Friday, October 10, 2008

Hop Exchange

With all this talk of the hop shortage over the year, I would pick up hops 8oz at a time when I would see them. Well, they added up pretty quickly. I have a pretty large surplus of American hops. My one issue is I would like to start brewing some Belgian and German style ales. So now I am looking to trade. If anyone has some extra Noble, English, German, Czech hops they would like to trade, shoot me an email or leave a comment.

I created a spreadsheet with my inventory of hops of Google. You can find that here:

Here is a quick graph that should be up to date with all my varieties.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I Love My Refractometer

As I grow as a brewer, I try to find ways to refine my process. This can sometimes be a daunting task since I am expanding my system and abilities all the time. One piece of equipment I cannot live without is my new Refractometer.

What is a Refractometer?

A Refractometer is an instrument that measures the bending of light (refraction) through a liquid. In brewing and wine making, it measures the density of sugars in the solution.

How to Use It

The issue with using a Hydrometer is that on must take a large sample of wort to get a reading. Once you get the reading, it is not recommended to pour that beer back into the main wort because it might introduce infections. If you like to check your specific gravity (SG) several times during the boil and fermentation, you could end up losing several pints before your beer is ready for consumption.

A Refractometer is wonderful for one reason. It only takes a couple drops to get a reading. Readings are usually in Brix, but with some simple math, it can be converted to SG easily.

Simply place a few drops of wort onto the lens and then look into the eye piece. A reading in Brix should appear. To convert this brix reading to specific gravity, simply multiply by 4. There is a more accurate formula, but the multiply by 4 formula will get you pretty close. If your Refractometer reads 10 brix and you multiply by 4, you get 40. This means your wort is 1.040. The actual is 1.039, but I said the simple math would get you close.

How to Use a Refractometer While Brewing Beer

Using a Refractometer while brewing is one of the better enhancements I have made to my brewing process. It allows me to make simple adjustments, on the fly, while brewing.

It is important to buy a Refractometer with ATC (Automatic Temperature Compensation). This will help with readings in various room temperature ranges. Most refractometers are ATC, but incase the one you got is not, use a temperature compensation chart.

When the mash conversion is complete and my wort is heating up, I take a reading. This gives me my Pre-Boil Gravity (PBG). I then take a reading about 30 minutes into the boil to see how things are going and to see if I am on the way in hitting my Original Gravity (OG). I then take a reading with about 15-20 minutes left in the boil. This is the most important time to adjust the brew. If it looks like my OG is going to be too low, I can add some dried malt extract (DME). If it looks like my OG is going to be too high, I can add a little bit of water.

All I need to do it take a tiny sampling (2-3 drops) of the wort to get my reading. I use a disposable pipette to sample from the wort. It allows me to take the tiniest of samples.

If I were to use a hydrometer, I would need to take a larger sample and cool it down to 60-70 degrees before I get an accurate reading. This takes time, but it can be done. I have too many other things going on while the wort is boiling then to take a sample, cool it down, and then check the SG.

Since I started using a Refractometer, I have never missed an original gravity. This has helped me create balance in my beers.

How to Use a Refractometer While Fermenting

Since fermenting beer contains alcohol, the reading from the Refractometer will not be accurate. This is where a hydrometer by itself works perfectly. Many people wait until their beer stops bubbling before the use the hydrometer to get the final gravity (FG) reading, but I am nosey and want to know how my yeast are easting as they are going. I still don’t want to lose a half pint every time I check with a hydrometer and I like to check my progress daily (sometimes twice daily). With a complex mathematical formula, it is possible to use a Refractometer even during fermentation.

In a Video, Chris Graham from explains how to use a Refractometer during the fermentation process (). The More Beer site also offers a simple Excel Worksheet that takes advantage of that complex mathematical formula so you don’t need to learn math.

All you need to do is take 2-3 drops of fermenting beer and place it on the Refractometer. Take your reading as normal, but then enter it into the Refractometer spreadsheet. As long as you know the starting original gravity, the spreadsheet will do the rest. It is simple and it allows a brewer to know exactly when a brew is done.


A Refractometer has made me a better brewer by allowing me to balance my beers perfectly. Never again will I miss an original or final gravity or wonder how far along my fermentation is. The Refractometer is one of the best investments I have made. You can find them cheap on eBay also. I think mine cost around $24.99USD. It is sturdy and seems like it will last a long time. For me, it was a no brainer.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hop Garden Update

Things are going well with 2 of my 4 plants. My Chinook Hops are still a no show. I will have to by some new root stock in the spring to get those going. My cascades are only about 2-3 feet high. If you remember, they had an issue early in the year when my dog decided to step on the young budding bines and break them. I was happy they came back, but they are still small and not going to produce anything this year.

My Centennial and Nugget Hops are doing great. I read that with first year hops, not to expect much. If this is true, I am in trouble for next year. My Centennial hops have a bunch of cones all over the plant and a bunch more blossoms that will be turning to cones. My Nugget Hops are a little behind, but have a ton of flowers waiting to bud into cones. They are both at the top of the twine (about 16-18 foot) and are producing a ton. I may be doing my first harvest during the week and can’t wait to try these out in a special brew.

Here are some pictures of their growth.
Centennial Hop Cones
Centennial Hop Cones
My Hop Garden
Centennial Hop Cones
Nugget Hops starting to bloom
Centennial Hop Cones
Centennial Hop Cones
Nugget Hops starting to bloom
Centennial Hop Cones
Centennial Hop Cones
My Hop Garden
Centennial Hop Cones
Nugget Hops starting to bloom

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Beerzilla’s Hopsicle

With all this talk I hear about the limited release of Pliny the Elder in bottles and Sam Adams not being able to produce Mike McDole’s Longshot 6 pack winning beer(modeled after Pliny), I decided the only way to taste one of these brews was to make it myself.

These beers are intense with over a pound of hops for a 5 gallon batch. I’ve done a bunch of reading on the style and made some of my own modifications to the recipes. I changed some of the grain bill to fit my tastes and the hop bill was modified due to availability of hops in this shortage. Take extra special attention to sanitation and plan everything out. This will be a costly brew, you don’t want it to suck.

This is the recipe I designed and it is a whopper.


Mashed (single infusion at 151 degrees, batch sparge efficiency set at 75%)

- US 2-Row Malt         14lbs      80.6 %
- US Carapils Malt 8.00 oz 2.9 %
- US Flaked Oats 8.00 oz 2.9 %
- US White Wheat Malt 4.00 oz 1.4 %
- US Caramel 40L Malt 4.00 oz 1.4 %
- US Caramel 20L Malt 4.00 oz 1.4 %
- US Black Malt 2.00 oz 0.7 %
In The Boil (near the end)
- Corn Sugar/Dextrose   1lb 8oz    8.6 %
Variety           AA        Weight     IBU     When
US Chinook 10.5 % 1.00 oz 36.9 Mash Hopped
US Warrior 17.5 % 2.00 oz 111.9 90 Min
US Magnum 13.0 % 1.00 oz 45.7 90 Min
US Chinook 10.5 % 0.50 oz 18.5 90 Min
US Simcoe 13.0 % 1.00 oz 39.2 45 Min
US Columbus 12.6 % 0.50 oz 14.5 30 Min
US Chinook 10.5 % 0.50 oz 6.3 10 Min
US Simcoe 13.2 % 2.00 oz 0.0 At turn off
US Summit 18.1 % 1.00 oz 0.0 At turn off
US Palisade 7.4 % 1.00 oz 0.0 At turn off
Czech Saaz 5.8 % 0.50 oz 0.0 At turn off
US Simcoe 13.2 % 2.00 oz 0.0 Dry-Hopped
US Amarillo 5.0 % 2.00 oz 0.0 Dry-Hopped
US Summit 18.0 % 1.00 oz 0.0 Dry-Hopped
US Centennial 8.5 % 1.00 oz 0.0 Dry-Hopped
US Columbus 12.6 % 1.00 oz 0.0 Dry-Hopped
US Palisade 7.4 % 1.00 oz 0.0 Dry-Hopped
WLP001 - California Ale

Used a mixture of whole hops and pellet hops. Didn’t use hop bags, but probably should have. The brew pot was tough to drain with all the hops. Hops suck up a lot of wort. I started with 8.5 gallons and ended up with 5.5 gallons.

Dry hopping begins at day 7 ( or when fermentation is around 90%). I broke the dry hops into 2 even groups. One group is for days 7-14. This will be in a hop bag. After day 14, remove hop bag 1 and insert hop bag 2 for another week. This is done at fermentation temperatures in a bright tank keg. After day 21, remove hop bag 2 and drop the temperature and wait a week or 2. Transfer out of bright tank into a serving keg and carbonate. In another week, you will have some of the best beer on earth if you are a hop head like me.

Monday, May 26, 2008

My First Year Hop Garden

With all this talk of hops shortages and hop crisis, I decided to try to grow some of my own hops. I’m not alone. There seems to be thousands of home brewers, in the same boat as me, growing their own hops. I ordered my 4 hop rhizomes from the Thyme Garden. They were Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, and Nugget. They were all planted in early/mid April and I have had various results. I am sure everyone has different results and it comes down to each individual rhizome. Here’s what I got now.

Centennial Hops
The Centennial hops are by far my best growing hops. They are about 4 foot high and I have 3 bines climbing up the twine right now with one more about to grow.

My Hops - Centennial

My Hops - Centennial

Nugget Hops
The Nugget hops are growing pretty nicely. They are about 8-10 inches high and I have 2 bines that are starting to look for the twine to climb. They should be climbing by next weekend or so.

My Hops - Nugget

Cascade Hops
My cascade hops are growing, but I had a slight issue with them. I used Bone Meal as a fertilizer and my dog thought it was a delicious treat. So he decided to lick at the Bone Meal and accidently stepped on one of my 2 bines that were growing. They were both small, but it seems to have stunted the other one. So it is only about an inch or two high and hasn’t gotten any bigger in 3 weeks. I am hoping once the shock settles, these will start growing again.

My Hops - Cascade

Chinook Hops
These are a no show. From what I understand, the Thyme Garden ran out of Chinook, so they had to fill their orders from another company. The Chinook rhizome seemed to be the smallest, so maybe I am just being impatient. I will let it be. There’s not much I can do now.

My Hops - Chinook

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cheap Mash & Lauter Tun for only $55 or Less

I’ve only been brewing for a short while, but I sure have caught the bug. I have brewed eight beers so far using extract and steeping grains. This morning, I brewed a Belgian Wit. The Wit recipe called for mini mashing a pound of flaked oats, a pound of German wheat malt, and 2 pounds of pilsner malt. This was my first mini mash.

I have been reading up on moving to all-grain and figured I just need to do it. It will only help me fine tune my recipes and help my beer be everything it should be. I did a bunch of research and decided batch sparging is the method I will be first using. Denny Conn’s article on batch sparging was a great help on how to build a mash tun for batch sparging. So I went out this weekend and picked up everything I needed from Walmart and Lowes.

I found my 50qt Rubbermaid Cooler at Walmart for $28.99. I went with a slightly larger cooler because I plan to do 10-gallon batches of high gravity beers. The cooler seems it will do the job perfectly. It claims to keep ice for 5 days in 90-degree weather, so I think it will keep a mash temperature for an hour. It is possible to use almost any cooler with batch sparging. If you have an old cooler lying around, it is possible convert it back and forth between a cooler and a mash tun. This will cut the price in half. You can also find coolers at yard sales for cheap to cut down the price.

I then headed over to the Lowes and proceeded to pick up the parts to make this cooler a mash and lauter tun. I used the directions I found on the Fly Guy MLT page and updated the parts for this cooler. They are as followed.

Parts inside the tun
  • All stainless steel ¼” hose clamps x 2
  • Brass square head plug (Watts A-737)
  • ½” x 30” braided stainless steel supply hose
  • 3/8” female barb adapter (Watts A-298)
  • 3/8” MIP x 2” brass nipple (Watts A-787)
  • Seal from plastic spigot of cooler (shown below)
Parts outside the tun
  • 5/8” O-ring (preferably heat resistant, if you can find one)
  • 5/8” fender washers
  • 3/8” threaded ball valve
  • 3/8” male barb adapter (Watts A-294)
You will also need some plumbing Teflon tape.

I’m not going to go step by step on how I assembled the tun because you can find the direction on the Fly Guy MLT site. However, I can say it was very easy. The hardest part was cutting the stainless steel supply hose. I tried doing it without any power tools and no saw, but that didn’t work so well. I then remembered I had a metal cutting blade adapter to my RotoZip. A hacksaw would work just as good, but I didn’t have one around. Once it was cut, it took some finagling to get the inner hose out.

Here are some photos of the completed mash & lauter tun.

Mash Tun

Mash Tun - Ball Valve

Mash Tun - Stainless Steel Braid

Mash Tun - Internal Connector

Now I need for my Wit to complete fermentation so I have space to brew another beer. I will post about my first full all-grain brew once I brew it.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

National Homebrew Day - My Honey Blonde Ale

Saturday May 3rd was the National Homebrew Day’s Big Brew. I wanted to participate in the big brew with a bunch of people, but my schedule didn’t allow it. I did squeeze in a brew though. I ran to my local homebrew shop and picked up some ingredients for a Honey Blonde Ale. I formulated the recipe in my head as I was driving to the store.

Every beer I have brewed so far has been dark or hoppy. My wife finds these styles repulsive. This beer is an attempt to brew a crowd pleaser for the people who don’t like a beer with complex flavors.

I am writing this post as the wort is boiling and the recipe goes a little something like this.


  • 2 cans - (6.6lbs) of Coopers Light Liquid Malt Extract (one at 45 min and one at 15min)
  • 1 lb - of Orange Blossom Honey (at flame out)
  • 8oz – Crystal 10L (steeped)
  • 4oz – Victory (steeped)
  • 1oz 4.0% Liberty (70min)
Did anyone else brew? If so, leave a comment on what you brewed.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The SIPA (Spring IPA)

The SIPA is my first big time IPA. It contains over a ½ pound of hops for 5 gallons and came in at about 6.5% ABV. I was worried during bottling because it had a slight sulfur smell and I thought it was ruined. It smelt great in the carboy, but as I was bottling I smelled the off-aroma. I decided to cross my fingers and let it bottle condition out. I was extremely happy with the result. The SIPA has a wonderful aroma of big citrusy hops and a dry smooth bitterness. It’s only been bottled conditioning for a little over a week and I can’t wait to taste it a month down the road. The alcohol needs a little time to smooth and the bitterness and malt need to get some time to mingle in the bottle. The recipe is below.


Simpsons Caramalt              8 oz  In Mash/Steeped
Dingemans Caramel Pils 8 oz In Mash/Steeped
Pilsen Light Liquid Extract 6lb 15min
Belgian Candi Sugar Amber 1lb 15min


Columbus   11.0%     1.00 oz   60 Min
Simcoe 13.2% 1.00 oz 30 Min
Glacier 5.0% 1.00 oz 15 Min
Cascade 4.5% 1.00 oz 10 Min
Cascade 4.5% 1.00 oz 1 Min
Mount Hood 4.5% 1.00 oz 1 Min
Chinook 13.5% 1.00 oz Dry-Hopped
Amarillo 10.0% 1.00 oz Dry-Hopped
Columbus 12.6% 1.00 oz Dry-Hopped


Wyeast 1332-Northwest Ale
Fermented at 67 degrees


The Spring IPA took second place a recent competition. I renamed it for the event. The judges stated that it needs a little more malt and suggested adding some crystal malt. This would add a better mouth feel and should round it out a little more. It did great in aroma and appearance. So I think with a little more mouth feel and malt, this is a first place IPA.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Fermentation Temperature Control System

Over the winter, I picked up a temperature control box off Northern Brewer. The temperature kit came with the control unit, the Thermowell stopper, and a Fermawrap. This worked great in the winter months, but now that spring is here, I need to keep the temperature down, not up. This requires refrigeration. Though I do have an extra fridge, this is used to hold my bottled beers (and soon to be kegs). I can’t keep the fridge temperature at 66-68 and keep my bottles cold, so I needed another solution.

About 5 years ago, I happen to get a promotional Red Bull fridge that can hold soda’s, beer, and what ever needs to be cold. The fridge is tall and slender and I keep it tucked away in the garage. I break it out in the summer months, when I have a party. The fridge is very energy efficient and is insulated to keep the inside temperature steady for a long time. I tested it out and was amazed that the 6-gallon Better Bottle I use fit right in.

For the blow off tube cup, I dug out the Christmas wreath holder my wife uses on the front door, taped a Double Big Gulp cup to it, and hung it on the side of the fridge. This keeps the system as one unit. The fridge is on wheels, so I can wheel it out of the way, if I need to.

The fridge can get down to almost freezing, so it can be used for lagering and also brightening up ales.

Below are some pictures of the system. I’ll post back once my Pale Ale is finished.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Hop Trellis Design V.2

This is the final design of my hop trellis. I ended up using my chimney instead of placing a permanent pole into the ground. I figured the Chimney was sturdier. I also can remove the trellis during the winter months. Since the sunniest spot in my yard is very visible to the neighborhood, this was a request from the wife.
So the hops are planted, the trellis is set up, and the weather is good. Everything is ready for a great first year of hop growing.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The ALEiens Have Landed

The crew here at the Basement Brewing blog are looking to take these discussions offline and into the streets. I’d like to introduce the newest home brew club in the Northeast Philadelphia and Suburbs area, the ALEiens Homebrew Club. We still are trying to figure out all the details, but as of right now, it is just a couple guys looking to improve the quality of their home brew. We would love to have anyone in the area join us once a month to share tips, knowledge, and of course homebrew. Check out the website and join our newly formed Google Group. We are still deciding on the first meeting date, but we will let everyone in the group know.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Wanted: A BJCP National Judge in the Philadelphia Area

Last night I was sipping on my recently brewed Scotch Kissed Vanilla Bean Robust Porter and began thinking to myself, I wish I knew a BJCP National Judge. I personally would like to go through the training myself to educate my palette on the various off flavors there are in beer, so I can adjust my brew process to fix them. I have read numerous books, listened to podcasts, and have entered competitions. The competitions have given me the best feedback since I don’t know what those off flavors taste like.

So now, I am looking for someone to apprentice under and to help educate my palette so I can eventually move into the judge status one day. But mostly to help me taste my beers properly and improve on their quality. If you are interested in sharing your knowledge, my information is on my profile.

Monday, March 24, 2008

My Carboy Overload/Bottling Crisis and Planning for the BrewBQ

So I apologize for not blogging for awhile, but don't worry I haven't stopped brewing.

Last Friday at the "brew house" we had 5 secondary carboys that were ready for bottling all at the same time. 2 American style pale ales (a Sierra Nevada Clone & a Tongue Splitter recipe) a Dry Irish stout and an Irish Wee Heavy were also added to our bottling extravaganza. And last but certainly not least we bottled our small batch Belgian Golden Strong. Probably going to have to be aged for awhile, but looks like it will turn out to be quite the beer.

There are only two beers currently in primary, my favorite being a semi-clone of Dogfish head's Indian Brown. Its a really smooth, yet hoppy brown ale, probably one of the only commercial browns I really like. We ended up adding another ounce of hops to this already hoppy brew(typical). Between caramelizing brown sugar and adding loads of hops, the boil smelled fantastic and was probably the most fun beer we've brewed so far. This beer has been named "Jackie Brown" to honor Pam Grier, this may even inspire a series.. who knows.. If you want the recipe, shoot me an comment/email.

Speaking of special recipes, I'm working on my BrewBQ beer. The inner competitor in me wants to make something special. I'm leaning towards summer seasonal.. but nothing has really impressed me yet. Any suggestions? Id love to hear them.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The 4 Varieties of Hops I Will Be Growing This Year

From my Hop Trellis post yesterday, you all now know I am growing hops this year. I think it going to be a big trend this year due to the hop shortage. I ordered my hops rhizomes (root cuttings) from the Thyme Garden in mid February and they should be here any day. I went for all high-alpha hops that are hybrids with both clean bittering and pleasant aroma characteristics. Thyme Garden is an Organic company, so the rhizomes were raised without chemicals. I'm not expecting much this first year growing them. But with in a couple years, I am expecting to harvest a couple pounds from each bine.

Below are the hops I chose and a brief description.


Alpha rating: 5–7
Description: Unique flowery, spicy, citrus-grapefruit, herbal, perfumy aroma. Soft, well-balanced bitterness. Good dry hop.
Use: A must for American pale ales and IPAs, especially Northwest versions. Also good in steam beer, porter, American wheat beer, barley wine.
Substitutes (bittering and aroma): None, but Centennial is closest.


Alpha rating: 7–11.5
Description: Smooth bitterness, flowery citrus aroma. Similar to (and blends well with) Cascade. A pleasing hop that many brewers ignore.
Use: Bittering and aroma in American pale ale and wheat beer, stout and porter.
Substitutes (bittering and aroma): Cascade.


Alpha rating: 11–14
Description: Very bitter; medium-heavy aroma with a spicy, resiny, grapefruit character.
Use: Primarily for bittering, although some brewers appreciate the aroma, even using Chinook as a dry hop. Use in pale ale, IPA, lagers, steam beer, heavy-bodied dark ales.
Substitutes (bittering): Galena, Nugget, Cluster.


Alpha rating: 12–14
Description: Extremely bitter. Mild flavour. Pleasant herbal aroma.
Use: Bittering for all types of beers, especially English ales. Aroma good for many beer styles (but not light lagers).
Substitutes (bittering): Galena, Chinook, Cluster, Cascade, Centennial.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Hop Trellis Design For Growing Hops In The Back Yard

With the hop shortage in full swing, I decided to take a stab at growing my own hops. I’m not alone. I have found a ton of posts of new backyard hop gardeners. My bought my hop rhizomes from Thyme Garden and they should be arriving any day now. One thing though. I do not have a trellis set up yet. After scouring my yard to find the perfect place, I decided on the side of my house.

I have read a lot about different designs and am going to take a stab at building one this weekend. I did not want to “just wing it”, so I laid it out on the computer. Below is what I will be building, unless I hear some objection to this design from someone more experienced than myself.

What do you think?

Hop Trellis Design V.1 by Jeff Louella

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Scotch Kissed Vanilla Bean Robust Porter

I’ve had my eyes on some different recipes for a Vanilla Bourbon Porter and I have one major issue with them all. I am not a huge Bourbon fan. I am a Scotch kind of guy. I don’t know why the Bourbon was attracting to me when I like the peaty flavors of the Speyside and the lighter fruitier flavors of the Highlands. So I put together a recipe for myself that include Scotch.

I wasn’t looking for a huge high gravity Porter, just to make something more sessionable. The hops I used may not be typical Porter hops, but I sure love the flavors of Chinook and Cascade.
Since I am a Scotch drinker, I had a couple bottles on hand. I chose a 12yr Glenmorangie Sherry Wood Barrel scotch. I believe this style is now discontinued, so I only went with 3oz of it. I didn’t want the scotch flavor to be overbearing or the center of focus, so just a kiss is what it needed.

The vanilla beans I bought at Whole Foods. I don’t know much about them, so I just opened the containers and took a deep sniff. I chose the one that smelled the best. The Papua New Guineas won out. They did not have Bourbon Vanilla Beans, so they were not an option. I hear those are the best, but I had to use what I can get. Whole Foods prides itself on the freshness of the products, so I feel these may be better than picking some up at the local homebrew store. I could be wrong, but the Whole Foods was right around the corner. Two beans came in a tube, so I just bought one tube. I didn’t want to make the porter too vanilla either, just a light hint of it. I just wanted to enhance the flavor, but still taste mostly like a porter.

Basically I just cut the beans down the middle and then cut in quarters. Then I soaked them in the scotch on the day I started brewing. Once the primary fermentation slowed (3-5 days), I just poured everything in the primary.

Below is the recipe I used. I’m still an extract brewer (hopefully not for long), so I don’t have an all-grain version of this. I’m sure it isn’t too hard to convert.

Steeping Grains
0.5 lbs - Simpson's Chocolate
0.5 lbs - Simpsons Dark Crystal

Malt Extract
6.0 lbs - Munich Malt Syrup
1.0 lbs - Dark Dry Malt Extract

1.0 oz - Chinook (60 min)
1.0 oz - Cascade (1 min)

Wyeast #1187 Ringwood Ale Yeast. (Fermented at 67 degrees).

Added Flavors
2 beans – Papua New Guinea Vanilla Beans
3oz (3 shots) – Shots of Glenmorangie 12 year old Sherry wood finished Scotch

I fermented at 67 degrees. This is my first batch using the temperature controller and I was able to keep the beer at the exact temperature for the duration of the fermentation. I also decided against secondary fermentation. After listening to Jamil Zainasheff, a world-class brewer, he states he usually never uses a secondary. I decided to try it. I will be bottling this week. I’ll post a comment on how it came out.

This beer scored a 28.5 at nationals in the spiced and herb beer category. The main issue was it wasn't vanilla and scotch enough. So I entered this into another competition as a Robust Porter. It received 39 points and the only comment was that it could have used a little more malt complexity.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Upgrades To My Home Brewery

Though I am new to brewing, I have really taken a liken to it (hence the blog). I recently have received some bonus money and what else should I spend it on besides brewing supplies. Of course, I am saving a good part of it, but this is bonus money. It was a little extra for working hard. Therefore, it is time to play hard. Here are the major additions to my home brewery.

15 Gallon Brew pot fitted with Spigot and Blichmann Weldless Brewmometer
I wanted to do full 5-gallon boils, so I needed a big pot. Then I thought to myself, if I am going to invest this money in to a big brewing pot, why limit myself to 5-gallons. I want equipment I can grow into. So, I went with the 15-gallon pot. Now I can brew 10 gallons comfortably. Why not?

Bayou Classic Cast Iron Burner
Well, having a 15-gallon brew pot does no good if you can’t heat it up. I purchased this Bayou 185,000-BTU 20-PSI propane burner. I don’t have a natural gas line in the house, I can always upgrade the regulator and get up to 220,000-BTU out of this thing. This burner is massive and will bring my wort to a boil in no time flat.

Copper Immersion Chiller
Again, having a 15-gallon pot has some obstacles. One is chilling the wort. With my 4-gallon pot, I would fill the sink with ice and soak burry the pot in ice. This new pot is almost twice as big as my sink and may have trouble in my bathtub. Plus, who can lift and carry all that wort. For that reason, I got a chiller made out of 50 foot of copper tubing. This Chiller should chill the wort down quickly.

Digital Temperature Controller
I feel that my beers haven’t been as good as they can be and I have read that maintaining a proper temperature throughout fermentation could be even more important than going all-grain. I plan to try all-grain soon, but I want to get a hold of my fermentation first. I coupled the temp controller with some fermawrap since it is winter here, and I have a fridge in the garage for when the temperatures get hot out in the summer.

I can’t wait to set this stuff up and get brewing. This weekend will be fun for sure.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Stir Plate Project

In a previous post, I wrote about a yeast starter I created. This was a great learning experience and it really helped out my IPA I created. A yeast starter helps get the fermentation process started quicker. By growing the yeast culture, instead of just throwing in a White Labs tube, there will be more yeast further on in their life at pitching time. This will help drop the specific gravity down, increasing the ABV and drying out the beer. So what can one do to help out the starter even more? Keep the yeast starter on a stir plate.

What is a stir plate?

In short, a stir plate is a piece of equipment that continually stirs liquid (in our case, wort). With a yeast starter, the stir plate keeps the yeast in suspension and does not allow the yeast to settle. It also continually adds oxygen to the yeast starter. This helps keep the yeast growing and reproducing. As long as there is oxygen in the yeast starter, the yeast will reproduce.

One issue with stir plates is their price. A retail stir plate can go anywhere from $100 USD to $500 USD. If you’re a home brewer like me, spending a couple hundred on a stir plate is not an option. But how can you get the benefits of a stir plate and not pay the premium price. My answer, I built one.

After searching the web, I found hundreds of people who have built their own stir plates. These ranged in price from cheap and simple to complex a little more pricey. Still, most were under $50 USD. I went the cheap route.

I discovered a page from Dave Trumbell and the Stir Plate he created. I pretty much just copied his. In the end, the price ended up being around $22 USD, but I had some help. I ended up having some parts around the house. I took apart an old Hard Drive from a computer and stole the Rare Earth magnets from within. I also had some old 6-volt power supplies to old electronics that I kept “just in case”. Steve Hawk had a couple computer fans to add to the mix. I ended up making 2 stir plates. One for me and one for Steve.

Here is a video of the stir plate in action:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Vinnie’s Blind Pig IPA

It’s been over two months since I brewed last and was itching to brew an IPA. Due to the world wide hop shortage, it’s difficult to find the correct hops for most hoppy recipes. I ended up buying one of the only IPA kits left at It is a recipe by Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Company and is the original double IPA version he created while working at Blind Pig Brewing. The beer is considered the first American Double IPA ever brewed commercially.

I haven’t moved to all grain brewing yet, so the recipe was a malt extract kit. Steve Hawk came over to help out with the brew, take in all the aromas that 5 ounces of hops give off, and share some of his personal home brews.

The recipe was pretty simple and went as such:

Malt Extracts
9.0lb - Ultralight Malt
1.0lb - Bavarian Wheat

Grains (steeped 30min)
0.5lb - Carapils
0.5lb - Crystal 40L

2.0oz - Centennial (60min)
0.5oz - Cascade (30min)
1.0oz - Cascade (15min)

Water Treatment
1 - Whirfloc (15min)
1tsp - Gypsum (15min)
1 - White Labs Servomyces Capsule (15min)

Secondary Fermentation
0.5oz - Cascade
1.0oz - Centennial
1.0oz - American Oak Chips

4.0oz - Corn Sugar

Since this is only my second brew ever, I am learning and trying new things. I ended up doing a couple steps different this time, hopefully for the better.

The first thing I did different was creating a yeast starter. This was a fun experience and I am hoping it pays off at the end by really dropping the specific gravity way down, helping dry the beer out.

The boil went smoothly. I tried another new method with the boil. I only added half the Malt extract at first to the boil and the second half with only 15 minutes left. This was to keep the specific gravity down of the wort in the kettle. I did this to allow the centennial hops to isomerize. Since I am only boiling 3 gallons in the kettle, the SG is really high during the boil. Then I add the extra 2 gallons in the fermentor to get me up to 5 gallons. The acid in the hops will not bitter as well in high gravity wort. By only adding half the Malt, the hops have a better chance to isomerize cleanly and really add some good bitterness. By adding this to the last 15 minutes, the malt will still pasteurize. Be careful, the added malt may cause another hot break and boil-over.

I treated my water for the first time in this brew. I added Gypsum to help protect against a soapy taste some IPA’s sometimes get. It does so by lowering the PH a little and making the beer a more acidic. The next new addition to the boil was a Whirlfloc tablet. This is a water clarifier like irish moss. My first beer was a wheat beer and wheat is supposed to be a little cloudy. I wanted the IPA to be as clear a possible, without having to use a filter. I was going to go with the Irish Moss, but have read better things about the Whirlfloc tablets.

With this brew, I bought an oxygen system. The system is basically a Bernzomatic Oxygen tank with some tubing and a stainless steel air stone. I aerated the hell out of the wort with pure oxygen before pitching and I aerated again 5 hours after pitching the yeast. This should help the already increased yeast supply grow more vigorously.

The yeast has been pitched in and I am waiting for it to start fermenting. I think with these new techniques I used will make the IPA come out awesome. There is still so much to learn and I hope to add new methods to my techniques for the next brew. I will update the blog with the IPA’s progressions.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Yeast Starters

The more I read up on home brewing, the more I get fascinated with the science and biology of the process. One aspect that I find interesting is the yeast. These little animals are extremely important to the overall brewing process and are probably the most mysterious part of the process too.

When first starting out, a lot of kits use dry yeast. After the brew, the directions usually say to sprinkle the yeast on top of the wort. This works fine, though it often takes time for the yeast to rehydrate, start reproducing, then start fermenting. Some people believe that dried yeast just doesn’t add to the complexity in taste that live yeast does. One thing is true though, there are many more varieties of liquid yeast then there are dry yeast.

Using liquid yeast usually helps in the quickening of the process from cooled wort to fermentation. That is a crucial time in home brewing, a time when things can go wrong. The quicker the yeast start doing their jobs, the less chance of contamination to occur.

For most average gravity brewing styles, a single White Labs tube or Wyeast smack pack of yeast is enough for a 5 gallon batch. When creating a high gravity or lager beer, it is best to help the wort out by pitching additional yeast. This can be done by purchasing multiple tubes or you can create a yeast starter that can turn one tube into the amount you need. Since my next brew is going to be a double IPA with a starting gravity of about 1.070+, I decided to create a yeast starter.

I purchased a 1000ml yeast starter kit from It was pretty cheap, only $12. The kit included a 1000ml Erlenmeyer flask, 1/2 pound of dried malt extract (DME 10), and 1oz of yeast nutrients. The process is pretty simple.

I first mixed in 1 cup of DME 10 and a pinch of nutrient with about 800ml of Brita filtered water. I placed the Erlenmeyer flask on the stove and brought it up to a boil for 15 minutes. I boiled in the beaker cause it seemed like a cool idea and it brought me back to my high school days. Though, it has it’s issues. Since the flask gets extremely narrow up at the top, the littlest boil over would go shooting up and over. This would happen so quick that it was hard to catch. It only happened one major time, I would recommend using a small sauce pan and then funneling in the cooled wort into the flask after. And on another note, you don’t need a flask at all. An old sanitized mayo jar would work too, though they are glass and if you pour pour hot wort or cooling hot wort in it, the glass may crack. It is best to always use cooled wort if using regular glass. Since I boiled in the Erlenmeyer flask, i just took the flask and put it in an ice bath in the sink. 5 minutes later, it was pitching temperature.

With my order from, I also bought a Oxygen system to get the most out of my wort. The system came with a regulator, some tubing, and a stainless steal air stone. The oxygen had to be purchased separately, so I had to run out to the local Lowes Hardware Store and purchase a disposable can of BernzoMatic Oxygen for about $8. After sanitizing everything, I stuck the air stone in the wort and turned the knob to the gas. Billions of the tiniest bubbles came out and created a Guinness style draft head on the wort. Adding Oxygen will greatly help the yeast grow and reproduce. Since I don’t own a stir plate yet, I would just swish it around every so often to help keep in oxygenated.

I plan on brewing my Blind Pig Double IPA clone tomorrow and I now have a healthy amount of yeast to pitch. By looking at the flask, I think I have about 3-4 times the amount I started with. I plan on sticking the flask in the refrigerator tonight to have the rest of the active yeast fall to the bottom of the flask. Then I will siphon or pour off some of the spent wort. This way I don’t contribute to off flavors by adding different wort to my IPA wort. Most people just throw it all in, but I don’t want to get any off flavors by using a different style wort. I could have always made 1000ml version of the double IPA and pitched it directly in, but that will be later on in my home brewing career. This was my first starter and I think it turned out great.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Beer For The Bosses?

So this week is the big industry show and all my bosses and Veeps will be in town. My Imperial Stout is aging nicely and its in great gift sized 220z bottles. Of course the obvious dilemma I face is whether to share this beer with those who will decide in the next few weeks how much I will make in 08. Now its not like I just want to drink all this beer by myself. I want to share it but is the gift of Homemade Brew sending the right message? Does it say, "I'm innovative and varied in m tastes. I can be an asset because of my many skills and talents" or "I am a drunk, so much so I make my own booze. In fact I'm drunk right now."? Thoughts comments?