Tag Archives: homebrew

Mashing For Mammaries at Osborn Brewing

In honor of breast cancer awareness month a local homebrew supply store, Osborn Brewing, is hosting Mashing for Mammaries. The event will feature homebrewers from the local Middletown Area Society of Homebrewers (M*A*S*H) and the Cincinnati Malt Infusers (CMI) brewing beer throughout the day. If you have an interest in making your own beer this is a great time to stop by the store and see the variety of setups and methods available to you. Knowing homebrewers there will likely be a fair deal of drinking going on while brewing too.10-17-2013 2-20-54 PM

Besides the brewing there will also be a topless car wash and if plans come together then there will be raffles throughout the day and a cornhole tournament. If you’re available to judge the tournament or have things to donate for the raffle please contact Brent Osborn at (513) 360-0076. All proceeds will from these activities will go to Save the Ta-Tas. The events officially start at noon but some brewers, like myself, will likely be getting there around 10:30 to get setup.

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Book review: Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow

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When it comes to brewing wild/sour/funky beer, it turns out there aren’t many resources out there. Unlike homebrewing in general, where you’ll find more “how to brew” books than you could possibly know what to do this, the relatively esoteric niche of brewing both traditional Belgian sours and their newly Americanized brethren are sadly represented both in print and online. Online, you’ll find some great blogs like The Mad Fermentationist, Bear Flavored Ales, and brewing sub-forums like Homebrew Talk’s Lambic & Wild Brewing section. When it comes to print, though, Jeff Sparrow’s Wild Brews is pretty much the only game in town.

This might seem odd considering the glut of general homebrew books out there, but in many ways it makes sense. Brewing sour beers is a very, very small niche when you consider how small of a niche hobby homebrewing itself is to begin with. Also, this book has largely been canonical in the world of sour/wild beer brewing. Finally, it’s just not a part of brewing that is particularly well-understood. The use of Brettanomyces and souring bacteria, in my opinion and experience, is much more of an art than a science. You may be able to brew a house IPA over and over and over that you’ve been able to nail down, but on a homebrew level it’s going to be very difficult to brew the same lambic twice. There are just too many vaguely understood moving parts.

Wild Brew is less than 300 pages, but those 200-some odd pages are densely packed with a ton of information. I was concerned that it would be overly “science-y”, but my fears were unjustified. Even at its most scientifically in-depth sections, the average brewer should have no problem comprehending most of it.

The book starts with an overview and history of the classic Belgian sour styles (Lambics, Flanders reds, Flanders browns/Oud bruins), then proceeds to a whirlwind tour of the breweries in Belgium which brew and sell sours. Many of them you’ve probably heard of (Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, Rodenbach), but there were a handful that were new to me. There is an illustration section which shows photos of many of these breweries.

It then proceeds on to the science of how sour beers end up like they do, describing the yeast/bacteria involved, the life cycle of fermentation, and the effects of different fermentation vessels that pro brewers use. It then wraps up by explaining how you can make this magic at home and provides a number of recipes that you can use to brew these classic styles.

Verdict? Wild Brews really is canonical for a reason. The information contained in it is damn near exhaustive when it comes to brewing classic Belgian sours. It’s an invaluable asset to any homebrewers who want to start down the path of brewing sours or even for the sour beer lover who wants a better understanding of how the beer he or she is drinking was made. The only qualm I have with the book is that I wish that Mr. Sparrow would issue an updated version of the book. I realize it focuses primarily on the classic Belgian styles of sour beers, but a lot has changed (in particular, in the United States) since 2005 when it comes to craft beer and the rise of sour/wild beers. New strains of Brettanomyces and Brett/bacteria blends have been released by White Labs and Wyeast since then, as well. Overall, though, that’s just me nit-picking and it shouldn’t deter anyone from purchasing this book. Available for less than $15, this is easily the most enlightening homebrew-related book I’ve read since I opened John Palmer’s How to Brew and started down this fun path.

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The Things I’ve Learned from Brewing Sour Beer

I love sour beers and I love homebrewing. Makes sense that I’d combine the two and brew some sour beers, right? It sounded so simple.

The third beer I ever brewed was a sour beer. I brewed it in the summer of 2011 and bottled it in February of 2013. I had pretty much no idea what I was doing. Over that time I’ve done many things: I brewed a bunch of other beers (sours included), read almost 100 books, my wife and I renovated our first house, we had a beautiful baby girl, and I learned many, many things about what to do and not to do while brewing sour beers. I actually just bottled my second sour (a sour blonde with Sauvignon Blanc grapes added during aging) and I figured this was about as good a time as any to put some of this stuff down on paper. It isn’t exhaustive or anything; just stuff that has been bouncing around in my head.

FYI: A much more exhaustive and knowledgeable brain dump on sours is found at The Mad Fermentationist. That site has been the single most useful source of information regarding brewing sours that I have come upon.

1. Be patient – Brewing a sour is different than brewing pretty much anything else, at least in terms of the time commitment. You’re looking at a year plus before you have something even remotely close to bottle. Leave your beer alone and don’t take gravity/tasting samples every week or even every month. You won’t be able to tell much of a difference between these samples if they’re too frequent, plus you introduce unnecessary and vinegar-inducing oxygen. In the early stages, it’s probably going to taste horrible anyways and you’re going to get freaked out. Just leave it alone. My rule now is to leave a new batch alone for 6 months before testing gravity and tasting. At that point you should get a good idea as to what you’re getting into and what you’d like to add in terms of bottle dregs, fruit, oak, etc.

2. Keep your airlocks topped off – Oxygen allows acetobacter to turn beer into vinegar. You don’t want to find out that the beer you waited on for a year isn’t drinkable just because you did something silly like not keep your airlock full of fluid.

3. Commercial cultures are only a base to build upon – Wyeast and White Labs both carry a number of cultures which contain everything you need to brew a sour beer. Wyeast Lambic blend, for instance, contains a Belgian style ale strain, two Brettanomyces strains, a sherry strain, and all the other bacteria typically needed to brew sour beer are all included in one package. These cultures will create a perfectly acceptable sour beer, but one without a ton of complexity or variation. The fun in brewing sours is the use of bottle dregs. By adding the dregs of a few of your favorite sours during fermentation, you can add an “oomph” in terms of both additional sourness and complexity. With my first sour, I added dregs from pretty much everything under the sun. With my second, I maintained a tad bit more discipline and kept it to two: Cantillon Fou Foune and Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus. I liked the characteristics of both of those beers and wanted them, and only them, in mine.

4. Get a cycle going – A year is a long time, yes, but it seems like less if you know you don’t have to wait another year to bottle another batch. By brewing a new sour every 3-4 months, once that first year is over, you should have a pretty solid backlog of beers going. You also have the added bonus of being able to pitch a new batch onto the cake of a freshly-bottled batch to make things simpler/cheaper. I’m still working on this one.

5. Re-yeast at bottling – Traditional unblending lambics are mostly uncarbonated, but I don’t care for my sours this way (and I don’t brew traditional lambics anyways), so I carbonate mine. After at least a year of fermenting and aging, almost all, if not all, of the ale yeast initially pitched in the blend will be inactive, so you’re not going to get much in terms of post-bottling carbonation without adding new yeast, even if you do add priming sugar. I’ve used wine or champagne yeast in the past because it’s cheap (about a $1 per pack), it doesn’t impart any flavor, and it can work in an acidic environment. I’ve used both Red Star Champagne Yeast and Lalvin EC-1118 with luck

Just a note: I don’t purport to be an expert on brewing sours or even claim to mostly know what I’m doing. I’m still learning all the time, like any good homebrewer should. The world of homebrewing sours is still a very new thing, relative to homebrewing in general and there are, to quote an infamous U.S. Secretary of Defense, many “unknown uknowns”. Maybe the above will help at least one person getting into brewing sours, and that’s good enough for me.

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Bloggers First Home Brew

What follows should not be viewed as a how-to on home brewing as we likely did things wrong, this is just my experience as a first time home brewer.

You may be wondering why I’ve never home brewed before, when you home brew you make 5 gallons of beer equaling about 52 12 oz bottles. What I enjoy most about beer is the wide variety available and I normally only buy 1 bottle of a beer.

While hanging around the neighborhood fire pit I discovered a neighbor who is interested in brewing beer and one who tried once before but gave up. With the 3 of us working together splitting costs and results I’d end up with about 18 bottles, a much more enticing number for me.

One last hurtle was that living in Monroe means a 45 minute drive to a home brew store. That changed when Osborn Brewing opened only 10 minutes away. Brent, the owner, heard of our plans and invited us up to brew along with him last month.

Brew day

Steeping the grain

With the day at hand we packed up the rig plus a couple beers and headed to the store. With everything setup at the store we began brewing… which is to say waiting, lots of waiting. Waiting for the grain to steep, waiting for the sweet wort to boil, waiting for the hopped wort to cool, and now waiting for the yeast to do it’s magic and turn that wort into a pale ale.

Over all not a bad way to spend the afternoon. You get up do a bit of activity: check the temp every once in a while, drink a couple beers, add some bittering hops, chew the fat, add some flavoring hops and keep on waiting.

Bottling day

After 6 days of waiting [which we later found out is way too short] the yeast appeared to finally stop doing it’s thing and it was time to transfer our creation into bottles.

The entire bottling operation was easily the most amount of continuous effort we had exerted thus far in process as there was very little waiting around today. We had 1 guy pulling bottles off the tree, I was filling the bottles, and another guy was picking them up to cap them. Then more waiting this time for 21 days. We only made it 14 days before impatience won and we cracked one open.

We ended up taking pale ale ingredients with brown ale instructions and made a not-horrible hoppy sessionable brown ale. Nice aroma and smooth caramel flavor with a decently bitter background. Some sweetness comes out stronger as it warms a bit. Though there was a bit of vinegar kind of off flavor. We may not may have made what we intended but we did make drinkable beer on our first time out… and as I finish this post our second brew is fermenting.

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How to sour mash homebrew (AKA: sour beers for impatient homebrewers)

As the thirst for sour and funky beer has taken over the craft beer scene in the form of lambics, Berliner Weisses, and various other Brettanomyces and bacteria-inspired beers; homebrewers have also taken a hankering for trying their hand at these unique beers. There is a large gap, however, between the ease of acquiring a bottle of many sour/funky beers and being able to drink a bottle of your own creation. In the former case, you merely have to skip down to your better beer store and part ways with some cash; the latter involves much, much more time and effort. Particularly time: many lambics and sours take upwards of one to two years to 1) reach an acceptable flavor profile and, 2) reach terminal gravity so you don’t have exploding bottles as fermentation continues in them.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder that there hasn’t been an explosion of homebrewing sours. Sure, I’m certain more people are doing so than 1, 5, or 10 years ago, but the number of these people are dwarfed by both the number of new homebrewers and the number of new fans of sours. It makes sense since patience is not a virtue that is widely held by the human race. I bottled my last IPA 8 days after brewing it; I bottled by first sour 13 months after brewing it. Is there no hope for sour beer lovers who would hope to crank something out in a month or two that is both sour and drinkable? This is where sour mashing comes into play. Continue reading

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Homebrew kit review: Midwest Supplies’ Ferocious IPA (Part 2: The Brew Day)

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[See Part 1 of the review for this kit here.]

After unpacking it earlier in the week, I settled on last Sunday to brew up my Midwest Supplies Ferocious, a Surly Furious clone. Everything went swimmingly, which (even though I’m an extract brewer) isn’t always the case. Split the malt extract between half at the beginning of the boil and half with ten minutes remaining to cut down on caramelization of the syrup and it ending up too dark. I also messed with the hop schedule a little bit to account for the fact that this was a “no chill” batch. I’ve had good luck with the no chill method over my last few batches, but this was the first hoppy beer I’ve done with it, so we’ll see how it works.

Started with 5.75 gallons of water, which at the end of the boil was just about 5 gallons on the dot. Hit 1.065 for my gravity, which was, again, right on the dot. If it ferments to a finishing gravity which I am hoping for, this will end up at a nice 6.5% ABV. It’s currently bubbling away in an ale pail at 66 degrees. I’ll test it’s gravity this weekend and once again a few days later and, if it has fermented to where I want it to be, the dry hopping will start.

There is one thing I wanted to discuss before I signed off. That is the use of Fermcap/foam control/whatever your homebrew store calls it.

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Because I am still getting a handle on my propane burner, I about 50% of the time boil over my wort. It always irritates me for several reasons, the two most important ones being 1) it’s a waste of wort – if that wort is on the ground, it’s not going to be made into beer; and 2) it makes me paranoid. Brewing is supposed to be fun, but when I’m standing over my brewpot waiting for the hot break and it to start to foam up, it’s nerve wracking. I’ll get better at managing it, but right now it’s not one of my strong points.

Enter foam control. This cheap ($3.50 for a small vial that will last you for quite some time) and readily available. One to two drops per gallon will essentially eliminate the chance of boil over by reducing the surface tension of the wort. I don’t entirely understand the science of it, but it worked like a charm. I boiled it hard to test it and it never had a chance of boiling over.

The foam control can also be used in fermentation to prevent blowoffs (again, one to two drops per gallon). This is immensely helpful if you’re boiling or fermenting in a container that is not much larger in volume than the wort you have on hand. I used it for fermentation, as well, and while I have vigorous airlock activity, there is absolutely no krausen being produced at all. Pretty darn cool. Provided it doesn’t make my beer taste disgusting or having any other negative side effects, this stuff gets my highest recommendations.

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Homebrew kit review: Midwest Supplies’ Ferocious IPA (Part 1: The Contents)

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When it comes to homebrewing, I typically like to keep it local. Listermann , who is my preferred shop in the area, not only is pretty close to my house, but the staff is extremely helpful and they carry a relatively wide range of products. Not to mention, you can pick up some Listermann/Triple Digit beer while you’re there. For eastsiders, Paradise Brewing is an excellent option; for westsiders, the newly opened Brew Monkeys looks to be promising.

I will admit, though, I can be lazy at times. Sometimes I just want all the makings for my next batch or two of homebrew delivered to my door. Lazy homebrewers like myself are amazingly well-served online. My favorite is Northern Brewer, though I often make larger purchase from MoreBeer due to the fact that shipping is free on orders over $59 (they also have very cheap dry malt extract). I had never purchased anything from Midwest Supplies before, but have heard great things from a number of people. When they contacted me to review one of their kits, I jumped at the opportunity.

It’s been a while since I’ve used a kit, since I typically like to come up with my own recipes, but sometimes it’s nice to let someone else make the decisions. Looking through their kit selection, I was like a kid in a candy store. They have over one-hundred options, encompassing pretty much every type of beer imaginable. I chose their Ferocious IPA, a clone of Surly Furious, for several reasons.

  1. I wanted to pick something that didn’t need to sit in a secondary for months. I have enough trouble with my patience dealing with the stuff I already have aging.
  2. It’s been over a year since I’ve brewed an IPA. I love hoppy beers, but when I can go grab a six-packs of Two Hearted from down the street, it’s tough to justify brewing an IPA that won’t be remotely as delicious. Oh – and hops are expensive. Yes, I’m cheap.
  3. Surly Furious is an amazing  beer. For those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to try it, it’s a quite unconventional IPA in that its color is much darker than most and that its yeast it not quite as neutral as most. Yes it’s hoppy as hell, but it’s balanced by a nice caramel malt. Very good stuff.

So, what exactly is in this box? Let’s get to unpacking and see… Continue reading

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