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Your First Brew Part 3: The Bottling

Okay, it’s been two weeks. You’ve been watching the airlock on your bucket or carboy bubbling away with a certain hunger in your eye and an anticipation in your liver. You’ve been marking your calendar every day waiting for the moment when the beer is finally done and you can sample the goodness that barley hops and yeast making sweet love has brought forth.

And the day has finally arrived. The churning yeast has stopped and settled to the bottom. The airlock has stopped. Everything is quiet and still. It’s like Christmas morning… if Christmas morning involved micro-organisms and anaerobic metabolic processes instead of a fat man breaking into your house.

And now, finally, it is done…

HAAAA! Sucker!  You’re not done yet!

There’s still some crafting that needs to happen. Your beer still needs some TLC. And I don’t mean the kind that comes from putting your carboy in front of the TV and turning on a Here Comes Honey Boo Boo marathon. (By the way, if you are doing this, that is the worst form of alcohol abuse I have ever heard of and I am sending a team to remove your beer and put it into protective custody.)

For a start, you might have some additional steps depending on your beer style.

Primary vs Secondary:

A lot of what I am going to talk about now happens in ‘Secondary fermentation’.  You’re going to hear this phrase thrown around a bit and here’s what it means.  Those first few days when your yeast was having a feeding frenzy and your airlock was bubbling like a child blowing air into their soda?  That’s primary fermentation. 

After that’s done, the yeast starts to settle out and those airlock bubbles that used to happen five or six times every second slows down to one every minute or less.  We’re in secondary territory, Son, and that’s when we can do some additional things to our beer.

Dry Hopping

You: *Looking at me perplexed* Your recipe didn’t mention anything about dry hopping!

Me: Well, yes. But you may have done something different then the recipe I posted a couple weeks back. Did you?

You *Looking sheepish*

Me: Did you do an IPA?

You: Mayyybeee…

Me: Well then nine-times out of ten your recipe is going to call for a dry hop.  So what is a dry hop you might ask?

Dry hopping refers to adding hops after the boil has been completed. This adds hop flavor but little to no bitterness. It’s the secret to getting those big, bright hop flavors you most likely expect when you drink an IPA.  And, ideally, the best time to add hops is during secondary fermentation when a lot of the activity that might affect aroma or flavor has died down.

The best way to do this is to go back to your LHS (Local Home-brew Store for those that missed it a couple weeks back), get a small muslin bag, sanitize it, fill it with hops and toss it in. 

You can forgo the bag all together, but find that using it makes it easier to remove the hops and creates less gunk in the bottom of the carboy.  So dry hop with a bag or I will come to your house and laugh at you.

Getting Fruity

Fruit is and always has been a common addition to beer, especially now with Craft Beer going crazy with the flavor combination.  Again, the best time to do this is secondary so that you preserve more of that fresh fruit flavor. 

There are many different ways to add fruit to beer and I’m not going to go into them all. Instead I’m going to go through my method of adding fruit to your beer.

If your using fresh fruit, this is going to be a bit of a process.  The first thing is to slice, pit and freeze all the fruit you intend to use. The freezing is important as the ice helps break down the cell walls so that, when you remove it and let it thaw you end up with a freezer bag full of fruit mush.  

Take that mush, whip it in the blender and make yourself a puree. 

Okay, now you’ve got a sweet, soupy fruit blob. Good to go, right?

Wrong! There’s no way of knowing what’s been growing in that fruit so, unless you are experimenting with sour or wild-fermentation you’re gonna want to pasteurize that shiznit.

Plop that broth on the stove and bring that temperature up to between 150 and 170. You’re not looking for a full boil, just hot enough to kill most of the yeast and bacteria that might be hitching a ride into your carboy.  Once you cool it down, it’s good to pour into your beer.

You: But that sounds like a lot of work.

Me: Okay, Whiney McWineface. How about this:

Most LHS’s carry canned fruit puree. Which means that some nice person has already gone to the trouble of processing, pasteurizing and canning the fruit for you.  All you need to do is open the can.

Either way you decide to add fruit, however, you’re going to want to give that beer another week or so. Fruit contains a lot of sugar and yeast eat surgar and make alcohol. That’s why we love the little buggers but it does mean that if you bottle too quick you’re gonna have and explosion. And if your bottles a-splode your gonna have a bad time.

Everything Else:

Fruit and hops are two of the most common secondary additions but those are not the only possibilities. Cocoa, hot peppers, herbs, spices, ANYTHING YOUR LITTLE HEART DESIRES can be added in secondary. You can also add these things right at the end of the boil. This is a good option for sanitization but there is the possibility exists that primary fermentation will change the flavors somewhat. Secondary fermentation additions preserve flavor, but sanitation potentially becomes an issue. The only way to know what works best for you is to experiment, you little mad-scientist you.

One more word on primary/ secondary:

Some people advise using a siphon to move the beer into a new container (usually a carboy) for secondary fermentation. This is an option but one that I rarely do anymore. Proponents of a new secondary fermentor will often site improvements in clarity as a reason to move the beer to a new home.  But, for me, I’ve not seen any improvements in clarity or any other benefits to a secondary fermentor with one exception:

Lagering

If you plan on letting your beer age for a few months, it is a good idea to use a secondary fermentor. The reason is two-fold.  Number one, your yeast is dying!  Dying! You Monster! How Could You?!

And as they die their little yeast corpses begin to break down and can contribute strange flavors to your beer. So the best idea, if you plan to let your beer age, is to rack it off that yeast gunk and let it chill in a new fermentor.

So you’ve hopped, fruited, aged or whatever your beer.  Time to bottle!

Carbonation and Bottling:

Okay, so you’ve opened your fermentation bucket and peered inside. It looks kinda like beer. It smells kinda like beer. In  all likelihood, you’ve got a beer. 

*self high-five*

But before we get too excited and try to chest-bump the air there’s a couple of things we need to do.  First, a hydrometer check.

Fill your test flask with your fermented beer. The best way to do this is thusly:

You’re gonna need to get your beer into your bottling bucket anyway. So use your siphon to start that process.  And once the beer starts flowing, sneak in, slowly retrieve the other end of the siphon hose, fill the flask, replace the hose in the bottling bucket, laugh maniacally for your deft thieving of your own beer and, lastly, feel ashamed for how proud you felt for stealing your own beer.

Okay, now drop that hydrometer in and read the number.

Hydrometer reading
That’s science happening.

We can tell two things from this reading.  The first thing we know is whether or not it’s done fermenting. Most recipes should come with an estimated Final Gravity. If you’ve hit that, or at least gotten within a couple of points, your golden. 

Too high? Maybe give it a few more days and take another reading. If it consistently stays too high, then you’ve got a problem. 

Too low? Could be a contamination issue. Especially if the beer tastes sour or has other funky flavors.  Again problem.

But barring any problem signs, we can move on. The other thing we can use that number to figure out is… wait for it… The Alcohol Content!

Now, if you remember when you brewed the beer, you did a hydrometer reading. And you wrote down the number. Now you can take….

What do you mean you didn’t write down the number?

Sigh….

Listen, write everything down. If there is one thing I can stress, it’s this. Write it down.  Literally, that sentence?  Write that down. And everything else you do.  Because brewing is all about replication and someday your going to do something weird and accidentally make the best beer you ever made. And you think you will remember but you won’t. You’re gonna get drunk, and wake up in the bathtub with no pants and your face covered in Lifesaver candies. So Write. It. Down.

Anyway, for those of you who did write the original gravity down, you can now figure out your alcohol using this handy-dandy equation:

ABV = (OG – FG) x 131.25

Wherein ABV is your alcohol percentage, OG is your Original Gravity and FG is your Final Gravity.  There are calculators out there on the Internet but ptttthhhh to that. Do the math!

Okay I totally use a calculator, but still.

So now you’ve got a flask of fermented beer. It’s not a great idea to put that back in the bucket so you might as well sample it.

It’s warm and it’s flat so it’s probably missing a lot of the flavors that will come out later but it will give you an idea of what to expect. It will also tell you if something has gone terribly wrong. This happens. Make peace with this. Every home brewer ends up tossing some beer down the sink. It’s a tragedy but it happens.

But assuming nothing has gone wrong it probably tastes pretty good. Well don’t get cocky now because there’s one more step.

Bottle Conditioning:

There are a few ways to finish your beer.  Some keg and force carbonate it, which is great assuming you have a draft system at home. Of course, the fact that one has beer on draft in their home is probably a sign of some kind of drinking problem.

Full disclosure, I have three beers on tap at my house. 

MOVING ON!!

For most home brewers just starting out, bottle conditioning is probably the way to go. It’s easy, it’s reliable and it requires no additional equipment.  All you need is some sugar and some bottles. And you can even reuse empty beer bottles assuming that you’ve rinsed them out and they are not the screw-top variety. 

So that’s the method we’re going to be discussing today. First, we need sugar. Specifically, dextrose. Which is to say corn sugar. 

Totally not what it looks like

We use corn sugar because yeast basically turn that directly into alcohol and CO2 with no other flavors. And there is still yeast active in your beer.  Not a lot. Not nearly as much as we had when we started but a little. And they are HUNGRY.  

So give them a little sugar.  …. Not like that! You freak! I mean actual sugar. Like 4 ounces.  Take that white powder and toss it in about a cup of boiling water. And that other white powder? Well, do what you have to do.  I’m not judging. Just don’t mix those powders up. Nobody needs a gram of Colombian Marching Dust in their IPA.

Anyway, dissolve that sugar into the boiling water. Turn off the heat and let it cool a little. Not all the way, my rule of thumb is if you can touch the bottom of the pan and not burn yourself it’s fine. Now toss that in and stir.

Now start bottling.

For five gallons you will need roughly two cases of bottles. That goes for either 12 oz or 22 oz bottles. Take drop them in a bucket of sanitizer. The process should go like this.

Remove bottle from sanitizing solution.

Pour sanitizer from bottle.

Fill with beer (leaving about two fingers worth of space at the top)

Cap it.

Repeat.

When your done you should have two cases of bottled and capped beer.

Now what?

We wait again.

Say, another two weeks.  I know, you’ve already waited two weeks but this is how this stuff works.  It takes time.

Two weeks.

After that, chill them and pour the frothy, hoppy, malty goodness into a glass.

Congratulations. 

You made beer. 

Now drink it, you earned it.

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Historical Brews The American Lager Part 2

The Saga Continues…

So when we last left the story of the American Lager. It was the mid-1800’s. The German population was exploding and with it, interest in a new style of beer. The Americanized version of a German lager was light, crisp, highly drinkable and so flavorless that people assumed it was  non-alcoholic.

Seriously, there were questions at the time about whether or not American lagers were actually intoxicating.

In upstate New York in 1870, there was even a court case to try and decide the matter once and for all. One Benedict Haberle testified that he regularly drink 30 to 40 glasses of beer every day without getting drunk. Another man by the name of Jacob Pfohl also testified that he could drink one or two gallons of lager without feeling drunk at all.  

Two things should be noted at this point. Both men were heavily involved in the production of beer and, yes, lagers have alcohol. Why was the question even brought up? Well this was the time when companies like Pabst, Miller and Anheiser-Busch were becoming household names and big business, doing what big business do, had a vested interest in misleading the public whenever possible.

But, still, the idea that lagers were actually a healthier form of alcohol continued to spread. That coupled with an increased anti-immigration sentiment (particularly toward the Irish) drove the demand for ales into the ground. At the same time, the temperance moment continued to spread and laws were passed all over the country which shut down many ale-producing breweries.

The American Lager And The Civil War

This will probably surprise nobody, but soldiers largely missed the memo when it came to the temperance movement. Early in the conflict, Union commanders found themselves with a major problem. Even though alcohol was officially banned in army camps, there was no shortage of unscrupulous civilians traveling nearby willing to sell them booze. At best, this was highly over-priced whiskey which simply rendered soldiers broke and ineffectually drunk. At worst, it was some hell-brew cooked up in somebody’s shed and had much more dire consequences.

The dichotomy of military drinking

So Army leaders came up with a solution. Remember that trial I mentioned earlier? Well they seized on that and a few similar court cases and decided that, since lager was not intoxicating, it was fine to sell in camps. They even went so far as to issue tokens to soldiers that they could use for their daily ration of beer. And when the Civil War finally ended, hundreds of thousands of men went home with a taste for these light lagers.

And, in the years that followed, breweries found that Americans desired beer with even less body and flavor.  So, to compete for market share, they backed off on the spicy bohemian hops they used to bitter.  They added more corn, rice, and other adjuncts, not because they were cheaper —often as not they were more expensive—but because the resulting light, crisp beer was just what Americans desired. By the time the 1900’s rolled in, consumption of whiskey and rum had fallen 80% since the beginning of the century.

But as the 20th century dawned, a new catastrophe for American beer was brewing. The core support for the abolition movement came from, what we would call today, the religious right. And with the end of the Civil War and the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation they could declare victory, cross that off their To-Do list and move on to the next thing which was…

*checks list*

Oh yeah, banning all alcohol.  

Prohibition

As we’ve mentioned in this story, the temperance moment had been building steam for quite some time and, as the 20th century dawned, the uneasy truce between temperance leaders and lager brewers was officially over. As WWI set in the temperance moment took aim at breweries. They cited, among other things, grain shortages as reasons to shut down the production of beer. Also, the rather tolerant views of Germans and German culture in America understandably suffered when the U.S. entered the war. Germans, previously regarded as an example of ‘acceptable’ immigration, were now seen as home-grown traitors living right next door. More states began to pass temperance laws and local police forces targeted beer halls and beer gardens specifically as a form of revenge.

I mean… are those the only two choices?

Gradually the movement built up enough political power that on January 16th, 1919 Congress ratified the 18th amendment effectively banning the production and transport of “intoxicating liquor”.

Overnight, thousands of breweries across the country quietly shut their doors.  A few, like Yuenling, Anheiser Buch and Papst, managed to survive this post-apocalyptic nightmare by producing ice-cream, non alcoholic beer and cheese respectively. Coors actually got into ceramic production, a division of their business that continues to this day.  Meanwhile, the rich history of American brewing slowly faded away. Never to be seen again. The prohibitionists won and it is because of them we now live in a perfect world devoid of crime and poverty. Where God-fearing men and women jump out of bed, salute the Sober Eagle of America and go to church and live happily ever after.

So anyway, that stupid idea fell flat on its face faster than an Olympic sprinter with his shoe laced tied together.  Prohibition was hastily repealed thirteen years later and the population of America wandered bleary-eyed into the sun, went to the nearest bar and ordered a drink.

Only thirteen years is a long time to go without the taste of beer. And, collectively, Americans only had a vague idea of what a good beer tasted like.

It was a light… yellowish… thing.  Not too bitter but not too sweet either.  Not too strong, very very light… er… like water but with less… er water?

Add to that, prohibition ended right at the height of the Great Depression and brewery owners, still struggling to rebuild after prohibition, weren’t exactly ready to try something new. Their customers were broke and just needed a cheap drink that would let them go from vertical to horizontal with as little invested cash as possible. Breweries needed something that they knew people would buy. So those that survived blew the dust off their old recipe books and commenced to brewing what they knew. A light, light, light bordering on completely transparent, lager. If there was any soul daring enough to suggest adjustments like… I don’t know… making the beer taste like something, that person was quickly silenced by the grain rationing of WWII which made brewers even more dependent on adjuncts for making beer.

The Great ‘Shakeout’

By the time the war was over there were 407 breweries still in operation in the United States. If there was any diversity or nuance left in the American Lager by this point, it was about to face one final threat, the corporatization of beer. 

Mass-produced beer was, on one hand, a great feat of engineering, logistics, and industrialization. Then, as now, the hardest thing for a brewery to accomplish was consistency. But consumers wanted to know that a Budweiser purchased in Chicago, Illinois would taste exactly the same if they bought another one six months later in Tallahassee, Florida. Developing the necessary technology and infrastructure to make that a reality was no easy feat. Especially with a style like the American lager in which any flaw stands out like a pound of black patent malt in a Budweiser brew kettle (some of you may have to locate your nearest home brewer to ask why that is funny).  

The downside, especially when it comes to small family-run operations, is that they just couldn’t compete. In many cases they didn’t have the equipment to reliably create the clean, crisp lager that people increasingly demanded. And even those that could found themselves having to make do with a smaller and smaller market share. By the 1960’s there were only 230 breweries in the United States only 140 of which were independently run.  In 1950 the largest brewery was Schlitz which produced 6% of all beer consumed.  Twenty years later Anheuser-Busch would take that spot (natch) and was producing 18% of America’s beer supply.

By 1980 it was producing over a quarter.

American Lager: The Style

And by that point in time, the idea of the American Lager was pretty well cemented. It was and remains, a very light drinkable beer.  Light on bitterness, light on body, light on sweetness, light on everything that a beer can conceivably be light on.  It is a style of beer that could only have been invented in the Untied States. Born of a bizarre mix of immigration and anti-immigration backlash, religion and war, small entrepreneurs and global corporations, a fascination with health and personal improvement and an almost pathological tendency to say ‘screw it, let’s get drunk’.  It is, like our founding documents, a great comprise.

‘Merica

It is beer so drinkable that it can literally be chugged by the gallon as a nod to the spirit of genuine excess. At the same time born of the Puritan ideal, ‘if it’s bland and kinda unpleasant it must be good for you’.  A staggering marvel of modern engineering and, at the same time the embodiment of mediocrity.  It is completely non-pretentious; fans of the style revel in its simplicity and it’s economy. And, yet it is, by far, the hardest style of beer to produce consistently. 

Maybe because of all of this, despite the Craft Beer Revolution, every craft brewery combined produces and sells less beer than Bud Light, an American lager for those who tried a regular American Lager and said, “Whoa, there Buddy. Let’s just back off that flavor a bit. This ain’t the place for them there fancy beers.”

And I’ll leave the story with this thought. As much as Craft Beer has made American domestics seem like a relic of of the past; something one buys because that’s all Dad will drink, deep down I would bet everyone in the Craft Beer industry has a favorite American lager. On my podcast ‘It’s All Beer’ I recently had on Chris McGinnis the founder of Gem State Brewing, a soon-to-be-opening brewery in Eagle, Idaho. During the interview he admitted that his go-to beer for camping and other summertime activities was Coors Light. Because, as he said:

“Sometimes you just wanna drink a beer.”

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Historical Brews: The American Lager Part 1

Coming To America

It easy to forget as we ride the wave of the American Craft Beer Revolution, that the most popular beer in the country is still the American Lager and the American Light Lager.  Against all our craft beer sensibilities, big bold IPA’s, malty sweet stouts, balanced ambers and browns have yet to unseat bland, fizzy yellow beer as the most widely consumed style in the United States.  In fact, craft brewers have started producing lighter offerings to lure people away from their six-packs of Budwieser, Coors, Miller, Papst, and other American standards.

It is all too easy for beer snobs today to dismiss American Lagers as bland, flavorless relics of a past best left forgotten. Fun too. But I would argue that there is something particularly interesting and very… well, American about a beer known for being, as the joke goes, like having sex in a canoe.

The American Beer Scene Circa 1800’s

The early United States’ brewing tradition came from the British Empire where ales rule.  These dark, fruity, bitter beers were hugely popular in England and so brewers in the New World, having largely come from that tradition, were eager to replicate what their fathers and grandfathers made in Burton on Trent.

At this point I should stop and address the difference between an ale and a lager.

Ale VS Lager

Ales use ‘top fermenting’ yeast that ferment at higher temperatures (65-70).

Lagers use ‘bottom fermenting’ yeast that ferment lower temperatures (55-60). 

The top and bottom fermenting distinction refers to the amount ‘stuff’ at the top of fermenting beer. This combination of yeast, foam, hops, protein and other unidentifiables is known as krausen.  Ales produce a lot more of this foamy goodness, so people looking at the fermenting ale and assumed that everything was happening on top.  Hence ‘top-fermenting’. And lagers didn’t have as much krausen so the assumption was everything was happening at the bottom.  It’s more complicated then that but literally EVERYTHING about fermentation is complicated so we are just gonna go with ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ for now.

Cool?  Cool.

Brewing in America

It goes without saying, but is helpful to remember that this was before A/C or any other reliable method of temperature control was available. So the outside temp? That’s what your fermentation temperature was going to be. And England’s cool, rainy, foggy gloom made it easy to ferment ale most of the year. Add to that Britain’s soil produced the best quality barley for beer. Hops were plentiful and the water had the right amount minerals to bring out that bitter bite that English beer is known for. England, in short, was the Land of Ale. 

North America? Not so much.

For one, it was bloody hot in those colonies. This made fermentation unpredictable and gave the resulting beer a shelf life that was measured in hours. Add to that, the preferred type of barely didn’t grow particularly well on the North American continent and type of barley that could be cultivated was thicker, harder to brew with and gave the beer a sharp, astringent, husk flavor.

These are men in the 19th century enjoying their beer… in as much as that was possible.

In short, American beer at the beginning of the 19th century was a bit crap. So much so that people wouldn’t drink it. And let’s keep in mind these people had a type of meat call broxy which refers to meat from any animal that died of, shall we say, dubious causes. They weren’t the pickiest eaters, that’s what I’m saying.  The richest imported beer from the England but the rest of the plebs enjoyed cider, whiskey, and rum far more than the local beer. 

And all this drinking took place in the saloon or tavern which had gained a bad reputation. A glut of whiskey and rum led to a spike in, shall we say, ungentlemanly behavior, brawls were rampant, prostitution was common, not to mention unAmerican concepts like ‘workers rights,’ ‘five-day work-weeks,’ and ‘fair pay’ were being discussed by workers in hushed-tones over pints.

Which of course brings us to the Temperance Movement:

The Rise of ‘Dry’

From the very beginning, America had a rather complicated relationship with alcohol. While their European ancestors, at worst, regarded booze as a harmless vice, some Americans began to mistrust the demon drink and the Den of Sin that was the saloon. Painted harlots caroused, murders did their murdering, and otherwise good God-fearing, hard working men were fell into a life of poverty, disease and crime all in a relentless pursuit of booze.

A temperance poster from the early 1800’s with a cheery message about drinking.

And this attitude didn’t manifest from nowhere. Americans at the time, much like their European cousins tended to drink all day. Beer was a drink for every meal, including breakfast, along with a few glasses to get through the day and, finally, a glass or two to celebrate the end of a day’s work. Which worked when the alcohol in question topped out at 4%. But the virgin American soil produced enormous quantities of corn which distillers made into whiskey. At the same time, plantations in the Caribbean ran the waste products of sugar production to make rum. Both of which flooded the American market and made the time-honored custom of day drinking a tad more treacherous.

Alcoholism was rife in the United States and, with it, related societal ills. Bar brawls were commonplace. Prostitution and gambling was available at nearly every tavern. Men would spend their meager pay getting hammered and leave their wives and children at home without food. It wasn’t a great situation and the temperance movement gained popularity promising a solution to these problems.

It was in this America that John Wagner arrived from Germany in 1840 carrying with him the first supply of lager yeast to arrive in the New World and dream of producing the beers of his German heritage in the new world.

Lager Arrives in America

It wasn’t an easy project. As I mentioned, the American barley at the time wasn’t terribly good for brewing and had to be mixed with some other grain, usually corn, in order to replicate the light, refreshing German lager.  Wagner’s brewery in Philadelphia never advanced much beyond what we would consider a small micro-brewery but interest in these beers spread as the German population grew and fellow Bavarian brewers, sensing on opportunity, continued to expand and experiment. Among them was David G. Yuengling who started the Eagle Brewery in Pottsville Pennsylvania in 1829.

The name probably sounds familiar.

Within a few years Eagle Brewing (later renamed after the founder) and it’s lager became a national sensation. And lagers, in general, began to pop up in every major city. There are several reasons for this:

German Immigration

The 19th century saw the German population of the United States explode. Hundreds of immigrants fleeing religious and political persecution in their homeland found themselves in America and, like any good German, wanted a beer within minutes of getting off the boat. And in keeping with the tradition of their heritage the began to set up lavish beer gardens where families could go, children could play an men and women could socialize all while sipping pints of lager.

Xenophobia Light

Americans at the time regarded these German immigrants as pretty agreeable folk. As immigrants went, of course. I mean, they were better than the shifty Italians. And much better than those drunken Irish. And don’t even get us started on the Pols. In an era of some pretty hefty xenophobia, Germans immigrants largely got a pass from American society. I mean, it would be better if they were properly American. But they shared enough of the Protestant, English values to make them vaguely acceptable. And thus German culture was allowed to spread with relatively little pushback and beer gardens were allowed to flourish. And speaking of those…

The Beer Garden

And beer gardens had the fun, wholesome, what we would now call ‘family values’ feel to them. They weren’t like a tavern where awful drunks swore, spat and swilled some unGodly brown ale out of tankards before gambling away all the family’s savings.  No, it was a place where families could go after church and the parents could enjoy a glass of lager while watching children play on the grass. (Incidentally, this was the era when drinking out of glass became fashionable and one can understand why. Given the nature of ales at the time, it was probably better not to know what it looked like.). These sparkling yellow beers were so light so you know there’s basically no alcohol. So there’s no worry about daddy getting drunk and having another one of those ‘incidents’ involving a wheelbarrow, Mother’s good china and the family cow.

The World’s First ‘light’ beer

Because of this, Americans, in general, saw lager as a better alternative to ale. Despite being dens of sin, vice, excess and the other good things in life, taverns and saloons were the place most factory workers retreated to during their breaks. But since showing up for the second half of the shift half-drunk was generally frowned upon, lagers became a popular alternative.  Lager, in a sense, became the first ‘light beer.’ So bland, so flavorless so… freaking close to WATER that they couldn’t be as bad for you, right? It wasn’t as good as a nice, rich brown ale but you know, we’re watching our weight. Also we’re trying not to drink so much. And there’s too much booze in those ales.  I guess what I’m saying is the lager became the White Claw of the 19th century.

Temperance in Moderation

Even the temperance movement grudgingly accepted lagers. It was better if nobody ever drank any alcohol ever, but, if they had to drink, at least lagers weren’t as intoxicating and so it was sort of… fine. Lager brewers at the time even made a weird pact with the devil and used the temperance movement to market their own beer.

As the mid-19th century approached two things would happen that would change the face of American beer forever. The first was the American Civil War which would help the lager rise to dominance. And the second was prohibition which would essentially wipe out a hundred years of American beer history.

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Your First Brew Part 2: Extract Brewing

Okay, so you’ve gone to your local home-brew store, online retailer or bat-shit cray-cray guy in the neighborhood and secured all the required equipment that I talked about last week.  You might, at this point, be looking at the pile of buckets, carboys, tubing, brushes and other bits and pieces that you cannot even identify and The Fear might be creeping inside.

Don’t worry. Grab a beer, we will get through this.

First you need a recipe. There are hundreds of resources online, not to meantion at your local home brew store (or LHS as we call it in ‘the biz’).  Here we are going to start you off with a pretty simple beer, our Apogee Amber Ale.

HOWEVER! You don’t have to brew this for your first batch.  The great thing about making beer is that the process for most ales is pretty much the same.  Only the ingredients differ.

So if you want to make an IPA, gather yourself the fixings for a hoppy-as-hell IPA.

You want a light summer blonde? Brew it, Son.

You want a stout AS BLACK AS YOUR SOUL.  Hey, buddy, you do you.

My point is brew what you want to drink. What I’ve pulled here is a simple recipe that I believe will appeal to a large number of people. It’s not too hoppy, it’s not too sweet, it’s not too dark, it the freaking Goldilocks of beer.

Here’s how you brew it:

The Extracts!

We start with sugar, the basis of all beer. Specifically barley sugar.

You’ll need 6 lb of Briess Golden Light Liquid Malt Extract and 2lb of Golden Light Dry Malt Extract.  You’re local LHS doesn’t carry this exactly? That’s the beauty of your homebrew store, there are usually some reasonably knowledgeable humans that can help you find an appropriate substitute. It might not be exactly the same as ours but it will be pretty flipping close. Close enough that your freeloader friends will suck it down like it contains the secret of life itself.  Only you and I need to know your dirty little secret.

Six pounds liquid malt extract and two pounds dry malt extract.  Got it?  Excellent.

Specialty Grains

Now your extracts can’t do much by themselves.  You are basically just pouring several pounds of sugar into a pot.  You need something extra to give it that little bit of… je ne sais quoi. A little miss en scene.  A little menage a tois.

Ahem… ANYHOO!

We’re talking specialty grains. These are types of barley that have been kilned, roasted, crystalized, caramelized or undergone some other unknown dark art that impart specific flavor to the beer and give it a little color as well.

In this case, you will need the following.

One and a half pounds of Crystal 30: Crystal malt is literally barley that has a tiny bit of crystalized sugar in the middle. How does the sugar get there? Well someday we will talk about that.  For now let’s just say elves do it. They creep into the barley fields and use magic.  It’s what elves do.

Anyway, Crystal malt gives your beer a little bit of body, sweetness as well as some toasty, fruity, light caramel flavors. There are several different levels of roast when it comes to crystal malt and each one will give your beer something unique.  At 30L, (L short for Lovibond.  As in Quincy Lovibond, a lovable drunk who would set things on fire and then assign a number to them based on how burned up they got.  Don’t believe me? You shouldn’t That was a completely lie but it made me giggle so that’s the new official story) this grain will give it a nice, light caramel flavor and some sweetness.  But wait, there’s more!

One pound of Crystal 60: You think I’m playin around here?  This is serious business!  You need more crystal. In this case something a touch darker to add that lovely amber color as well as fruity sweetness and more body. A pound of that.  And lastly…

One ounce of chocolate malt: Read again one ounce.  Say it with me One (1) Ounce (like… 1/16th of a pound).  A tiny amount.  Just a drop.  Why so little? Well, first the chocolate is a dark roasted grain that will add just a little more red color to our beer.  But add too much and it adds so much red that your beer will TURN BLACK.  It’s true. A lot of black beers are actually red.  Hold them up to the light if you don’t believe me. But be careful or you will spill your beer.

Also, and here is cool part, the chocolate malt will give the beer just the slightest dry finish that will make it extra drinkable.

Throw those grains together, put them through a mill and put them into a muslin grain bag. Your local home-brew store should have a mill available for this. When they don’t I drop to the floor scream, cry and kick my feet until they get one.  That usually works.  But seriously, they all should have one.  They should also have muslin grain bags. If you thew a big enough fit about the mill, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Okay what’s next…

HOPS:

You might be one of those people who bemoan the amount of hops that modern craft breweries insist on pouring into their beer.  You’re still gonna need them even for a relatively malt-forward beer like this one.  In this case you need just a little bit.

One ounce of Amarillo and one ounce of Citra to be exact. Not only will these little green pellets give your beer an acceptably bitter balance, they will impart just a touch of fruit to the flavor.

We we got our extract, our grains our hops.. what else… oh yeah!

YEAST!:

Arguably the most important ingredient of all.  Without it you just have some really, really sweet strangely flavored barely soup.  The yeast turns all of that into the refreshing drink that we all know and love.

We’ll be using a dry yeast for this batch.  Dry yeast is easier for the beginner since it rarely requires any extra effort to make viable. To be specific, we need Safale 05.  This is a pretty standard American strain that will finish off quick and clean and settle out leaving a nice, clear beverage. You’ll need a package of this or a reasonable substitute as well.

The BREW:

Okay, your back!  You got your ingredients?  No? What have you been doing this entire time?!  Go get the stuff, already! We will wait.

….

Got everything?  Good.

THE BREW

Okay.  First, get your big-ass brew pot!  (As opposed to your big assbrew pot because… ew…) Fill it with about two gallons of water and put it on your burner and put fire underneath it.  Not a lot of fire, you don’t need to turn that bugger up to 11, you beautiful, crazy bastard! Turn it on about half.  What we are looking for is a nice, slow climb to boiling.

While the water is heating up, drop in your bag of specialty grain. It is up to you if you would like to stand over your pot and cruelly mock your milled grains as you slowly boil them alive, you horrible human being, you.  While it’s getting up to boiling, I like to stir the water a little to keep the bag from settling on the bottom and getting burned by our FLAMES OF DEATH.

When your water gets up to a boil, use your spoon, a pair of tongs, strainer, or far-too-trusting friend to remove the bag of grain from the boiling liquid. Resist the urge to squeeze the bag. You’ll be looking at that grain bag dripping with sweet, sweet proto-beer and you will want to give that sack a little hug.  Don’t do it. You can squeeze some strange flavors out of that little sack. Let it drain a little and toss it. Your done with it.

It is now time to add the extract.

This is where that friend comes in handy (assuming they aren’t driving to the hospital after you convinced him to stick his hand into boiling water, seriously what is wrong with you?!?) Have them stir while you slowly add the thick liquid and/ or dry malt extract.  Don’t have any friends?  Well, first, maybe you would if you weren’t trying to burn them all the time and, second, gently stir the pot with one hand while adding the extract with the other.  The point is, you don’t want the sugar to sit on the bottom where it will scorch and add strange burnt flavors to your beer. That is no bueno.

Once all the extract is in, slowly raise the temperature to a boil being careful not to turn the heat too high so that it boils over.  It is a thing that can happen and, trust me, it’s a mess.

Once you’ve dialed your heat so that you’ve got a nice gentle boil, grab yourself a beer sit back, relax and….

JUST KIDDING GET UP AND ADD SOME HOPS YOU FOOL!

Okay, so here is how hops work.  The longer they boil, the more flavor and aroma they lose but the more bitterness they impart to the beer. This is often described in the following simple hop schedule:

60 minutes: Bittering hops

30 minutes: flavor hops

5 minutes: Aroma hops.

It’s quite a bit more complicated than that, but it works well enough to be a general guideline.

That being said, we don’t want a ton of bitterness, so we are going to skip the bittering hops entirely and wait thirty minutes.  So feel free to do whatever time-killing thing you do for thirty minutes.  Read a book, listen to music, throw rocks at passing cars … actually stop.  Quit using my humorous asides as an excuse for your anti-social behavior.

After thirty minutes add a half an ounce of Citra hops.  Just toss them in.  It’s cool.

Now set a timer for fifteen minutes.  Now dance.  Now pretend to be a dog. Now run outside and scream ‘I’m a pretty boy’ at the top of your lungs.

Weirdo.

Okay you’ve now been watching a pot boil for the better part of forty-five minutes.  Before you start questioning your life choices, it’s time to add more hops!   In this case, one half ounce of Citra and one half ounce of Amarillo.  If you happen to have a wort chiller, this is a gosh-darn good time to set that in the pot as well to let the boiling wort sterilize it. Set the timer again, this  time for ten minutes.

*insert awkward waiting music*

Do you think florists get really depressed?  It’s like you work really hard to make something pretty but you know it’s just going to die in like… three days.  Less if you forget to put them in water.  I always forget.  Really makes you think.

*more awkward wait music*

Okay!  We are now 55 minutes into the boil!  It’s almost done!  Just one more thing… MORE HOPS.  We’re just going to add a touch of Amarillo.  Just a half an ounce for a little burst of citrus aroma once the beer is done.

Let it boil for five minutes and shut off the heat.

So what do we have here?  Right now, the sweet, grassy concoction you’ve created is called wort.  Wort is unfermented beer or, more simply, beer without the AWESOME added.

So how do we add the AWESOME? First, cool that bad boy down.  Yeast don’t like boiling liquid any more than any other life form.  So we need to get it down to about 70-75F (or 21-23 degrees for you strange Celsius aficionados.  Yeah, I’m talking to you, every other place in the world besides the United States! Get with the program!)

If you have a wort chiller, all you have to do is hook it up to a water source, and kick back for a while.  If you don’t, it’s time to ice bath that biach.

Get a tub, or sink and fill it with water and ice cubes.  Slowly submerge your pot.  Let it sit in the ice bath until it cools adding more ice as you feel in necassary.  You can help this process along by slowly stirring wort.

BUT WAIT!!!

So while your liquid was boiling we weren’t that concerned with sanitation.  I mean, don’t do anything incredibly disgusting, you freak, but otherwise the boiling liquid will take care of any bacteria or yeast stupid enough to fall into it.

Those were the good old days.

But shit’s got real now.  Your wort is no longer boiling, which means it’s prone to infection.  So you want to make sure that anything that touches it has been properly sanitized.  This is where a spray bottle of a no-rinse sanitizer is really, really handy.  You can also use a bucket of diluted bleach water so long as you rinse everything really, really well.

So the game has a new rule now.  Everything that touches the beer has to be sanitized.

So if your spoon wasn’t sitting in the boiling wort, take a moment and spray that sucker down before you go sticking it in the pot. While your at it, make sure you fill your fermentor of choice with the same sanitizing solution.

Once your wort is cooled it’s time for it to go into the fermentor.  Grab your bucket or carboy or whatever you crazy kids are using for alcohol production these days.

Pour your wort in!

Top up with water to five gallons, shake and/ or stir to get that water and wort good and mixed together.

Time to take a sample!

There a several ways to go about this.  The easiest is to use the handy-dandy siphon.  Use that to suck out a few ounces of liquid and fill the test jar most of the way to the top.  Put on a flat surface and drop in your hydrometer.

Here’s how a hydrometer works:

Sugar water is thicker than regular water.  But not as thick as blood.  Just in case you were wondering where wort sits on the whole water-blood density scale. It’s like right in the middle.

ANYHOO!

The hydrometer will float higher in high-density liquids. The more sugar in the wort, the higher the hydrometer floats. To take the measurement, you want to look at the spot where the surface of the water touches the hydrometer (This is called the meniscus for all you former AP Chemistry kids! Stoichiometry 4 Life, Son!)

Assuming everything went to plan, your beer should be at about 1.057 give or take.  If it didn’t hit that exact number, don’t panic, just write down what it did hit.  You will need it later. Now, double check the temperature. If you’re between 65 and 75 degrees it’s safe to add the yeast.

Some yeast producers recommend throwing the yeast in dry.  Some recommend desolving in warm water first.  I have found no great difference with either method so do whatever you feel is best.

Attach an airlock and marvel for a moment at your creation.

So what happens next?

Well, short answer nothing. You’re done. Congratulations, I guess what do you want, a medal? Long answer… soooo much!

Within twenty four hours you should see significant activity. If you have a clear carboy your beer will be a storm of swirling liquid and your airlock will be ferociously bubbling.  It might even be so active that yeast, foam and other gunk might start bubbling into your airlock and clogging it. For extremely active fermentations, a blow-off tube might be required.

“What in all the hells is a blow-off tube?” you might be frantically asking yourself as you watch your newly-made beer gradually turn into a Mess.  Well, a blow-off tube is simply a tube wide enough to let all that yeast and gunk blow off.  You put one end of the tube into your carboy and the other into a bucket of water or sanitizer.  This is another instance where the fine folk at your LHS can really be useful.

The really active fermentation typically only lasts twenty-four hours after which it is safe to put the airlock back on.

And now wait.  Like two weeks. Yep, that long.  Trust me, it will be worth it. So I guess we will check on it then.

Apogee Amber Ale

Extracts:

6lb Briess Golden Light LME

2lb Briess Golden Light DME

Specialty Grains:

Crystal 30L: 1lb

Crystal 60L: 1lb

Chocolate: 1oz

Hops:

30min: .5oz Citra

15min: .5oz Citra

15min: .5oz Amarillo

5min: .5oz Amarillo

Yeast:

Safale 05

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Your First Brew Part 1:

The Gathering

Okay, so you’re fired up. You’re ready to embark on the journey to turn your humble abode into a fully functioning brewery. You’ve got a six pack in the fridge and dreams swirling in your noggin.

So how exactly does one begin?

Well, first, you need all the ‘Stuff.

A basic beginner kit is available at most homebrew stores and is fairly inexpensive. It’s also possible to locate pieces and parts from folks who have upgraded their system or scaled back.  At very least, here’s what you will need.

Required Equipment:

Pot:

This is a pot.BEHOLD THE BREW POT!!  Which is to say you need a large metal container you can boil some water in.  If you are just starting out, a five gallon stainless steel pot is sufficient but, if you have the inclination that you will want to move beyond the comparatively easy realm of extract brewing and into all-grain quickly, you will want a ten gallon pot. Eight gallon pots are also available but if, at some point, you’ll want to brew a slightly higher octane all-grain brew, (and who doesn’t?) get the ten gallon.

One additional note, it is generally accepted homebrew lore that stainless steel is far superior to aluminum for a brew pot.  The reasons for this are complex and often of dubious origin but the assumption is there.   Plenty has been written on the subject and I intend to discuss it on this blog someday.  But not today.  Err on the side of caution and get stainless.

Fermenter:

This is the vessel where your overly sweet, bitter unfermented wort changes into the nectar of the gods.  There are any number of objects that can be used for this purpose.

A bucket:

Most basic home-brew kits come with at least one of these. This is the cheapest, most basic and easiest-to-use fermentor available. They make cleaning simple and can be neatly stacked wherever one has a bit of space.  They do, however, have a couple downsides. First, they are made of plastic which makes them prone to scratches. Also some people have reservations about plastic (although ‘plasticy’ flavors in beer is usually a product of poor temperature control as opposed to the container).  Also, their design makes them less than ideal for extended aging.  But for 90% percent of your ales, they are an effective fermentation option.

The Carboy:

This is a carboy.Nothing says ‘homebrewer’ more than a series of five to six gallon glass containers happy bubbling in one’s closet, office, basement, or car after one’s spouse has kicked them out of the house. (Pro Tip: You’ll want to apologize to your spouse ASAP, the beer is not going to turn out without temperature control.)

The upsides of these are numerous. First, they are glass which makes them more durable and, somehow makes them intrinsically better. I don’t know why, it just does. People like glass. Second, they tend to be clear so you can stare at the mesmerizing swirl of yeast hard at work. (Remember when you stare into the fermentation, the fermentation stares back at you…oooo) And third, their design helps minimize the amount of oxygen that can touch your infant beer. This is a good thing. They are also fairly cheap. Especially if you find a home brewer who is downsizing or getting out of the hobby.  They are out there, check Craigslist or your local home brew club.

The downsides; the small spout makes them a bitch to clean. They are heavy and glass does shatter which can create a spectacularly sticky mess. Which is why you and the rest of your carboys are going to be kicked to the curb unless you apologize to your spouse like right now.

Fancy Conicals:

So Fancy!There are some newer products on the market that mimic the type of fomenters that professional breweries use. They are often made of plastic, (although there are some stainless steel ones for you big spenders out there), they have a few extra bells and whistles, but their biggest advantage is their ability to make it easy and sanitary to collect and reuse yeast. That being said, they tend to be expensive. My experience with them has been good but, for the beginner, I don’t feel there’s enough benefit to outweigh the cost. But, for those knee-deep in the hobby, they do provide a more professional experience.

Hydrometer and Test Jar:

Yup, we are going to Science the Shit out of the beer. These handy dandy devices will help you measure the amount of sugar going into your fermenter and, thus, how much alcohol is coming out the other end. That way you’ll know exactly why it’s hard to stand up after the third pint of your IPA.

Thermometer:

This can come in the form of a floating thermometer or one of those sticky ones you put on the side of your carboy. The key here is to have some idea of where your beer is sitting heat-wise. The sticky ones are cheap but not terribly accurate. The floating one’s are a touch more expensive but you know exactly where your bubbling brew is sitting.

Heat-measure-thingies

Airlock:

This lets CO2 out without letting oxygen in. This keeps you from having to mop your ceiling. Note: Any home brewer worth their carboys has had to mop their ceiling. Make peace with this.A lock for your air. In case someone come to steal it, I guess?

Bung (For Carboys):

This is a bung. It goes in your bung hole. Which is the technical term for the hole on top of your carboy. Stop giggling, weirdo.

Siphon:

This handy object helps you move your beer from one happy little container to the other happy little container without having to pour it directly into said happy container. Because pouring creates splashes. With adds oxygen. Which makes containers sad. Because, as noted above, oxygen is bad.  For beer.  Please keep breathing.

Bottling Bucket and Spigot:

A bucket with a spout.I can already hear you groaning, “Another bucket?!?” Yup, I say, another one. This one will help you get five gallons of beer into those little 12 ounce beer bottles. It’s handy that way.

Capper:

Crimps the caps on your bottles. These can either be the double-lever hand-held style or the larger bench capper.  Both work.

Brushes:

You’ll need a short one for cleaning bottles.  You’ll probably need a longer one bent This is a brush. For brushin.toward the end for carboys. And maybe a couple of others for getting into all the nooks and crannies. They come in all shape and sizes. You’ll need this to clean gunk. And there will be gunk. So much gunk. Hop gunk, yeast gunk, gunk from the fruit you added, gunk from the spices you threw in, gunk from COMPLETELY UNKNOWN ORIGINS.  This is a messy hobby, children, not for the feint of heart.

Cleaners:

Speaking of gunk, you’ll be wanting an alkaline or oxygen-based cleaner like PBW or One Step to shred the sludge. Most brew kits come with a chlorine-based cleaner / sanitizer which works as well, but you want to be sure to rinse it thoroughly, lest your beer taste like you made it out of pool water.  Also don’t make your beer out of pool water because… eww.

Sanitizers:

Once your fermenter is all nice and shiny, it’s time to kill any remaining yeast or bacteria that might be hanging on looking for a free meal. Time to break out the sanitizer! Like I said before, most home-brew kits come with a chlorine-based cleaner/ sanitizer which, as the slash suggests, does both. But not terribly well. There are other options including no-rinse sanitizers like Star San that make the process a little easier.

Bottles/ Kegs:

If you have a hundred of these you can sing about it.

Lastly, you will need a place to put your beer in once it is done.  For most people starting out, this is a good old-fashioned beer bottle. You can clean and reuse fallen soldiers or you can buy new ones at your local home brew store.

It is also possible to keg your beer to have on draft. Kegging beer is probably worthy of its own freaking blog so, for now, just know that it is possible; it is a thing you can do.

OPTIONAL EQUIPMENT:

Some addition pieces that aren’t always included with most beginning home-brew kits but are recommended.

Stir Stick:

Usually big ol’ spoon used for some deep stirrin’.  Can also be a paddle or even an actual stick, I guess. Something that moves hot liquid is what you need here.

Funnel:

Essential for getting beer into the small mouth of a carboy. Can also be used to get beer into the mouth of a frat boy. But use a different funnel for that.  And, to be honest, different beer.

Strainer:

Can be a small insert inside the funnel or a mesh screen with a handle.  If you’re pouring from your kettle into your fermenter, it will help minimize some of the hop gunk that gets into your carboy.

Burner:

Burn, baby, burn.Most extract batches can easily be done on a stove. That being said there is something about lighting a fire under your burner in your garage or driveway that is just… awesome. But you can use a stove. Unless you are brewing an all-grain batch in which case you might want something that can boil five gallons of water in less than eight hours.

Wort Chiller:

Another piece of equipment that is sorta handy for the extract brewer but absolutely essential for all-grain brews. When doing a beer with extracts, you will only be boiling two or three gallons of liquid which can be quickly cooled with an ice bath and cold water. This gets trickier when it comes time to chill five or more gallons of liquid.  Again, if you are the type to want to get to all-grain batches as fast as possible, this is a piece of equipment you will want.

And that’s it:  All the basic equipment that one needs to brew and ferment beer. So go out and get it all together. Next week, we will actually brew some beer.