeast, and let the yeast ferment and multiply in the yeast starter. After a day or two you can pitch the starter into your finished beer, or put your starter in the refrigerator so the yeast can crash out of suspension. Once that happens you can pour off most of the starter wort, leaving just enough to mix up the yeast cake at the bottom, and pitch that into your wort.

In the past I would ferment my yeast starter in either a half gallon or one gallon growler. To oxygenate the starter wort I would intermittently shake the growler. The shaking helped somewhat compared to just letting the starter sit there, but it still required a large volume of starter wort for a higher alcohol beer, or if the yeast was older and had less viable cells in the package. For the upcoming Learn to Homebrew PArty for PArkinsons we plan on brewing a 10 gallon batch. With just shaking I would have had to made a two gallon starter to have enough cells for the beer we are planning. That clearly would have been unworkable.

The stir plate works when a spinning magnet inside the plate causes a corresponding pill-shaped magnet inside the starter called a stir bar to spin inside the starter and stir the wort.



This causes a continuous aeration of the wort, forces CO2 out of the wort, and keeps the yeast cells in suspension as opposed to crashing. All of which enables the starter to generate significantly more yeast cells. This chart demonstrates the impact that a stir plate has:

Yeast Chart


With winter coming and having bigger, winter beers in the pipeline it was an ideal time to invest in the stir plate. Time is not on my side to have my new winter beer done at the seasonably appropriate time. I will be working on that this weekend. The yeast in the flask will be coming to a porter near you.


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You are only limited by your imagination

When you brew your own beer you are only limited by your imagination. When brewing the beer itself you can use any ingredient you want. A commercial brewer has logistical and legal issues that a home brewer does not. Using 12 types of malt, 10 varieties of hops would be a logistical nightmare for a brewer brewing on a commercial scale. I was able to brew a Ballantine IPA clone using traditional ingredients that Pabst either could not use or chose not to use. You can also use ingredients that a commercial brewer can’t use. Do you want to add Jameson to your Irish Stout? You can, but it is illegal for a commercial brewer to add hard alcohol to a beer.

Brewing the actual beer is only the tip of the iceberg. How often in life do you get to name things? The only examples that come to mind right away are boats, pets, and children. The last one could very well grow up and change his/her name anyway. As our first batch fermented, there was a protracted debate as to what our home-brewery would be called. My original idea was Danvers River Brewing. For most of my life I have lived or worked in communities along the Danvers River, so the name felt appropriate. My girlfriend hated it, along with the next ten ideas I came up with. Since we both love baseball we toyed around with baseball themed names until we settled on Bleacher Brewing Company.



If you are artistic or creative, coming up with labels for your beer can be just as big a part of the hobby as brewing. When giving homebrew as a gift it just looks classier to give a bottle with a cool label on it as opposed to a blank bottle. It also helps the person know what is inside (duh!). Inevitably if the bottle isn’t labeled the person will forget what kind of beer it is.

From there you get to name each beer that you come up with. Until very recently all of our beer names were baseball themed. Before I took my ancient Windows XP PC offline, we would use Photoshop elements to come up with a unique label and logo for each beer. Each label had a similar layout, but each different beer featured a different ballpark and a different background color.

We then would then create albums on our Facebook page, upload the logo and any pictures related to the beer. We created the Facebook page so we wouldn’t continue to spam our personal Facebook feeds with homebrewing pictures and anecdotes. That way friends who wanted to follow our brewing could, and those who didn’t wouldn’t have to un-friend us.

I ordered a ton of blank labels from, and would just print them at home. If I labeled every beer and did more printing, I would invest in a color laser printer. After a couple batches of labeling and then peeling approximately 50 12 oz bottles, we started labeling only gifted beer. I miss creating the labels and may have to buy a Windows 7 PC for the sole purpose of creating and printing beer labels.

Brew Day: The Plinian Legacy (Imperial IPA)

In hindsight we may have started too soon creating our own recipes. None of our early beers were truly bad. We learned by doing, but maybe we could have “learned while doing” more proven recipes. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Now, instead of tweaking our early recipes I find myself starting from scratch like I did with my recent brown ale and pale ale.

Kits are a good way for a brewer to try new ingredients and to step out of his/her comfort zone. Last winter I brewed Northern Brewer’s Kiwi Express as a way to learn about New Zealand hops. This summer I brewed Speckled Heifer to supplement the Spotted Cow we brought back from Wisconsin. In my latest order I bought the Australian Sparkling Ale kit to brew with Pride of Ringwood hops for the first time. In the future I want to brew one of Beer & Wine Hobby’s Mystic Brewing kits.

When working on The Substance Ale clone I mentioned how I was equal parts intimidated and uninterested in brewing IPAs. A couple weeks before I had the idea to clone it, I took advantage of Northern Brewer’s 20% off sale to purchase the Plinian Legacy kit along with my grain mill and wort chiller. At that time I had just brewed a Red IPA that was OK, but was missing something. I knew I had a lot more to learn about brewing a great IPA.

I may not have used all these hops if I tried to come up with my own IPA recipe.

I may not have used all these hops if I tried to come up with my own IPA recipe.

I am too lazy to to troll Beer Advocate to find somebody to trade #beermail with, so I haven’t had a chance to try Pliny the Elder. Brewing a clone of one of the best IPAs in the world seemed like a good way to learn more about brewing IPAs. In the process I’ll have five gallons of a close approximation of a world-class beer. Most of my recent brews have been either session or regular strength in terms of alcohol level; it will be nice to have a big beers in the house. Sometimes at the end of the night it’s nice to kick back with a big IPA or imperial stout as a way to cap off a drinking session.

This was my first time using a hop shot. Instead of actual hops, the shot contains hop extract.

This was my first time using a hop shot. Instead of actual hops, the shot contains hop extract.

I waited to brew this for similar reasons I waited to brew The Substance. I used the WLP001 cultured from the original yeast starter. I actual pitched some extra yeast from the original starter into a new starter so I had enough healthy cells for this, the Pumpkin Wheat, and the Ballantine IPA clone. I then saved yeast from that second starter I can save and pitch in a third starter when I need to use the yeast again in the future. From reading the comments in Brulosopher’s post, I can keep the yeast in the fridge for several months.

I brewed this at the same time as the Essex Pale Ale. When I added the late extract I put the lid back on the kettle to bring the wort back to a boil. While I transferred the pale ale wort to the fermenter, I had a boil over on the stove. As I cleaned up I forgot the hop addition at flameout. I noticed while the wort was cooling, and threw the hops in as soon as I noticed. I didn’t strain out the hops when pouring the wort into the fermenter to try and compensate. If that helps extract any additional hop aroma it is a win, even if I lose a little bitterness by not adding the hops when the wort was still at a near boiling temperature.

I plan to do more research and experimentation with different hop varieties before attempting my own IPA recipe again. What I have learned from this and The Substance is the importance of blending different hops to come up with a truly unique and complex flavor. That involves using new hops I haven’t used before, lots of test batches, and basically trial and error.

Brew Day: Essex Extra Pale Ale (American Pale Ale)

Almost every craft brewer has a pale ale. Usually the pale ale is the flagship beer, or it is at least a year-round offering. An extract pale ale was one of the first original recipes I came up with when I started brewing. I benchmarked a few local pale ales that I liked: Samuel Adams Boston Ale, Wachusett Country Pale Ale, and Shipyard Chamberlain’s Pale Ale. My first pale ale was a success, but tasted more like an English Pale Ale. Given the beers I benchmarked it in hindsight was to be expected.

The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines for an American Pale-Ale are incredibly broad. I enjoy the more English-inspired beers like the ones that inspired my first pale ale, but I also enjoy hopper interpretations like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and the excellent Fort Point Pale Ale by Trillium. What I want to do is brew several one gallon pale ales that explore the broad parameters of the style. It helps that I have a ton of leftover hops from previous batches. Experimentation is a good way to put them to use.

My girlfriend picked up a mix 12-pack from Southern Tier. The first beer I tried was the PMX. It was an extra pale ale in the sense the beer was extra pale in color and flavor, not an extra big or malty pale ale. It reminded me of Flying Jenny by Grey Sail and Pamola by Baxter. It was relatively light in color and malt flavor. It had a nice hop balance and a subtle notes of toasted bread which dried out the finish nicely. Having just bottled a hop-forward IPA, and with dark winter beers in the pipeline, an extra pale ale felt like a good place to start in my pale ale experimentation.

The grist was 2-row, some Caramel 60 malt, and toasted malt. The toasted malt was 2-row I literally threw in the toaster oven at 350F for 15 minutes. It’s a trick Charlie Papazian outlines in The Complete Joy of Homebrewing. Per BeerSmith:

Similar to Biscuit or Victory malt – this malt adds reddish/orange color and improved body without sweetness. Toasted flavor. Mashing required to avoid haze.

An added plus is the intoxicating aroma of freshly toasted barley. The apartment smelled of malted goodness. If I were to scale the recipe up to a five gallon batch I probably would use Victory Malt as opposed to toasting large quantities of malt at home. I used Centennial hops for bittering and flavor additions to give the beer a distinctly American flavor, and UK Fuggles for finishing/aroma. The earthy flavor and aroma should go nicely with the dry finish I am going for. I used the same WLP001 yeast I have been using of late simply because it’s what I had lying around.


Essex Pale Ale is on the left, I have another wort boiling on the right.

The brew day was off to an inauspicious start when I spilled a bunch of grain trying to pour it into my BIAB bag. As a result my extra pale ale turned into a session ale. I still may add some corn sugar to boost the alcohol level. As I continue to experiment with different recipes and ingredients I eventually want to develop a house pale ale recipe that is all mine. In the meantime I can experiment blending different flavors and ingredients to see how they work together.

Learn to make your own beer from The Would-be Brewmaster on Learn to Homebrew Day, November 1st!

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Brew Day: Pennant Race Pumpkin Wheat

With fresh, local pumpkin finally available it was time to brew our annual pumpkin beer. Last year our pumpkin beer in late October, and the five gallon batch was not ready until almost Thanksgiving. We ended up with a lot of leftover pumpkin beer.

This is our third year in a row brewing a pumpkin beer. The Pennant Race Pumpkin Wheat was one of our first batches when we started brewing. The first batch was an extract recipe with specialty grains, where we used the simple steps I outlined to brew a pumpkin beer as easily as possible. As to why we used a wheat beer as a base style? I honestly don’t remember. I think we just grabbed a couple cans of wheat liquid malt extract as we threw the recipe together.

By last year I had graduated to partial mash BIAB brewing. I roasted the pumpkin the same way I had the year before, and threw the wedges in the bag along with my grains during the mash. We used a ridiculous amount of pumpkin, ten pounds, so plenty of pumpkin flavor came through.  My efficiency was horrible and the finished beer only had about a 4.5% ABV. There was not enough malt flavor to balance the spices. When we entered it into a competition the judges agreed the cinnamon was too dominant.

For this year we brewed a 2 gallon batch, enough to keep the girlfriend happy, I’ll enjoy a few at Halloween and Thanksgiving, and it won’t be cluttering up the house when we have all moved onto winter beer. This year we bought a baking or sugar pumpkin, pureed it, and added about two pounds to the mash which still made up about 25% of the grist. Pumpkin contains fermentable sugars, but it also contains water so it’s contribution to the alcohol level figures to be small. I had planned to use 6-row barley and red wheat as my base malts. The extra proteins from the 6-row would help convert the starches in the pumpkin like it does when brewing with corn, and the red wheat looked like it would have a more robust flavor than white wheat to stand up to the spices. Unfortunately I was short on 6-row, and ended up supplementing it with some additional 2-row.


A sugar pumpkin like this has plenty of flesh for pumpkin pie, and throwing into the mash.

I almost always advocate using the freshest ingredients possible. For the spices we used ground spices off the spice rack. It is always nice to save a few dollars. I also find that ground spices are easier to portion. We measured our spices by the 1/8th of a teaspoon.

I brewed this the same day as the Ballantine IPA clone. While that was a relatively smooth brewday in terms of hitting my mash temperature, the pumpkin puree made it almost impossible. BeerSmith is designed to tell you how hot your water should be before adding grain, not necessarily pureed vegetables. When the mash was sitting at 140F, I turned up the heat on the stove-top. Then after not paying adequate attention, the next thing I knew the temperature was over 170F. Then I was frantically adding ice and cold water. None of this helped my efficiency at all. Luckily I designed the beer to have a high starting gravity so I would have a margin for error.


Pulling out the grain bag will all the pumpkin sucked. It was heavy and leaked everywhere.

The beer is fermenting away. I will likely just bottle it after two weeks of fermentation. It would be ready for Halloween and maybe even be gone by winter beer season. Some year I would like to do an imperial pumpkin beer in the late fall and age around about a year so it would be ready for the following September.

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Brew Day: Ballantine IPA Clone

When news came out that Pabst was going to resurrect Ballantine IPA I was certainty excited to try it. I was vaguely familiar with the Ballantine brand before the relaunch. As my strong sense of nostalgia took hold I did more research and became intrigued.

Due in part to mass emigration from Germany, lager became the preeminent style of beer in the US, and internationally for that matter. Based out of Newark and founded by Scottish immigrants, Ballantine was the one major US brewery that lasted well into the 20th century brewing ales and borrowing more from British traditions. Ballantine pushed the envelope in terms of styles and flavor. It was craft beer before craft beer existed. Unfortunately the brewery lost market share and closed in 1972. After a series of corporate transactions Pabst acquired the Ballantine brand.


When I read the above article it was clear that the new version was not the original recipe. The hop varieties had not been bred and developed yet. A cynic would say Pabst is trying to put an old-timey name on a new IPA for the nostalgia factor and publicity. Given how much beer and ingredients have changed since 1960, I am inclined to give Pabst the benefit of the doubt. Since Pabst is a “beer marketing company” that no longer has its own brewery, brewmaster Greg Deuhs used a homebrew setup to test and develop the recipe.

At this point I was curious as to how the modern beer compared to the original. I searched for a clone recipe and found this article from 2013. The recipe seemed to reflect the ingredients that would have been available in the early 20th century. Six-row barley used by macrobrewers today would have been the only indigenous base malt available at that time. As I mentioned when I brewed the Subway Series Stout, six-row needs an adjunct like corn due to the higher protein levels than the two row barley more commonly used and available today. I am also curious is any sweetness from the corn comes through. The hops are readily available to a homebrewer in small quantities, but likely would not be in the scale Pabst would need.

Instead of Wyeast 1056, I will be using the White Labs WLP001 I used in The Substance clone since they are both versions of the Chico strain and can be used interchangeably. I have seen rumors that the Chico yeast strain is in fact the Ballantine strain. There is a yeast company selling an Old Newark Ale strain that they claim was retrieved from a frozen yeast bank and is not Chico. I would love to try it someday to see how it compares to the ubiquitous Chico.

I scaled the recipe down to a one gallon batch. I could do a BIAB batch on my stove-top, it would be just enough to compare with the new version, and having just brewed a 5 gallon batch of The Substance clone I didn’t want to have too much IPA in the house at once.

It was one of my best brewdays, so I thought. I hit all my temperatures and my volumes were right on the money. As I felt good about myself I reviewed the recipe and realized that I forgot to add the Crystal malt and I didn’t boil for long enough. I should know that whenever corn is in a beer a longer boil is needed to boil off DMS which can impart a canned corn flavor like you find in Rolling Rock.

For the Crystal malt, since the recipe called for such a small quantity I put the 1.5 oz in a microwaveable bowl with some water and heated it up in the microwave to steep. Who knows if it will impart any flavor or add body, but it was worth a shot and should at least add some color.

Once the clone is done I look forward to a side-by-side comparison with new version. I have been waiting to try it until I could brew this. Everything I have heard about the new Ballantine IPA has been positive to this point.


Corn is typically used in American lagers or cream ale. I’m interested to see how it works in an IPA.

Learn to make your own beer from The Would-be Brewmaster on Learn to Homebrew Day, November 1st!

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Sanitation is godliness

Beer is a living thing. If it’s not quite a living thing, it is made by living things. I am not talking about human beings either. Our beloved potent potable made from fermented grain would not exist were it not for fragile, single cell organisms called yeast. After the yeast is pitched into the beer they go into a frenzy of constant eating and procreation. Is that living the dream or what?

As the yeast digest the fermentable sugars and produce alcohol and CO2, it needs to be protected from other organisms that want to do the same thing. Sanitation is how we as brewers protect our friends, the yeast, from other organisms that threaten to crash the party that is fermentation.

Now you may have read the title and thought this was another example of me butchering the language or at least butchering a common expression. Well, you can make like a tree and get out of here! Cleanliness and sanitation are similar, but entirely different things. Both are essential to making good beer.

In How to Brew, John Palmer defines clean, sanitize, and sterilize as follows:

  • Clean – To be free from dirt, stain, or foreign matter.
  • Sanitize – To kill/reduce spoiling microorganisms to negligible levels.
  • Sterilize – To eliminate all forms of life, especially microorganisms, either by chemical or physical means.

There is nothing in brewing that requires sterilization. We are making beer, not conducting medical procedures, sanitization is all we are going for. Cleanliness is the first step. If your equipment is not clean, it is impossible for it to be sanitized. When cleaning be sure to use a fragrance-free cleaner or detergent that is not abrasive otherwise you risk scratching plastic equipment. I usually use dish soap or OxiClean to clean my equipment. After cleaning be sure to rinse thoroughly to remove any residue. 

My starter kit came with a copy of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, and in it Charlie Papazian suggested using a water and bleach solution to sanitize equipment. I used the bleach solution for a long time because it was cheap and easy. A bottle of bleach is a $1, you can buy it anywhere, and a large bottle would last forever. The downsides of using a bleach solution is that the surface needs 15 minutes of contact to sanitize, everything has to be rinsed, and bleach can cause pitting in stainless steel.

When I was using bleach I didn’t mind any of the drawbacks. I would still be using bleach if my brewpartner/cousin Andy hadn’t given me an extra bottle of Star San. Star San is an acid-based sanitizer that needs only seconds of contact to do the job. It also does not require any rinsing. That has shortened my bottling days tremendously. All I have to do is dunk the bottles in the Star San solution and they are ready to go. You can also keep the solution in a spray bottle and spray it on anything you need to sanitize; buckets, lids, airlocks, you name it. Andy walks around on brewday with his spray bottle at his side like a cowboy with a revolver his holster.


Always within arm’s reach. I wouldn’t be shocked if Andy slept with it under his pillow.

Iodophor is similar to Star San except for the fact that it is iodine-based as opposed to acid based. I have never used Iodophor, but from doing a bit or research the pros to Iodophor are that it does not lose its effectiveness as its PH levels drop like Star San does as it loses its acidity. Iodophor is not nearly as foamy as StarSan. The foam usually isn’t a problem, it does not hurt the beer in anyway. if anything it helps the solution get into every nook and cranny, but when sanitizing a glass carboy having it a quarter of the way full of foam after dumping out the solution can be annoying. Iodophor is also less expensive. The cons are that since it is iodine based it smells like iodine. It also stains plastic which requires further cleaning.

Whatever chemicals you use boil down to personal preference. The critical thing is that anyting that touches your wort or beer after the boil is completely be sanitary. I easily could have made sanitization my first post, that is how important it is. Considering what a hopeless slob I am, it is ironic I found a hobby where cleaning and sanitation are so imperative.

Learn to make your own beer from The Would-be Brewmaster on Learn to Homebrew Day, November 1st!

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Tasting Notes: Andy & Juli’s Weddingfest (Octoberfest-style ale)

This is a special surprise beer I made as a wedding gift for my cousin and brewing partner Andy and his lovely new wife Juli. On the oft chance he might read the blog or see it on Facebook, I did not write a brewday post for this beer.

The Weddingfest was a 2 gallon BIAB batch, which was my attempt to brew as close to an Octoberfest as I could without the time or ability to let the beer ferment at lager temperatures (high 40s-low 50s F). Octoberfest is also known as Marzen, which is the German word for March. The beer was traditionally brewed in March, clean lager yeast was used, the beer was then lagered (lager is the German word for store) in caves at cool temperatures during the summer, and then served in the fall.IMG_0432.JPG

To get as close as I could to making a lager-like ale, I used German Kolsch yeast which is fairly clean save for a subtle sulfur flavor. Northern Brewer just came out with their Lederhosen Limited Edition Hoptoberfest Recipe Kit which follows a similar concept. The grist was roughly equal parts Pilsner, Vienna, and Munich malt. I know Andy found Samuel Adams Octoberfest to be overly malty and cloying, so I was going for a more balanced malt profile along the lines of Paulaner Ockoberfest. I kept my 2 gallon fermenter in a cooler with ice water to try and ferment the beer at as cool of a temperature as possible. To save time on bottling day I used Munton’s Carb Tabs instead of a priming sugar solution. Here is the beer description I put on Untappd:

The groom always wanted to brew a commemorative wedding beer. For a fall wedding, an Oktoberfest or Marzen was the only logical choice for a style. The groom was overwhelmed with the logistics of a wedding beer. During the planning and buildup to the big day, when would he have time to brew? When would the beer be served? The night before? Would it be allowed in the reception hall? The bride certainly would want to partake, so the bachelor party was never an option.
To the rescue came the groom’s cousin and brewing partner. This “Alt-Oberfest” was brewed to be as close to the classic German lager style as time and resources would allow. Inspired by traditional examples of the style, Andy & Juli’s Weddingfest is malty, complex and more balanced than some American examples.

If I had done an iota of research on the product ahead of time I never would have purchased the carb tabs. After a little over two weeks of conditioning there were particles floating around in what was a previously clear beer on bottling day. The beer did have a nice persistent head. There was malt sweetness up front which the beer should have, but the finish was dry and sulfury. I am not sure if the beer spent too much time in the primary fermenter on top of the yeast that had floccuated and crashed the the bottom of the fermenter. Despite using the swamp cooler may have fermented at too high of a temperature. The re-used yeast may well have been old and mutated. Since I was using kolsch yeast I probably should have cold conditioned the beer after primary fermentation. If I were to do an “alt-oberbest” like this again I would certainly do that, or use a more forgiving yeast like Nottingham. When I have the ability to ferment at lager temperatures again the first two beers I think I will do are an Octoberfest and a Bock.

My girlfriend enjoyed the beer more than I did. I had a hard time finishing it and dumped the last couple sips. We saved one bottle and gave the rest to the newly weds. With homebrew beer from the same batch can vary from bottle to bottle when it is bottle conditioned. Hopefully the beer will improve with a bit of age, and/or the gifted bottles come out better than ours.

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