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Single Malt, Single Hop, Single Gallon (Homebrewing)

4 Oct

I’ve kept homebrewing a low-tech, visceral, hands-on hobby as a contrast to large engineering systems that occupy another part of my life.  Part of this has been focusing on the process, ingredients, and history more than the equipment.

Partial-mash brewing (mashing modest quantities of grain but depending on liquid barley malt extract for more of the sugars) is one way to more easily brew indoors on a small electric stovetop rather than having to manhandle 15lbs of grain through multiple kettles, and I’ve been happy with several of the beers I’ve made using this method.

But I’ve wanted to get down to the simplest kernel of brewing– whole grain, water, hops, and yeast, and try more experiments especially on the grain variety and the mashing process. And 5 gallons of beer goes a long way. So I tried scaling down to single-gallon batches, and it’s been invigorating– it’s unlocked casual weeknight after-work brewing as a possibility (even after-dinner before-bed brewing depending on timing– it’s about three and a half hours from beginning to end including prep and clean-up) and made stovetop all-grain brewing much more practical. Yes, it’s much more work per beer. But it’s still less work per batch, and only getting 8 or 9 beers out is still enough to sip over the following month / share with a few friends.

One week in August, I even brewed two batches in one week (with bottling/cleanup on the same day about a month later to save some time), both very simple / elemental beers to get to know some ingredient and part of the process.

Batch #10 involved only a single grain (Maris Otter, a particular English variety of 2-row barley) and a single hop (East Kent Goldings).

Here’s the “Brew In A Bag” setup: whole grains in cheesecloth soaked in very specific-temperature water (148F-155F depending what you’re trying to get out of the grain), easy to remove and drain after mashing (not shown: the lid and blanket used to insulate and maintain temperature, and the second pot of higher-temperature “sparge water” used to rinse wort off the grains afterwards to increase yield):

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For this beer, I mashed at the low end of the temperature range to try to get a drier, less sweet, less complex beer, hitting a post-boil specific gravity of 1.044 (on the low side, meaning I should expect a roughly 4% ABV session ale out of this, though I ended up around 5% ABV because it fermented all the way down to 1.006 — mashing at low temperature means very few of the less fermentable long-chain complex sugars are produced, so the yeast can ferment almost everything present). In this carboy it looks darker in color because of the thickness, but it’s the yellow second beer from the right in the line of glasses another photo down.

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Above, from left to right: two hard ciders I was fermenting at the same time, this all-Maris-Otter batch, and on the right, Batch #11: a reddish Munich-Malt-and-Fuggles (also a one-gallon, single-grain, single-hop) beer.

After bottling both batches a month later (Simple Beer experiments deserve a simple label):

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Another few weeks later I tried them. While they weren’t fully carbonated so should condition a few more weeks, they were both already interesting enough to declare this a success:

The Maris Otter ale was a pleasant, very mild beer, with a slight smell of straw, and a light barley/hay/nutty taste. It had almost no bitterness (just enough to give a hint) and no sweetness.

The 100% Munich Malt ale on the other hand had a caramelized malt nose almost reminiscent of a lighter doppelbock (one of my favorite styles), and a robust flavor of caramelized grain– not sweet in a sugary sort of way, but with the mix of flavors you get from Maillard reactions or a brown shiny crust on a nice loaf of bread. Again, it had almost no bitterness or hop flavor (by design), and wasn’t especially complex, but I would happily drink this any day. I’d mashed the malt for this beer at the high end of the typical temperature range (155F), which was supposed to result in “more complex sugars / resulting in lower alcohol content and a full bodied beer with a lot of mouth-feel”. What do you know, chemistry works…

Cider Pressing and Fermenting

3 Sep

85 lbs of backyard apples + 19th century cast iron grinder and cider press + an afternoon of elbow grease (x2) + yeast + a few months = single-varietal Adina hard cider:

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The raw juice had a pH of 3.3 (a reasonable level for hard cider) and a specific gravity of 1.050 (expected, should result in a 6.5% ABV cider after fermentation all the way to dry).

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Fermenting with the special White Labs WLP775 cider yeast (rather than the dry champagne yeast and ale yeasts I’d used back in the previous kitchen-scale hard cidering with store-bought cider) in a glass carboy and then resting to condition/clarify/settle:

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And, about a month later, we racked it into bottles with a little sugar to carbonate it. As usual for a cider, it had fermented all the sugars (down to a specific gravity of 0.996, below even water). In a few months (just in time for Thanksgiving?) we’ll see how it is… but even the first taste of the unaged still cider was interesting– tart in a very crabapple way, but not at all harsh.

Update: Later– bottled and labeled:

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Homebrew #6: Fatherland Imperial Stout

23 Jun

My most successful homebrewing by far deserved some extra effort on the label (laser-cut paper laminated to silver foil):

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It’s “homebrew #6” because I brewed it back in December and let it age for five months (it could probably go another half year, even).

And it really turned out well. Rich, dark, smooth but not sweet, almost like bittersweet baking chocolate and with none of the overt “roasted coffee” flavor I don’t like in some imperial stouts. And it’s powerful. Did I mention it’s 10% ABV?

It involved ten grains (the usual suspects plus Carafa III, roast barley, aromatic malt, 40L, 120L, black malt, and chocolate malt), substantial amounts of Eastern European hops (Styrian Goldings and Perle), a whopping 1.100 original gravity, and a compressed gas cylinder of pure oxygen that I dosed it with to help the yeast take it on.

For one special gallon out of the batch, I dropped in toasted chunks of oak I’d soaked in port for a month, as my approximation of aging in a port barrel. I’ll have to try one of those soon and see how it turned out.

 

Homebrew #9: Wet Hot American Saison

22 Jun

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I’ve wanted to brew a saison for a while, and when the San Francisco May Heat Wave struck (88 degrees during the day– the horror!) I knew I had to jump on it (saisons are traditionally fermented at higher temperatures, and I hadn’t built a hot water bath or heating jacket).

Inspired by the Modern Times Lomaland saison (which they publish the recipe for on that site), I brewed with barley malt, wheat and flaked corn, Saaz hops, and some acidulated malt, plus the White Labs saison yeast another friend had used to great success in the past (the yeast is the defining characteristic of the saison flavor, after all).

Fermenting around 80-85F was brisk in pace, taking it from an OG of 1.048 down to a FG of 1.010 (5% ABV)  in about 4 days. I let it condition for another two weeks, and a month after bottling gave it a try.

It’s pretty good, I give it a solid B: distinctively a saison, but a bit heavy on the banana-like esters in the smell nose that are produced by yeast fermenting at high temperature (especially once it warms up). If I brew it again I think I’d up the acid malt and aroma hops slightly and keep the temperature lower the first few days of fermentation.

As usual, I also had to give it a goofy name and label.

Limoncello (+ lime, bergamot)

3 May

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Peels of each type of citrus (meyer lemon, lime, and bergamot) soaked in vodka for a month in a dark cupboard, swirled gently every few days.

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After a month, I strained the peels out of the vodka. Instead of just adding a simple syrup, I got another set of each type of citrus (meyer lemons and limes from friends’ back yards, and I was fortunately still able to find fresh bergamot at Bi-Rite) and made each into an oleo saccharum– and then used that citrus-oil-infused sugar as the sweetener.

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From left to right: Limecello, Bergamot Arancello, Limoncello

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High enough in alcohol to keep a bottle in the freezer without it turning to ice,  good as an after-dinner digestif.

Homebrew, Cider, Snacks

14 Apr

What was going to be “an informal bread, cheese, and homebrew hard cider tasting” expanded a bit, as it always does.

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Highlights were the small carrots roasted in cider, the hummus made with plenty of garlic and a little cider vinegar in lieu of lemon juice, #3 of the hard cider experiments (made with unpasteurized cider and champagne yeast), the fennel salami mail-ordered from Seattle (which I’ve wanted to do ever since having it on a trip) and the Russian Imperial Stout (rich, coffee-like, well-hopped (not actively bitter but it kept the alcohol in check), 10% ABV, aged 4 months so far since brewing and really supposed to go 6+).

And the small, excellent group of friends-in-partaking.

Homebrew(?) #8: Making Hard Cider

1 Feb

I had four one gallon glass jugs and airlocks from the Rye ESB experiments (dosing with different hops and juniper), so I was on the lookout for another side by side brewing experiment. Then late last year I saw some fresh unpasteurized (rare!) cider at a farmers’ market and I had a project.

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There are so many things you can vary in cider– pasteurized or unpasteurized starting cider, type of apple, yeast (natural, cider, ale, champagne), adding extra sugar pre-fermentation (which primarily just boosts the alcohol, not the sweetness, since the yeast consumes it all), sweet vs. dry,  sparkling vs. still, and so on.

I decided to keep it simple this time and just make three batches, varying the source of cider, yeast used, and pasteurized vs. not, but staying with a simple dry, sparkling, no-extra-sugar style without any added flavorings. I made half a gallon to a gallon of each, and a month later bottled them (and of course couldn’t bottle something without making a custom label…). In a few months I’ll see how they turned out…

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This was all originally inspired by reading a stranger’s documentation of 80 one-gallon hard cider batches made with different yeasts, juices, and sugars:

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And to look up later– jotting down a few notes collected from reading and talking to people who’ve made cider:

  • Hard cider was traditionally made with more tart, sour apples– modern eating apples aren’t really the ideal source of juice for it.
  • You could make hard cider by just letting unpasteurized cider sit for months– the wild yeast on the skins will eventually ferment it, though you have less control over the final product and it could take a long time
  • People also often add yeast to have more predictable fermentation, ranging from champagne yeast (a neutral taste, ferments it very dry like a wine) to beer ale yeasts, to cider yeasts (selected over time to not handle high alcohol levels well– more about that below)
  • Unlike beer, which has a range of more complex sugars in the wort that yeast can not easily ferment (which leads to some residual sweetness and body after the fermentation is complete), the sugar in apple cider (like most fruit sugars and cane sugar) is simple and easily fermented. This means that unless you interrupt fermentation in some way (such as “cold crashing” — setting cider in the fridge to drop most yeast out of suspension, or adding something that kills the yeast), all the sugar will be fermented and you will end up with a completely dry cider with no sweetness (a final specific gravity of about 1.000). Some people like this, and older ciders were this way, but it’s a question of style.
  • You can’t get a sweeter cider by just letting it ferment dry and then adding significant sugar before bottling– the residual yeast will ferment this sugar in the bottle, produce CO2, and eventually build up enough pressure to cause the bottle to shatter.

So generally, your easy options for some combination of sweetness and/or carbonation are either:

  • A dry sparkling cider (let it ferment fully, then add a measured small amount of priming sugar before bottling, just as you would when bottling a beer– this sugar will be consumed by the residual yeast and produce the CO2 for carbonation). This is what I did for this batch.
  • A sweet still cider (do something to halt the yeast before it fully ferments the cider, and then bottle– but with the yeast halted, no carbonation will be produced)
  • A sweet carbonated cider through non-standard sugars (ferment dry, use yeast plus priming sugar to carbonate, and also add Splenda, xylitol, or some other non-sugar sweetener that the yeast can’t digest). I had no interest in using this sort of additive.
  • Or, do what larger breweries do and brew a sweet, still cider, deactivate the yeast, then force carbonate it with a cylinder of CO2 in a keg.
  • Some specially-bred cider yeasts have been selected over many generations to go dormant in the presence of moderate alcohol levels– so they stop working before every last bit of sugar has been fermented and leave a slight bit of sweetness.

Homebrew #6: Thee No Cees IPA

31 Jan

A remake of homebrew #5 (my anti-Cascade/Columbus/Chinook/Crystal IPA) which had turned out quite well. I tweaked a few things in the recipe and brewing process but mostly tried to replicate it.

I brewed on Christmas day, bottled mid-January, just cracked open the first bottle– and I’m happy with the results.

A powerful, fresh citrus and herbal smell with no dank/pine in it, a moderately strong (7% ABV), slightly malty, slightly orange flavor, and a long hoppy aftertaste (but not in a bitter way). Just the style of IPA I like to drink (in some ways, like a higher-alcohol extra pale ale).

And of course I had to make labels:

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On a reused Abita bottle:

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Just standard beer ingredients– pale malt and a little red wheat and rye, plus Warrior, Amarillo, Simcoe, and Sorachi Ace hops (with a light hand on the bittering hops and a huge dose of dry hopping with especially Sorachi Ace five days before bottling), and our excellent San Francisco Hetch Hetchy water (plus a campden tablet to remove any chloramine).

Infusing Bourbon

15 Dec

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Some purists might say– a waste of good bourbon!

But I had a bottle and a half of Woodford Reserve left from Derby Day and I haven’t been drinking it… so it was time to split it into smaller batches, soak various herbs and spices in each, and strain into bottles….

Homebrew #5: “The NO.C. IPA”

24 Sep

Early August brewing -> Labor Day bottling party with friends -> obligatory caps:

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A few weeks later:

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I’ve had a cyclic love-hate relationship with IPAs over the years.

While I love so many bitter foods (nettles, beetroot, sorrel, tonic water, chicory, escarole, campari), many IPAs including broadly well-regarded ones like Pliny the Elder are a complete turnoff to me. After a few years and a disappointing visit to the Oregon Brewers Festival, I’ve figured out that I don’t like the heavy bittering hops, astringent hops, or the piney Northwestern hops (especially Cascade and Columbus), but can enjoy the smell and a range of the more fruity, dank, or spicy hops. And while I like many session beers, I generally like my IPAs balanced with plenty of alcohol and malt, pushing me into the Double IPA / Imperial IPA territory.

So I set out to make an IPA based around just the hops I liked most from some old Mikkeller single-hop beer tasting parties. Maybe I’ll call it “The NO.C. IPA” (or “The Noh Sees”?… depending what kind of California in-joke I want to make). No Cascade, Columbus, Centennial, or Citra hops. No Crystal malt. Just:

  • Pale malt (two-row barley), plus a little rye and wheat
  • Warrior hops for bittering
  • Amarillo for flavor, and aroma (dry hop)
  • Sorachi Ace (I had to mail order them) for flavor and aroma (dry hop)
  • A small amount of Simcoe in the dry hop, but trying to keep it subtle
  • A neutral American ale yeast (US-05)

I brewed it strong, ending up around 8% ABV. After the usual brewing processes (including fermenting in the cool garage around 60F, four weeks in a primary with no secondary, dry hopping 5 days before the end, cold crashing, and bottling), I let it sit for a few weeks.

And I’m happy with how this turned out. I’d give it an (A-) and would pay real money for this beer.

Notes I wrote down when tasting it early, before bottling:

Orange/lemon/tangerine. No pine(!) — good. Subtle simcoe. Mellow fruity/oily hop, slight tropical. No obvious NW. Still a sharp bitter hoppy aftertaste (maybe from the 75min boil).

And then a few week later, after conditioning and carbonating:

Some grapefruit/lemon smell but more tangerine/orange. No bitterness on nose. Very faint musk (Simcoe). A little bite/spicy on the roof of the mouth. No longer any lingering bitterness or aftertaste.