Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A lot of people like good beer!

"It's 5:01...somewhere"

One of the main reasons I continue to brew is that I really like good beer.  I spend a fair amount of time discussing new and different beer styles, beers we have tried, brewing techniques and equipment.  I enjoy many parts of beer.  Turns out, I am not the only one.

The Brewers Association has released a report yesterday saying that the beer business is going well in the US, particularly craft beer.  Per a Gallup Poll, beer has a strong growth trend in the alcoholic beverage preferred by adults in the US.  The growth has been at the expense of wine being the preferred drink.

Also interesting, and confirmed in our house, we are drinking less imported beer, and of the increased consumption in 2008, 50% of the growth was from craft breweries.  5.8% of all beer by volume and 10.5% of beer by dollar value was from craft beer in 2008. 

What does this all mean?  We are buying more beer overall, we are buying more domestically produced beer, our increased consumption is mostly in craft beer, and we are paying a lot more for it.  I can vouch for all of those.

If Mrs. Brew Meister and I are any indication, 2009 should be a good year as well.



Saturday, February 21, 2009

May the Schwarz Bier With You (Kulmbacher - Mönchshof Schwarzbier clone)

The latest batch of beer at the CaBrewery was to honor Mrs. Brew Meister and her affection for Kulmbacher Mönchshof Schwarzbier. This brings back memories of sitting in a middle-eastern restarant, watching German MTV, eating falafel, and smelling the hookahs burning.

The beer is a dark-as-night brew, with lower alcohol, foamy beige head, and has a very low roasted taste. It is a smooth lager, with noble hops in the mid taste, and an incredible finish. I agree with the Mrs.--it is a great beer, so I decided to try to make it.

I could not find any clear recipe for the style, so I took an all grain recipe, translated it into a partial mash, and used whatever I had left from the last few batches of beer, and here is what I have left:

Schwartz Beer

1/2# chocolate malt
1/2# roasted malt
1/2# crustal 40

3.52# BierKeller Dark German DME
3.3# Briess Pilsen Light

60 minutes 1/2 oz NZ Hallertau 6.2AA
15 minutes 1/2 oz NZ Hallertau 6.2AA

Heated water to 160F, added the crushed grains and put the heat on simmer for 50 minutes.
I hang a basket with the specialty grains on my 40qt boil pot and rinsed the grains for a few minutes.

I added the DME and brought up the water to 20L. Brought everything up to a boil and did the hop on schedule.

Cooled to 72F, pitched White Labs WLP830 German Lager Yeast and kept in a warm room (70F) for the night. By morning, the yeast was chugging along. I moved the primary to the basement where it settled to 62F for three weeks. I kegged it and let it sit in the beer fridge for a week. It turned out awesome!

Try it out and let me know what you think. I am going to make another batch next week!


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Beer Hackers For Sure (clone recipe)

The first batch of beer for 2009 was a quick and easy Hefeweisen. My wife is a big fan of many German style wheat beers. She was very fond of Paulaner Natural Wheat, but has recently been turned on to Hacker Pschorr. She now prefers the HP because it has less of the banana notes than from the Paulaner yeast. So I was on a mission to make an extract beer with some specialty grains that fit the description.

While at the brew shop buying a new boiling pot (Note from Mrs. Brew Meister: he decided the larger pot would eliminate boil-over and that the basement brewery will require time and budgeting), I thumbed through a copy of Brew Your Own that had 150 top clone recipes. I patched together an ingredient list that I thought would do the trick, and I changed my yeast from the normal White Labs WLP300 Hefeweizen Ale yeast to WLP351 Bavarian Weizen yeast. I think it will create a spicier less banana/bubble gum flavor.

- Start the 4 gallons of water boiling in the main boil pot
- In a separate pot, bring ¾ gallon of water to 160F. Add 1.5# of pils malt
- Steep at 150F for 50 minutes
- Pour water and grains through a strainer into the larger pot
- Ladle hot water through the grains in the strainer for a few minutes.
- Bring everything to a boil for a total boil of 60 minutes.
- Add 4# Muntons wheat dry malt extract 60 minutes
- Add 1oz Spalt hops 2.4AA 60 minutes
- Add ½oz Tradition hops 5.2AA 60 minutes
- Add 3# liquid wheat malt extract 15 minutes
- Add 1/2 oz Tradition hops 5.2AA 15 minutes

With an immersion chiller, I cooled the wort down to 74F in 15 minutes.

I pitched the White Labs Weizen WLP351 and stored it on a first floor room until fermentation started about 10 hours later.

It is now in the basement bubbling away at 64F. So far, so good.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A New Beer Tasting Club

A funny thing happened at work the other day. I work in an office where most of the folks are fairly laid back, and there is a definite enjoyment of beer. Most of the time the beer appreciation involves drinking “Taiwan Gold Medal” or in Shunde China drinking Tsingtao while on business trips. There is also an old soda bottle machine in the office that dispenses bottles of beer for $.75, and the number one seller is Heineken.

However, one of my friends who enjoys a wide variety of beers began trying several Belgium style beers. It could be that a good beer bar opened up a few blocks away from our office. They have Grimbergen Dubbel, Goose Island Matilda, La Fin Du Monde, among others. And they rotate stock the tap often. He was telling me of the quest to buy some Grimbergen from Sam’s Wines and Spirits. He had made a special order and gotten a great deal. When he went to pickup the special orders, he grabbed a few more beers.

We were discussing what he liked and didn’t like from recent purchases. We then decided to bring a few of our favorite beers to the office and try them. Another friend overheard and wanted to participate as well. We laid down the three rules: Meet at 5:01 by my desk, bring a 750ml or equivalent of beer, and bring a clean glass. From Monday to Wednesday morning the group had grown to about 6 folks. Each participant brought in their contribution and lined it up along the window sill to chill for the evening. By 5:01 we had a great list of beers and a dozen tasters. The beers fell all in a Belgian style and there were no repeats: Delirium Tremens, Delirium Nocturnum, Delirium Noel, Rochefort 8, Trader Joes 2008 Vintage Ale, La Fin Du Monde, and Avery’s Salvation.

It was casual and we had no tasting guidelines other than talk about the smells and flavors we perceived, and what characteristic each of us preferred. The beer flowed quickly, with only some spring water, cashews, and pretzels to separate the beers. We had lined up the beers from what we thought was the maltiest to the spiciest/hoppiest. By the time we had opened the last beer, the Noel, there was a lot of numb tongue. Also, the Noel was surprisingly not the spiciest beer of the batch, so it was a bit lost. I did take a 15 minute break and drank my last glass to get a better appreciation.

The tasting was a nice way to talk beer with a group of folks I work with everyday. The choices and opinions were nice to share, and after we convinced a few of the folks it wasn’t a taste competition, it was very open and inviting.

A tasting is a good way to try several new beers, for the price of one. Keep the food and water handy, keep the opinions about how the beer tastes, and keep everything casual. It is a great way to allow some folks who are new to beer to try beers they would never buy themselves, and they may come back the next time. We unofficially chose Belgian styles, which kept the decision on what to bring a little easier. Holiday and Winter beers may be a good style to try at a tasting. Our next tasting will be in January 2009, think STOUT.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Agony of Indecision

You know when you have a used car that starts needing progressively more expensive repairs? And you are in for a pound, with another pound to go...and you wonder about the tipping point: time for a new car, or throw in for the extra repairs (that may never end)?

That's exactly that agony I, Mrs. Brew Meister, feel for watching my dear Parrothead's indecision about what to do in the next step of brewing. Do we go big, invest big, or just buy interim parts here and there while we waver? "Big" would be hiring a contractor to run gas lines and venting, plumbing and drainage, and then buying huge equipment upgrades. "Moderate" would be going for a utility sink and drainage with an electric cooker in the basement. "Small" would be getting a larger pot for the stove so that Parrothead doesn't have another incident (as described here and here).

On the one hand, this is a hobby Parrothead enjoys. Heck, it could become a future business (even if only in retirement). And on that same hand, I can't watch a new kitchen stove get ruined. On the other hand, it is still a hobby, and while having a basement brewery sounds terrific, we really would need to budget, at the very least, for a utility sink and floor drain--with a plumber and some legal permits. And on a third hand, is it worth investing in a piece-meal manner if we do ultimately intend to "go big"?

So, while Parrothead indecides, I would like my agony of watching this process lessened by the action of another batch of beer. I hope he take that part of my advice.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So, you thought we were gone

And during Election Fever, we were. But now we have Electricity Fever.

We are ready to brew again, and we have come across the idea of using electricity to do so, instead of gas. This could help with the basement brewing setup. Ventilation issues have us concerned about using natural gas/propane; sanitization issues have us looking away from the garage.

Please let me, Mrs. Brew Meister, know what you think about electrical setups for boiling wort. Before Parrothead invests :) We'll be back with recipes and reports.


Friday, August 15, 2008


What are 2 beers that are Mmmm Mmmm good (according to me, Mrs. Brew Meister)?

Maudite and Matilda. We had the pleasure of trying both brews back-to-back during a recent Tap House visit.

The food at the Tap House is okay, although vegetarian selections are limited. Actually, the food was pretty good--a nice hummus and a deconstructed bruschetta were tasty--once the waitress remembered about leaving off the cheese. But the portions were small and the prices were high.

Same could be said for the beers. Tulip glasses were like buying gold, especially Matilda's price tag. Lucky for us, a high percentage alcohol makes us unable to consume more than a glass when we are out. We sipped, enjoyed, and now can confidently re-purchase these fine beverages for home consumption. Yummy and economical.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Don't try this at home

Or anywhere...

Schlitz high gravity. Ugh. Said new. Looked fancy. Was cheap. Smelled like, well a lot like "schlitz", but without the L, capisce? Undrinkable unless nose was held. Or, as I (Mrs. Brew Meister) found, take it with a tablespoon of straight lemon juice poured in. Then it was tolerable. Seriously, save the buck and a half.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Hefty Hefe

Although there are many reasons I would like to forget about the last batch of beer I brewed, something fun may have come from it all (besides an "ah-ha" moment).

My original idea was to make my super simple and tasty Paulaner clone even better. I had been kicking around the idea on an Imperial Hefeweizen for a few weeks, as that would satisfy Mrs. Brew Meister's love of summer beer and my love of strong, unusual beers...

I remember the first description of an Imperial beer by some local brewery that said, "We doubled everything but the water." That sounded like the type of reasoning I could use. So I tried the following:

8oz Munich Malt 30 minutes at 152F
8.8lbs DME 55% Wheat 45# Barley
1 oz Hersbrucker for 45 minutes
1 oz Cascade for 15 minutes

As stated previously...it boiled all over the place and caused the world's largest mess. After that, I transferred 3 gallons to the primary fermenting bucket. Then I went off the reservation...

I was unable to cool the wort, as my wort chiller plumbing would not fit the sink of the new house. I decided to throw in a couple of trays of ice, a gallon of lukewarm distilled water, and put the whole mess in the basement. It was still 100F at 6PM. I decided to set the lid on the bucket, but not fill the airlock. With the cooling wort, I knew the vacuum in the bucket would pull the water from the airlock into the bucket.

In the morning, around 5AM, the wort was around 77F in my 67F basement. I pitched White Labs Liquid Hefeweizen Ale Yeast (WLP380) and a pack of Dry Ale Yeast. I figured one would kick in, and the sooner the better. Fermentation started within a few hours and chugged along for 5 days at 65-67F.

After ten days, we kegged the results. Initially, it smelled a bit bitter. The Cascade hops were very present, but blended well with the malt and some caramel aroma. We decided to pull some of the liquid from the bottom of the fermenter. It tasted REALLY GOOD! It is a good sign when Mrs. Brew Meister is filtering the dregs with a cheese cloth into a pint glass. It was also really strong. I had two cups and felt the warm contentment set in.

I am force carbonating the beer now and will drink it over the next 2 weeks. I would let it age a little longer but:

a. It already tastes really good.
b. I think the beer may begin to taste oxidized if I wait too long. It spent too many hours in the relative open before fermentation started.

I will post a full review next week.



Monday, July 21, 2008


In this modern world, it seems that the customer isn't necessarily right--or even part of the equation. Doing the job right matters, of course. And in this economy, price matters--slightly less when there is greater quality, but still. There is an old business adage: "We can get it done fast, well, or cheap. Pick any 2." But I, Mrs. Brew Meister, can honestly say that service matters.

Take, for example, a so-so beer. Back in the days of grad school and tiny income, Parrothead and I had to sacrifice our burgeoning love of fine beers for "cheap canned stuff". Not that CCS can't make for a fine evening, especially a hot summer one without air conditioning.

Sometimes, we'd even splurge beyond Ameri-Canadian yellow fizz for a Sam Adams.

Years ago, for example, the Cranberry Lambic was available in abundance. It was one of my favorite beers. Then, one day, it disappeared from the shelf. I was crushed. The internet was fairly unsophisticated, but I was able to squeeze out the customer service e-mail addy for Samuel Adams. I gave them a glowing review of the lambic, then lamented that my local store no longer had the fine beer. Their response was that it had gone away; that was the end of the road.

I had to hit Jungle Jim's for any backlog of supply, rationing the beverage for lambic-worthy nights (or people). There were too many of both, and too little of the beer.

Years later, I found the Cranberry Lambic again as part of a seasonal pack. I had to buy 12 beers, just to get 2 of my favorite. Then we moved to another state, and the seasonal pack there didn't carry the lambic. We moved again, and I was toyed with on another box that promised my fruity treat--only to find the box had 4 of another variety, and they had mistakenly left out the lambic. That e-mail to Sam Adams didn't net me any sympathy, or even a coupon.

I guess my point is, when it comes to quality, some businesses know they have the good stuff and know that the customers will come. So maybe they don't try anymore.

On the other hand, a 12 pack of college CCS, Molson Ice, mistakenly had some half-filled cans. Molson was so sorry, they sent my husband a beautiful, leggy blond--right to the apartment--with a full case of bottles. Too bad for him, I was the one home to receive it. She was really cute, too. Ha! The beer was much tastier, since Customer Service had stepped it up a notch. It became our CCS choice for the rest of college.


P.S. Customer Service also extends to accurate bottle labeling. We are loving the Unibroue beers, but they are very expensive. In order to try a new beer, we would wish to know more about the contents before splurging. Short of consulting the Crackberry while we are in the store and trying to find some decent interweb signal to help us search, we'd rather have a clear description of the beer--right on the label. Lucky for them, we'll keep buying the products, because those we have tried have been Made of Awesome. However, I may have to e-mail Unibroue about label descriptions.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How the mess may justify the cost

Dear Mrs. Brew Meister,

I now realize that the watched pot never boils, but the pot you ignore for 5 minutes while attending to a different batch can boil over and throw wort all over the house. I am not saying that the laws of physics were also at play here...but how did the beer in question cover every inch of the floor in the ENTIRE HOUSE???

Your quick action and endless work to clean up my mess is very appreciated. I would still be cleaning three-and-a-half days later if I was left to clean by myself. I am sorry you spent the day cleaning rather than drinking.

On the note of a new brewing stove and location: maybe you are right. I can see the need to create a home brewery that does not tie up the home kitchen for days on end. Perhaps it is time for Beer 2.0. I see many other home brewers have decided to relocate their hobby to other parts of the house. It makes perfect sense, and it brings up another opportunity, a dedicated three tier brewing system. I am not saying I made the world's largest beer mess to justify Beer 2.0, I am saying we should take advantage of a lesson hard learned.

Let's talk later about the future of Beer 2.0.