Tag Archives: homebrew

No More Beer

Have you ever had gout? No. Trust me, you never want to have even the slightest hint of having gout.

Why? It’s brutal. My father suffered from gout for the last couple of years of his life and it would immobilize him for days at a time. Other people describe even the slightest sensation of touch near their feet as being unbelievably painful.

When I got the first hints of gout in my big toes I got worried. So worried that I started to figure out what I needed to do in order to avoid having full blown attacks. Guess what? Of all the risk factors related to lifestyle I was only guilty of one—alcohol consumption via beer.

Furthermore, I have a long history of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in my family on both my parents’ sides. This makes me especially sensitive to any issue relating to joint health because I know that before too long I will be combating the symptoms of RA. There is no need to hasten that arrival by inviting inflammation of any kind into my body.

The third health consideration is that I am overweight. Not extreme weight loss overweight, but probably carrying a little more than 20 pounds of fat that is extra pressure on my already taxed joints. No matter how much I watch what I eat and exercise I was probably sabotaging my efforts by finishing the night off with a few pints of homebrew from keezer. At about 13 calories per ounce an imperial pint was packing an extra 250 or so calories into every glass I finished. Ugh.

This got me to really assess my lifestyle vis a vis my beer drinking. I love beer. I enjoy the culture of beer. I find satisfaction in trying new beers and seeking out new breweries. I revel in talking about all aspects of beer with like minded folks. However, I like to be able to walk without pain and if the small amount of time I spent with a gout-like episode was any indication I would give up drinking in a heartbeat.

People reorder their lives for all sorts of reasons and I imagine that health is paramount among those reasons. My decision was to make changes before my health degraded to the point where I was dependent upon medication or staring down the barrel of surgery.

Will I still drink a beer now and again? Sure, but it will form a much less significant portion of my life than it has for the past several years. On the bright side, I should be awake early on Sunday mornings to go for bike rides and hikes with my daughter as opposed to shuffling around the house with a hangover.

Anyone know of someone who wants to give a keezer a good home?

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Summit in Cans

With two vacations coming up and no time at home during the weekend for the next month—yes, four straight weekends of time away from home—I have been hesitant to tap into any kegs of homebrew for fear of leaving them sit too long. Even with Perlick forward sealing faucets the mechanism can get gummy and it seems silly to leave beer under pressure with no one home to drink it.

To slake my thirst for beer I trudge down to the liquor store and wade through the cooler of craft beer hoping to find something to my liking. Imagine my surprise when I came across Summit Brewing’s offerings in cans. Apparently, Summit just began making its beer available in cans in late-May 2014. Here it is in June in eastern Iowa where I went home with a six pack of Summer Ale and Saga IPA.

Summer beers are an interesting breed and Summit’s Summer Ale is no exception:

Summer Ale

Like television networks dumping sub-standard shows on summer audiences rather than risk damage to fall slates I am beginning to believe that breweries do the same thing with summer brews. What is normally a rock solid brewery pumping out solid beer after solid beer and frequently producing outstanding beer will produce a summer beer that is a real letdown.

This is the case with Summer Ale. Billed as a beer for sunny days Summer Ale has odd notes that make me think it could not decide if it wanted to be a lager or an ale. It’s made like an ale, but the aroma and flavor that lingers in the back of my throat makes me think it is a lager. Plus it’s light (4.5% ABV) and not particularly bitter (32 IBU) give it more of a lager like profile.

Summer beers are also saddled with carrying citrus or fruit flavors. Although it is supposed to have a “fruity and floral aroma” I missed that characteristic entirely. At least Summer Ale did not try and pull off any potent fruit flavorings:

Purchased One Mug RatingSaga IPA should really be named Epic:

Saga IPA

This is a hell of a beer. Named after the Norse goddess who was the drinking companion of Odin—I am taking this word for word from the Summit website—this beer could also easily have been named Thor’s Hammer. Coming in at 6.4% ABV and 80 IBU Saga is packing a hell of a punch, but it is not a story about in your face bitterness or booze.   There is so much flavor with this beer.

The menu of hops employed is extensive– Centennial, Amarillo, Citra, and Rakau which is a variety I was heretofore unfamiliar—and dry hopping was also employed to amp up the flavor. With so much resinous aroma and flavor bursting forth you completely ignore the alcohol. This is a moment when I need to warn others not to drink an entire six-pack in a sitting because you will feel it hit you quite quickly. Learn from my mistakes young Jedi.

The only downside that I can think of with this beer is that it was not suited for a hot, humid weekend in June. Saga would be oh so perfect on a crisp to cold fall day with a plate of smoked meat and football on the television. Sounds like a vision. Saga is available as a year round beer for those of you who do not mind the incongruous melding of hoppy beers and high temps.

The verdict on Saga is an uncompromising recommendation on its excellence:

Purchase 4 Mug Rating

House Pale Ale #3

The attempt to solidify a “house” pale ale recipe for my keezer is a frustrating process. First, there is the lead time inherent in homebrewing. It is four to five weeks between batches because I prefer to allow the batches to keg condition much like you would bottle condition. Second, small variations in the process can produce some pretty divergent results. Your yeast could produce bubblegum esters or your hop profile could come out flat. Argh!

Each of these “house” pale ale recipes is going to seem a little derivative, but that is the point. My recipe was as follows:

  • 1 lbs. Briess 2-Row Caramel 20L, steeping grains
  • 3 lbs. Munton’s Extra Light DME, 60 minutes
  • 1 oz. Cascade pellet hops, 60 minutes
  • 1 lb. Munton’s Extra Light DME, 20 minutes
  • 1 oz. Willamette pellet hops, 15 minutes
  • Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minutes
  • Safale S-05 yeast

iBrewMaster figured that the beer came in at ~3.7% ABV and ~32 IBU. Fairly light and easy drinking for the higher temps of early summer. What was the result:

House Pale ALe #3

It’s a very light beer in terms of body and alcohol. Unlike my prior house recipe there is a more pronounced hop character, even though the IBU rating is the same, which I am chalking up to the use of Cascade hops. The hops’ resin character can stand up to a full 60 minute boil better than some other varieties…yes, I am looking at you Citra.

The beer came out very similar to my prior House Pale Ale #2, which was to be expected considered that the primary departure between the two recipes was the change in hops. I also changed the steeping grains from a Caramel 40L to a Caramel 20L which did result in a slightly lighter body.

I would like to say that this beer is a 2.5 mug rating, but I am not going to start parsing mugs down into fractional units. Therefore, it gets two mugs because I like to err on the side of pessimism.

Beer Ratings

Hand Pump to the Rescue

No, this is not a tool for a return to the keg parties of yesteryear where half barrels of Busch Light were consumed illicitly under the stars for a bargain price. The technology is similar, but the reasoning is completely different. What am I talking about? I bought a hand pump for my kegs:

Hand Pump

Yes, in conjunction with a picnic or cobra tap I could use this pump to dispense an entire keg in a field expedient setup. I might do that if I am certain to drink an entire keg over the course of a short period of times. Otherwise, the air pumped in will react with the beer and oxidize the product. Not a good thing to happen to good beer. Heck, that is not a good thing to happen to bad beer.

Nope, this is all about cleaning. No matter what a homebrewer will tell you this is a hobby that is about cleaning and sanitizing. Otherwise you are likely to brew up a batch that ends up tasting like sock juice pressings.

Kegs are a lot easier to deal with than bottles because you are cleaning and sanitizing a single vessel all at once rather than thirty 22 ounce bottles.

One pain-in-the-ass part of a keezer system to clean are the liquid dispensing lines that run from the keg to the tap. I use Perlick Perl taps in my setup, so I avoid some of the nasty gunk problems associated with taps that do not utilize a forward seal. However, you still want to run a lot of cleaner/sanitizer through the lines to ensure that no bacterial residue remains from a prior batch that will contribute to bad beer in a forthcoming batch.

The easiest way to clean a tap and tap lines is to run the cleaner of your choice through the lines for a period of time. Combine C02 and a gallon or so of cleaner in a clean keg…boom, easy cleaning. The rub here is that I was using a lot of CO2 to pressurize a nearly empty keg and push out a gallon of solution. In conjunction with a small leak in one of my keg’s seals—since fixed with a new seal and a generous application of keg lube—found me blowing through a ten pound tank of CO2 in no time. It’s ~$25 each time I want to fill my tank. Not horribly expensive, but not something I wanted to do frequently.

Enter the hand pump! With a few strokes—wait a second, this sounds bad—I can start pushing out solution and run the keg dry without blowing through a load of purchased gas. The hand pump only costs me a few calories of energy expenditure.

It’s not an elegant solution, but it works quite nicely. I have found that I am inclined to run more solution and do a more thorough cleaning of the lines now that I am not using CO2 to accomplish the task.

Okay, I have to admit that I am going to use this to take kegs on the road as well. If you have met my friends you know that five gallons of beer will disappear in no time. There is no worry about leftovers.

House Pale Ale #2

It’s been a rough go of it lately in terms of quality homebrew. I have not put forth a batch that I loved since I finished my keezer. Is it the keezer or is the brewer? I am inclined to place the blame squarely on my own shoulders.

Granted, part of this has been the process of refining a “house pale ale” recipe. Initially, I thought that I wanted to go with something that was similar to Toppling Goliath’s pseudoSue with its big punch of Citra backed flavor. However, I think that flavor profile is better suited to an occasional beer that is enjoyed for its unique quality rather than an everyday, drinking beer.

After a departure to make a Pale Wheat Ale, it is back to more traditional American-style pale ale. #2 differs in several ways from #1. The biggest difference is that Cascade hops are the primary bittering hop and Citra is used toward the end.

I also used one pound of Briess 2-Row Caramel 40L as a steeping grain prior to the sixty minute boil. A fairly simple extract ale recipe that was as follows:

  • 1 lb. Briess 2-Row Caramel 40L, steeping grains
  • 3 lbs. Munton’s Extra Light DME, 60 minutes
  • 1 oz. Cascade pellet hops, 60 minutes
  • 1 lbs. Munton’s Extra Light DME, 20 minutes
  • 1 oz. Citra pellet hops, 5 minutes
  • Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minutes
  • Safale S-05 yeast

iBrewMaster figured that the beer came out at ~3.7% ABV and ~32 IBU. Fairly mild numbers, but how did it taste:

House Pale Ale 2

It is a good, if unspectacular, beer. The lack of any real Citra flavor confirms my personal suspicion that the hop is better suited to dry hopping as opposed to being used in the boil. I think it is a great addition as a dry hop. Something just gets lost when it is exposed to any kind of heat for any period of time. This leaves the beer dependent upon a small amount of Cascade hops to really “bring the lumber” in the aroma and bitterness department. In the end, the amount of Cascade hops was not up to the challenge.

The body of the beer, however, was nice and neutral base for which to experiment with hops of varying kinds in a variety of ways. I believe that this will be the standard base recipe going forward.

I feel like I am making progress on my house recipe.

Beer Ratings

Pale Wheat Ale

I have been on the hunt to create a “house ale” recipe in the pale ale style. For some reason, I decided to depart from that a little bit with this recipe and incorporate some wheat ale elements. I have no idea why I decided to do such a thing.

I poured the first glass when I was recovering from surgery:

Pale Wheat Ale

The recipe was similar to recipes in the recent past and is as follows:

  • 1 lbs Caramel Wheat Malt, steeping grains
  • 3 lbs Munton’s Wheat DME, 60 minutes
  • 1 oz Cascade pellet hops, 60 minutes
  • 1 lbs Munton’s Extra Light DME, 20 minutes.
  • 1 oz Citra pellet hops, 5 minutes
  • Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minutes
  • Safale S-04 yeast

iBrewMaster calculated that the beer would come in at ~5.3% ABV and ~28 IBU.

I had hoped to force carbonate this beer using one of the speedier methods, as opposed to set it and forget it, but my system developed a slow leak somewhere and the pressure crashed overnight. Whoops.

The body of this beer was very malt forward, a product of heavy steeping grains and wheat malt extract I suppose. It was to the point of completely overwhelming whatever bitterness, granted it was designed to be a mild beer in terms of IBU, was present.

For the past few batches of beer—two that have been dispensed and a third that is keg conditioning as I write—Citra hops have been a major player. Unfortunately, with this beer I think I am realizing the limits of that hop. Used in dry hopping Citra is amazing. It adds a strong grapefruit aroma that is just unique. Used in a more traditional boil and those unique notes are totally lost. I could have used any hop with a more “durable” flavor profile in the boil and gotten more impact out of it. For my next batch I am using a combination of Cascade and Willamette, traditional craft brew hops, to create a base recipe. My intent is to make an analogous batch that utilizes Citra as a dry hop.

Yeast is a funny thing when it comes to homebrewing. You read descriptions on packages and troll the message boards. Once you finally decide what yeast to use it gets pitched into the carboy and away begins the fermentation. Except the end result can be markedly different depending upon a number of factors.

I utilized Safale S-04 for this batch of pale wheat ale and I think that the yeast or my usage of the yeast contributed to several flavors that I found unappealing. Most notably the beer had a yeasty or doughy aroma and taste that was not objectionable, but it was not what I wanted in my beer. If you have ever walked into a bakery that moves a lot of bread and smelled a batch rising you know the aroma I am talking about. It’s not that horrible Subway bread smell that knocks me on my ass every time I walk past that place.

There was also a fruity or sweet taste—some say bubble gum, but my nose did not detect that note—that lingered a little too long on the tongue. Again, this was not an objectionable flavor but it was not what I wanted at all. In the next two batches I used Safale S-05 hoping to avoid these particular flavors.

Not my favorite homebrew:

One Mug Homebrew

House Pale Ale #1

Somewhere I read a line that really stuck with me. It described brewing a lot of different types of beers as a “series of one night stands.” It was meant to convey that the results might be satisfying, but you were only skimming the surface of your possible skill set because there was no baseline from which to grow.

Okay, it was a metaphor that was meant to shock a little bit and I am sure the writer was not trying for a bit social commentary. The idea, however, is solid. To get the most out of your talents as a brewer and to make the best beer possible you need to focus on creating a single so-called house recipe.

With my keezer finished and pouring pint after pint, as well as the occasional growler, it seemed like a perfect time to start devising a house recipe of my own.

My goal is to create a beer similar to my new favorite—Toppling Goliath’s pseudoSue. I wanted to produce something that had a lot of Citra hop notes and was light enough to drink more than one:

House Pale Ale No 1

The recipe was a fairly simple extract brew with no steeping grains and a low level of hops. It went as follows:

  • 3 lbs. Munton’s Extra Light DME, 60 minutes
  • 1 oz. Citra pellet hops, 30 minutes
  • 3 lbs. Munton’s Extra Light DME, 20 minutes
  • Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minutes
  • Safale K-97 yeast
  • 1 oz. Citra pellet hops, dry hopped after one week of primary fermentation.

Primary fermentation was for 2 weeks, with the dry hopping one week in, and the beer was keg conditioned for 2 weeks prior to hooking it up to the keezer.

I put this beer into the keezer under pressure and waited a few days to serve. The first few glasses were…um…disappointing. The dry hopped Citra notes were overpowering and there was not enough body in the beer to hold up the flavors. iBrewMaster calculated the batch to have 4.6% ABV and 36 IBU.

A few days later the pints went down better, as if the beer had mellowed somewhat in the keezer. Subsequent pours in the following weeks have confirmed that this was a beer that needed some additional time to have the flavor profile blend and mellow somewhat. Oh well, my desire to drink my homebrew got the best of me.

Overall, a minor failure for my firs go at a house pale ale recipe.

One Mug Homebrew

The biggest change I am going to make in recipes going forward is to reincorporate some specialty grains steeped prior to the boil. I believe that this will add some needed complexity and body to the base of the beer so that it can handle bolder hop profiles. We shall see.