Oct 212013

When asked what the most important factor in making good beer is most brewers will put cleaning and sanitizing at the top of their list.  I keep sanitizer handy throughout my brew day and transfers using two methods.

Brew Day

Brew Day

1. The Bucket.  I keep a bucket full of sanitizer within arms reach the whole day.  If a piece of equipment like a thermometer or a spoon aren’t in use at the moment, they are in the sanitizer.  This not only helps to keep things sanitized but makes them easy to find.

2. The Spray Bottle.  I also like to keep a spray bottle of sanitizer handy.  This is useful on brew day but can also be quite nice during fermentation, transferring, and packaging as well for those items you can’t throw in a bucket.

What tips and tricks do you have for making sanitizing easy?

 Posted by at 9:00 am
Oct 162013

Like many homebrewers I started out brewing with extracts.  I brewed more than a few successful batches using this method.  After a few years I began brewing with some friends that were making all grain beers.  The first thing I noticed is that it wasn’t as difficult as it sounded.  To this day I typically mash with a single infusion and a batch sparge.  That method is suitable for most every style that I’m typically interested in brewing and adequate for many others given the quality of ingredients that are available today.

Here are a four reasons to switch to All Grain Brewing.



1. More Control.  Mashing your grains gives you more control over the fermentability of the wort.  Mash cooler and you’ll get a drier beer.  Mash warmer and you’ll get a more full bodied beer.  It’s true that even with extracts you can add refined sugars to dry out your wort or steep specialty grains or add lactose to add residual sugars but I don’t think that these methods give you quite the same results as beginning with your choice of malted grains.

2. More Variety.  Today’s home brewer has an almost overwhelmingly large choice of grains to use.  A quick count on Midwest Supplies’ Website, for example, has ninety-six varieties of grain on the grain page.  Leaving out the hopped varieties I count about twenty-five varieties of extract.  Again, steeping allows you to add crystal and some other malts in your pot prior to boil but there are some grains like wheat, rye, and oats that it’s recommended that you mash rather than steep.

3. Lower Cost Per Batch. A typical all grain batch of beer costs less than the equivalent extract batch.  This makes sense given that the maltster does a bunch of the work for you.  Consider the example below.  Assume that you were going to make a batch of beer that called for 10 lbs of 2-Row Barley.  If you were to make this beer out of extract you would need either 8 lbs of liquid malt extract or 6.4 lbs of dry.  I went to Midwest Supplies, selected the largest quantity that they list for each type of ingredient and used that to calculate the per batch cost.

Item American 2-Row (Briess) Briess Gold Unhopped Liquid Malt Extract Briess Dried Malt Extract- Golden Light
Lbs Needed 10 8 6.4
Package Size (lbs) 50 6 50
$/lb  $1.02  $2.67  $2.70
Batch Cost  $10.20  $21.36  $17.28


Here are some reasons to stick with Extract brewing.

Good Beer

Good Beer

1. Shorter Brew Days.  Brewing a batch of all grain beer makes for a longer brew day.  Extract brewing lets you skip mashing.  That step alone takes at least an hour plus you have to heat up your mash water and you’ve got more to clean up when you’re done.  I know a lot of brewers that love the ritual of the brew day.  If you do, that’s great.  If your goal is to just crank out a batch of good beer, then extract brewing can make things go faster for you.

2. Less Equipment.  While a batch of extract beer is typically more expensive than an equivalent all grain beer, all grain brewing requires you buy or make more equipment.  You need something to mash in and you need to do a full wort boil which requires a pot that is big enough to hold the whole volume.  This alone is why many beginners start out using extracts.  It’s a great way to see if you like the hobby without dropping hundreds of dollars on equipment.

3. You Can Make Great Beer. Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to switch to all grain to make good beer.  There are extract beers that medal in home brewing competitions every year.  There are even some commercial breweries that use extracts, although I don’t know that I’ve ever tried any of them. Sanitation, technique, and the freshness of your ingredients are king using both methods and will have a far greater impact on the final product.

If you enjoy what you make and have fun making it, you win regardless of your brewing method.  It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks.

Which brewing methods do you prefer and why?

Note: I have no practical experience with partial mash brewing.  This technique sits between extract and all grain and might be worth looking into if you are interested in using grains that can’t be steeped in your extract recipe.  I think that the biggest advantage over full blown all grain is that you can get away with using a smaller mash/lauter tun.  Like I said though, I’ve never made a partial mash beer so if you know of additional benefits I’d love to hear them.

 Posted by at 6:50 am
Oct 142013

Last Saturday was the annual Red Ledge Brewers Iron Brewer competition hosted by The Red Salamander in Grand Ledge, MI.  Each year Karl, the owner of The Red Salamander, selects a secret ingredient and unveils it on the day of the competition.  Then one by one each team is allowed to go into the shop and collect ingredients for the beer that they will make to showcase that ingredient. After that, we brew.

Individually wrapped

Individually wrapped

Almost Enough Adjuncts

Almost Enough Adjuncts

The morning was sunny and temperatures were to climb into the 70s.  A front was moving in and rain was predicted for later in the day but no precipitation would fall on this brew day.  Several minor pieces of equipment had been left in Grand Rapids but we had the grill and sausages to throw on it so all was well.  We brought along any adjunct ingredients we might need.  Nutmeg…check.  Orange peel…check.  Bay leaves…we had almost a pound.  We were ready.


The secret ingredient was announced at 10 am.  This year it was Jolly Ranchers.  Yes.  That’s right.  It was Jolly Ranchers.  I was horrified for the briefest of moments and then it all became clear.  At the same time, Tom and I said, “Purple Nurple.”  It was done.  We were going to make a Belgian Tripel.

We had a few of the members of our team sort out and unwrap about two pounds of grape Jolly Ranchers for the ten gallon batch we were going to make.  Tom and I went inside and collected our ingredients.  Our recipe consisted of pilsner malt, cara pils, and German opal hops.  Additionally we planned on throwing in some orange peel, cardamom, and coriander.  We used our Jolly Ranchers and some cane sugar that I brought in place of Belgian candy sugar and topped it all off with some Abbey Ale yeast.

Just about the right amount of sugar.

Just about the right amount of sugar.

Aside from the difficulties of dissolving two pounds of fake grape flavored corn syrup this 1.081 monstrosity of a beer came together well.  We may have also partially melted an auto siphon into something roughly banana shaped  but we’ve decided to try to forget about that.  At this point either the five gallons of head space in the fermenter is enough or there is grape flavored yeast crawling across the floor of Tom’s dining room as I’m writing this.

Next month we take our beers in for judging.  The team that makes the best beer wins the coveted Iron Brewer trophy.  Then we’ll see how this thing turns out.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever put into a beer?


 Posted by at 6:56 am
Oct 092013


Brewery Vivant, in Grand Rapids’ East Town neighborhood, has been one of my favorite breweries since my first visit a bit more than two years ago.  To say that their examples of Belgian and French beers are outstanding is an understatement.  I’ve been known to spend fifteen minutes or more simply enjoying the aroma of one of their beers before taking my first sip.  After that each sip is a joy as you journey to the bottom of the glass.  In the fall of their inaugural year I attended their first Wood Aged Beer Fest.  I remember being amazed at the uniqueness and flavor of each beer that I tried.  I missed WABF 2012 but in 2013 Jason, Jacob, and the gang have done it again.

Vivant Tasting Glass

What a cute little glass.

Last Saturday was a perfect day for WABF3.  It was overcast and in the 70s.  There was rain to the north and rain to the south but due to what I can only attribute to an effect similar to Daryl Waltrip’s Vortex Theory no rain fell on Brewery Vivant while my wife Serenity, my friend Tom, and myself were there.  The last time I was at this event they hosted it on the restaurant’s patio and it was a bit crowded.  This year they took over the parking lot and there was plenty of room.



Under the tent there were 20+ wood aged beers on tap and each one that I tried was better than the next.  Wandering around with my souvenir tasting glass I was able to try wonderful  barrel aged and sour beers such as Whiskey Rooster, Two Princesses, and Cassandra.  I wish that I had been able to take notes on each of them but what I will say is that if you haven’t been to Vivant, it’s definitely worth the trip.  If you can only make it there once a year, Wood Aged Beer Fest is the time to go.

I’ll see you next year.

 Posted by at 7:08 am