Sep 062013

Anyone who has been brewing for any length of time has heard that nothing can wreck your beer faster than poor sanitation.  In order for chemical sanitizers to work however, your equipment needs to be clean.  Star San or BTF work great, but if they can’t make contact with the surface you are trying to sanitize they are mostly useless.

We’ve spent the last several months living with my wife’s family while trying to sell our house.  Consequently I’ve had to change up the way I do a few things in the brewing department. I’ve been storing my equipment in a full bath in the basement.  There isn’t a big sink down there so I had to adapt and use the bath tub instead.  It’s worked well.  Not only is it more roomy than the kitchen sink that I am used to using at our house I’ve also found that I can get things cleaned up much more quickly.

My system has worked like this…

I use two buckets and the bath tub.

Cleaning in the Bath Tub

Cleaning in the Bath Tub

One bucket gets put in the tub and is filled with cleaner.  I’ve been using dish soap from Seventh Generation for many years.  I know that some people don’t care for using dish soap on brewing equipment but this stuff rinses crazy clean.  It doesn’t contain any petroleum and I’ve never had any issues with residue or head retention.

I use the bath tub faucet for rinsing after I wash smaller items in the bucket.  It’s also easy to fill mash tuns, pots, and buckets scrub them right in the tub as well.

The second bucket sits outside the tub and gets filled with a Star San.  Once items are rinsed they go straight into that bucket and are good to go.

After I’m done with a transfer it’s very easy to give things a rinse in the tub, put them in the bucket of soapy water and start the process again.

The addition of a spray hose and a fitting to connect my bottle washer to would make things even better.  At this point however, the over-sized wash basin at floor level has been a vast improvement over using the kitchen sink.

Our house failed to sell so we’re back home now.  I’m working on redesigning the basement a bit to better accommodate my brewing equipment.  I want to take what I learned over the Summer and make a more ideal cleaning station.  That should at least get me out of the kitchen.

How have you had to adapt your brewing practices?

 Posted by at 7:27 am
Aug 302013

A couple of months back my friend Tom’s father picked up a couple of 5 gallon bourbon casks.  I managed to swipe one of them and take it home while no one was looking.

My accomplice

My accomplice

The thing smelled so good that I couldn’t help pulling the cork out and sticking my nose inside nearly every time I walked by.  I had some Cascade IPA in secondary that was begging to have something different done with it so I decided to go for it.

Fill'er up!

Fill’er up!

This was a relatively freshly emptied cask.  It was emptied by the distiller only a few months before and had been kept corked so it wasn’t dried out and was clean inside.

I’ve read various methods of sanitizing and cleaning oak but I hate the idea of purging the woody goodness.  In my albeit inexperienced opinion, the whole point is to infect your beer with the bugs that live in the oak.  As long as the wood has been used recently I don’t really want to use any harsh chemicals to clean it up.

At the end of the day, if I happen to be wrong, it’s just beer and I can make more.  So naturally, I’m all in.

Again, the cask hadn’t been empty for very long and was from a known source.  If you stumble on one in a back alley somewhere and you insist on using it you probably want to clean it out with some kind of barrel cleaning solvent.  They’re out there.  Check with your local home brew store.

In this case, I did want to give the cask a rinse and I didn’t want to introduce anything new into it so I mixed up some Star San just to make sure the water was clean.  I poured it in, swished it around, and dumped it out.  After that, I racked the IPA into the cask, placed an air lock, and let it sit for about four weeks.

What came out tastes beautiful.  The beer has taken on a wonderful oak/bourbon character.  I’ve since put the beer back in glass because I don’t have an empty keg yet.  It will be interesting to see how it changes and if it will sour at all.  I can’t wait to drink it.

Sleep tight!

Sleep tight!

Once emptied, I boiled some water and used it to rinse the cask out.  There was some yeast residue inside that I wanted to get rid of.  Since then I’ve filled it with some nineteen month old vanilla bourbon mead.  It’s coming along nicely.


Something my friend Tom suggested trying is to store the cask with a fifth of bourbon in it between uses.  This will succeed in keeping the wood wet so that it won’t shrink.  We’re hoping it also may “recharge” it with bourbon flavor.  At the very least we should get some excellent tasting bourbon out of it.

What kind of experience have you had with aging your beer with wood?

 Posted by at 5:41 am
Aug 232013

Late last fall I took a stab at a Belgian Tripel.  I’ve been brewing for ten years but had never made one and at the request of a friend decided to go for it.  I wanted to give it plenty of time to “funk up” so I let it sit in secondary until June.  When I kegged it I noticed that it seemed darker than it had originally.  I thought that was strange.

I poured a glass.  It looks like this…

Purple Nurple

It’s a little less pronounced in the picture but the beer has a noticeably purple tinge to it.  It’s especially noticeable in the head.

It’s purple.  Why is it purple?  I’ve never made a purple beer before.  I don’t know how I’d make another.

If you were blindfolded and tried some you’d think that you were drinking a delicious Belgian beer.  It has no hop aroma, is a little spicey, and has a beautiful banana taste to it.

I’ve passed some around to some other homebrewers and the only thing they’ve been able to come up with is that the color change is the result of iodophor sanitizer coming in contact with unconverted starches.  I see two problems with this.

  1. The beer dried out to 1.006.  If I had starches that didn’t convert in the mash I would have expected a higher final gravity given that the O.G was 1.070.
  2. I haven’t used iodine as a sanitizer in a couple of years.  Nothing but Star San has touched this beer.

The beer is purple.  It tastes great and has given me a fun story to tell though, so I’ll take it.

What unexpected turns have your beers taken over the years?  Were they pleasant surprises?

2012-11-11 17.11.42
 Posted by at 5:51 am
Sep 302012

Last weekend, Matt brewed his traditional fall batch of Black Pumpkin Ale.  Because I lovingly made the trek to the farmer’s market to find and retrieve the necessary pumpkins, my sweet husband was happy to pick all the chunks of pumpkin out of the spent grains in his mash tun when he arrived home and rinse and collect them for me.  Though the pumpkins get cooked before brewing and then steep in the grains to extract flavor, there is plenty of pumpkin-ey goodness left for use in the kitchen.  In past years I have put the pumpkin chunks into baggies and tossed them into the freezer for wintertime use, but this year, with fall in the air and a grocery budget to stretch, I felt like using it up right away and I thought I’d share how I went about using up 10 cups of previously-brewed pumpkin chunks in just 6 days.

I used the first portion of the pumpkin in a soup that I’ve made many times over the years: a Curried Coconut Pumpkin Soup.  What I love about soups is that they are so un-fussy, so please overlook my complete lack of measured ingredients – it’s just not that important for this one!  Like most any soup, I started by sauteing a chopped onion in some olive oil, then added some homemade chicken stock, maybe 4 cups worth, and 5 or 6 chopped potatoes (these happened to be russets) and 4 or so cups of the pumpkin, then brought that all to a boil and cooked until the potatoes were good and tender, about 30 minutes.  At this point, I removed the soup from the heat and added a can of coconut milk and two tablespoons of curry, a few shakes of red pepper (crushed, not flakes), a bunch of minced garlic and some salt – spices are all to taste.  We like the spice in our house so you may like things more delicate than we do.  I stirred that up, then ran it through my blender to make it smooth and creamy.  I served it with some lovely biscuits and called it dinner.  While this soup has met with objectors in most of its previous incarnations, this time everyone was agreeable to it.  Miss A (the anti-vegetable) even had seconds and her big sister Miss C, who hates orange vegetables, found it to her liking as well, possibly because she called it “potato soup” and I did not correct her.

Later in the week I wanted to indulge the children for breakfast and tried this recipe for a Pumpkin Coffee Cake with Cream Cheese Swirl  .   I used two cups of pumpkin rather than 1 1/4 and because I had no applesauce in the house, though I’m sure that would have been wonderful, I used half a stick of butter in the recipe instead.   The cake was amazingly moist and so delicious.  I’ve filed this recipe away in my file for regular use!!

Finally, yesterday was “Pancake Saturday,” our family tradition, I woke up thinking about Pumpkin Pancakes!   I pureed up the rest of the pumpkin (about 4 cups) and the liquid in the bowl with enough maple syrup to allow it to get smooth in the blender.  I did spend some time waffling over whether to make the pumpkin puree into a hot “pumpkin butter” topping for regular pancakes or to just put the puree right into the batter and call it a day.   When I considered the logistics of having yet another pot on the stove while cooking up the pancakes on my two-frying-pan-system, simplicity won out and I added the pumpkin goo right into the batter and then added a good pile of cinnamon as well, plus some dry malt extract just for extra flavor dimension.  Matt took one look at my almost overflowing mixing bowl of batter and made some incredulous comments about my going overboard in making “all that” at once.  But the fact is that he has missed a good many pancake Saturdays and I have become a wicked pancake slinger this summer.  But I digress.  The pancakes were well-received.  They cooked up well and had a custard-like texture that was very smooth and satisfying.  The pumpkin flavor was rich and delicious.  There may have been 10 or so left, which the children happily ate for breakfast before church this morning.

I’ve heard rumors that there may be a second batch of Black Pumpkin Ale in the works yet this season and I’m hoping so, because I’d love to make use of another batch of previously-brewed pumpkin!  I wonder what else I can do with it??

Sep 292012

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.

To prepare the pumpkins I start out by halving them and cleaning out the seeds.  If you want to you can save the seeds and roast them later.  They make a tasty snack.

After cleaning the seeds out of the pumpkins the next step is to spice them.  In my recipe I heavily spice them with grated cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice.  The fresher the spices are the better.  Then I pour some water into a cookie sheet or baking stone, place the pumpkin halves skin side up on the cookie sheets and put them in a 350 degree oven and wait.

Roasting the pumpkins takes about 90 to 120 minutes.  The goal is to cook them long enough so that they are cooked all the way through and the skins come off easily.  The skins will start to look deflated and turn dark in color.

Once they’re cooked take them out and let them cool until they can be handled.  At that point you start cutting.  You want to end up with skinless pumpkin cubes that you can throw in your mash tun with your grains.  I’ve also heard of extract brewers steeping their pumpkin like they would specialty grains and my friend Tom prefers to just throw his in the boil.  There’s plenty of room for experimentation.

Once my wort is in the fermentor and the yeast is pitched I’ll typically pick some of it out of the spent grains, rinse it off, and freeze it.  There is still plenty of goodness left for pies, coffee cake, soup, or whatever else you are interested in.


 Posted by at 11:01 pm
Sep 292012

I’ve been brewing beer at home for almost ten years.  During that time I’ve moved from making all extract brews from book recipes, to all grain, to tweaking existing recipes, to coming up with brand new recipes on the fly in the parking lot of the brewing supply store.  I’ve learned a thing or two from some great brewers (some of which may be contributing to this site in the future) and managed a few discoveries on my own.

Like many who brew I spend a fair amount of time sharing what I’ve learned with other new brewers and have had a blast doing it.  I thought it might be neat to take it to the next level and start publishing some thoughts, tips, mistakes, and random musings about beer and making beer.  That’s the purpose of this site.

In addition, I hope that others will share their opinions and experiences as well.

Maybe we can get together for a beer sometime.


 Posted by at 9:37 pm