Mar 242014

When it comes to brewing there are several maxims that I have learned to live by.  I’ve decided to call these The Immutable Laws of Brewing because it sounds cool.  I’ll add to this list as I discover more truths.

The Immutable Laws of Homebrewing

  • It’s just beer!
    Yes.  It is just beer.  If you miss a hop addition, your mash temperature is off by a few degrees, or something gets infected, nobody is going to die.  Use your mistakes as a learning experience.  If you don’t know what they issue was, share your beer with some friends, try to figure out what happened, and try not to make the same mistake next time.  A mistake can also help you discover something new and delicious.Boiling Continue reading »
 Posted by at 7:38 am
Feb 132014

If you’re like me, you tend toward certain styles of beer.  When I go to a new brewery or select something at the store I tend toward beers that land in one of three categories.  They are IPA, stout, and beers I would classify as weird.  i.e. “Yes I’ll try your gingerbread, Asian zing, Belgian tripel with a flaming Jolly Rancher floating on top!”  Consequently there are styles that I tend to not touch very often like browns, ambers, and pretty much anything that lands in the lager camp.

I know it's blue but I think I should try another.

I know it’s blue but I think I should try another.

The problem with this is not only that I tend to miss out on good beer but also that my knowledge of those styles is more limited than I’d like.

To pull myself up out of my rut I’ve decided to pick a style to explore in 2014.  Continue reading »

 Posted by at 8:07 am
Jan 052014

Last week I was the lucky recipient of a sinus infection.  Despite that I am a firm believer in the healing power of lupulins I refrained from drinking beer for several days.  Thursday evening I was on the mend so I decided to break the fast and I went to Osgood Brewing in Grandville and ordered a delicious Journey IPA.  I took one sip and…

Journey IPA - My friend Tom made this beer

Journey IPA – My friend Tom made this beer

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 7:40 pm
Dec 032013

Many homebrewers start brewing with extracts.  It provides a great way for new brewers to get their feet wet while keeping the equipment and time investment lower.  I have written more about the benefits of this here.

Recently I’ve spent some time helping out some non-brewer friends that are working on a product offering for beginning homebrewers. I’ll be posting more about that as it becomes reality. As a part of this they wanted to give  brewing a try to make an extract batch of beer.

2013-11-23 13.39.21

After they acquired a basic equipment kit, a Lemon Coriander Weiss Extract Beer Kit, and some StarSan we got together on a Saturday a bit more than a week ago. We wanted to make the recipe with little more than the contents of the beginner’s kit so we decided on a partial wort boil on the kitchen stove.

Following the example of some friends who make some very fine extract beer and given that the beer is supposed to be rather light in color I decided that boiling all the extract for the full sixty minutes was not the thing to do. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 7:19 am
Nov 192013

Like most homebrewers that use propane, I brew outside.  As the days get colder and shorter this gets less comfortable.  November 9, 2013 was a pleasant exception to this.  It was cloudy and breezy but was in the 50s so it was a perfect day to set up some chairs in a garage in Byron Center and make some beer.2013-11-09 11.31.00

I had decided earlier in the week that I wanted to brew my Black Pumpkin Ale.  This is a beer that I try to make once or twice every fall.  You start out by roasting two bowling ball sized pie pumpkins.  I describe how to prepare them in my article Pumpkin Preparation for a Pumpkin Ale.

Here is the rest of the recipe for a five gallon batch: Continue reading »

 Posted by at 8:05 am
Nov 142013

In my earlier post, Putting Jolly Ranchers in a Beer, I mentioned that we brewed a grape Jolly Rancher Belgian tripel for this year’s Iron Brewer in Grand Ledge, MI.  Judging for this competition took place this past Tuesday and our beer won.  All of the beers presented were well done.  Some were delicious beers that lacked a Jolly Rancher character.  Others tasted like delicious desserts or wine coolers.  The idea behind the Red Salamander’s Iron Brewer competition is to make something that showcases the “secret ingredient” while still being a beer.  This year the judges felt that our entry was best at walking that line.

Myself and Karl from The Red Salamander

Myself and Karl from The Red Salamander

Tom Payne Sr. - Jolly Rancher Unwrapper Extraordinaire

Tom Payne Sr. – Jolly Rancher Unwrapper Extraordinaire










Here’s the recipe for 5 Gallons: Continue reading »

 Posted by at 8:15 am
Nov 062013

I published this article last year before I started posting regularly.  Since I’m making my pumpkin ale this Sunday and plan to post the recipe I thought that it would be worth revisiting.  Enjoy!

I was fascinated by the idea of making some kind of a pumpkin ale for a number of years.  Interestingly enough I don’t think I’ve ever had a commercial one that really embodied what I envisioned.  The result of my experimentation was my Black Pumpkin Ale.  This recipe continues to be a favorite among those who frequent my basement pub.  I try to make it at least once a year and I think it’s definitely worth focusing on in a future post.

I try to use fresh ingredients in my beer whenever possible.  I love the flavor from fresh whole leaf hops, fresh spices, and fresh fruits and vegetables.  When I started tailoring my pumpkin ale recipe years ago many of the examples I looked at used canned pumpkin.  I knew that wasn’t what I wanted.  I wanted to add freshly harvested pumpkin to the mash.  So I went to the local farmer’s market, selected two bowling ball sized pie pumpkins and brought them home.  I’ve done this almost every year since. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 10:13 am
Nov 012013

I find that reading is a great way to broaden your knowledge of a topic. I don’t believe that brewing is an exception. Here are four of my favorite brewing books.

Image courtesy of adamr /

Image courtesy of adamr /

The Complete Joe of Home BrewingCharlie Papazian is arguably the father of home brewing in the United States.  The first edition of his The Complete Joy of Homebrewing was published in 1984 and is considered by many to be the home brewer’s bible.  I bought the second edition of this book on the day that I bought my first set of brewing equipment.  The fourth edition is due out next year.  Papazian divides this book into beginner, intermediate, and advanced sections doing a great job of giving you the information that you need to get started while also giving you more advanced information to help you improve.  One of the things that I always liked about this book is that you can pretty much get the information you need to know to produce a decent batch of extract beer in the first ten or fifteen pages.

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 9:49 am
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