Tag Archives: homebrew

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):



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





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.

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.





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.


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…


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:


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:


On a reused Abita bottle:


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).

The Robot Ate 2013

31 Dec

A few most memorable 2013 food moments. It’s partly about the food, partly about the company– pretty much all of these involved a small group of good friends.

(blah blah blah, year in review, blah blah blah)

Homebrew #4: Sour & Salty (Gose)

18 Aug

For my forth batch, I wanted to try something more adventurous. I’ve always liked sour beers, but many of them take 6 to 12 months to ferment… but I heard from a friend about another way to make a sour beer using a starter, and I’d recently had a Leipziger Gose I enjoyed, so I decided to try something in the general Gose vein:

13 - 1

Per Wikipedia:“Gose is a beer style of Leipzig, Germany, brewed with at least 50% of the grain bill being malted wheat. Dominant flavours in Gose include a lemon tartness, a herbal characteristic, and a strong saltiness (the result of either local water sources or added salt). Because of the use of coriander and salt, Gose does not comply with the Reinheitsgebot. It is allowed an exemption on the grounds of being a regional specialty.”

I made the sour starter by leaving about 2 Tbsp of cracked two-row malted barley and 1 Tbsp of agave syrup in a cup and a half of water out on the windowsill, letting the bacteria that naturally live on the grain husk start to ferment the sugar. After a few days, there was a white scum on the top, it smelled sour, and the pH had dropped well below 4.0, which was a good sign: at this pH, bacteria like lactobacillus and pediococcus can live and produce lactic acid (the sourness present in yogurt and one way to sour a beer), but it’s too acidic for bad-tasting or more dangerous bacteria (e.g. botulism) to survive.


I then prepared the main wort:

Base grains:

  • 3/4 lbs 2-row barley
  • 1 lb malted wheat
  • 0.5 lbs flaked wheat
  • 0.5 lbs rolled outs
  • 3 lbs wheat DME
  • 2.25 lbs pilsner DME

I mashed the cracked grains for 45 minutes in 1.5 gallons of 150F water, then added 2 more gallons and the dry malts. Rather than boiling the wort and adding hops at this point as I would with a normal batch, I let it cool to about 100F, poured in the windowsill-soured starter I’d made the previous day, covered the pot and wrapped it in insulating towels, and let it sit for a day. This let the bacteria in the sour starter take over the wort, multiplying and souring the entire batch.

The next afternoon, I resumed brewing– I brought the now sweet-and-sour wort to a rolling boil, which also has the effect of killing any lactobacillus and other wild flora growing in it– this means the initial souring is as sour as the beer will get and I won’t get the more complex flavor of many sour beers, but I also don’t have to worry about other contamination multiplying after I bottle and ruining the beer over time. I boiled it for an hour as usual, adding hops and other flavoring typical of the Gose style:

  • 0.5oz Santiam hops @ 60min
  • 0.8oz salt @ 60min (about 0.5oz sea salt + 0.3oz lemon flake salt)
  • 0.45oz coriander seeds @ 5min


After cooling with a borrowed wort chiller, I tested the OG and it was 1.057 (corrected for temperature)– exactly what I’d been shooting for. Into a second bucket it went (since my first bucket was busy fermenting a Rye Session):


I pitched in the yeast started I’d also prepared the night before (Boiled 2 pts water + ½ cup pilsner DME for 10min. Cooled the light wort covered in a cold water sink (maybe 15min) until cool, around 85F. Put in a sanitized quart jar, pitched room-temperature White Labs 029 Kolsch yeast, covered w/ sanitized foil, shook for about a minute to heavily aerate, then set on counter to sit overnight) and off we went.


It fermented vigorously over the next few days, and other than a few tastes and gravity samples I let it go for three weeks, until the yeast dropped out, the SF stabilized at 1.015 (about 5.5% ABV), and it cleared up, eventually looking like this. Mysterious.


Before bottling, I took a taste (uncarbonated): it had a lightly sour smell, a pale, malty body with a hard to pin down “funky yogurt-like” taste, not really lip-smacking tart or citric acid acidic. We’ll see if it ends up undrinkable or interesting.

For extra amusement, I decided to label it Gözer, as a shout-out to both everyone’s favorite Ghostbusters villain and the Gose style:

goofy labels

Homebrew #3: Pumpernickel Sandwich Session

17 Aug

I’ve always been a fan of rye as a grain, and wanted to brew a beer where it was taken to extremes. Thus:

grain scale



The details:

Browsing around, I read about Roggenbier, an older rarely-made German beer style made with as much as 50% rye, dating from a time and region where barley was not as plentiful (and according to Wyeast Labs, similar to a dunkelweizen but with rye instead of wheat). Other reading suggested that much of the flavor of rye doesn’t come through in steeping– you really need to mash it (and get enzymes to convert the starches to sugars), though other homebrewers I’ve talked to disagree. In any case, this seemed like a good excuse to make a grain-heavy beer, though still with some malt extract as backup (I’ve promised myself I’ll keep my brewing low-tech, at least until I’ve brewed five times successfully and am sure I’ll keep doing it).

At SF Brewcraft, I browsed the dozens of grain options:


I took as my inspiration this thread on homebrewtalk discussing converting a roggenbier recipe from all-grain to partial mash, and tweaked the recipe to balance the volume I was able to find Munich Liquid Malt Extract in and to make a few other changes.


  • 2 lbs pilsner malt
  • 6.25lbs rye malt (!!)
  • 0.75 lbs flaked rye added as last-minute choice (the guy at SF brewcraft said it would help give the beer more head vs. just malted rye)
  • 0.5lb caramunich (a medium-dark crystal malt)
  • 2oz carafa ii special (a dehusked/debittered chocolate malt: SF Brewcraft has it though the bin is just labeled “carafa”)
  • 3.3 lbs Munich Liquid Malt Extract

Hops: (European-style hops that should have a slightly earthy/spicy flavor)

  • 1 oz Tettnanger @60
  • 1 oz Saaz @15

Yeast: (a larger than usual amount as I expected a bit higher gravity and a challenging fermentation)

  • 11g Munich Wheat Beer yeast
  • 5g S-04 English Ale Yeast

I followed the usual partial mash procedure, but the 9.5 lbs of dry grains posed some logistical challenges. I’d heated 3 gallons (about 1.25 qts/lb) of water, but I hadn’t reckoned with how porridge-like rye would become when dunked in water — now I understand why people talk about using rice hulls to fluff up a grain bed when using such sticky grains. After the usual 60 minutes of steeping at around 150F, I lifted out the grain bag… and much of the water came out with it, unwilling to release from the grains. If I’d planned ahead I could have poured hotter water over it or used any number of tricks, but this was late in a long day of hanging out with friends, and I didn’t want to spend too much time slaving over the stove, so I let it go and decided to live with the low efficiency and brew it as a lower-alcohol session beer.


After adding the liquid malt extract, doing the hop boil, and so on, I was down from 3 gallons of wort to only 2… I added more make-up water (just bringing it up to 4 gallons to avoid too much dilution), got everything into the fermenter, and I was at an OG of 1.043 : suggesting a 3-4% beer.


The yeast took off on a nice fermenting kick. I took a few samples over the next few weeks but mostly left it alone for five and a half weeks (it was likely done at around three and a half, but I wanted to synchronize the bottling of this and a later batch on the same later date). It finally stabilized at a well-attenuated SG of 1.011, suggesting an ABV of 3.8%.

Three weeks in, it tasted like slightly bitter straw, or a piece of rye toast with more bitterness than expected. By the time I bottled it, though, it was better– really like a slice of pumpernickel toast (“chewy”), with only a little sweetness. I’m cautiously optimistic…

Bottling and labeling day arrived, and I decided to add 3.6oz of dextrose dissolved in hot water for a light level of carbonation (2.5 “volumes of CO2”, as carbonation is traditionally rated, on the high end  for an English Ale, but low for most other styles):


DSC02373 (1)

The labeling shown earlier took a little extra effort– I photocopied a design onto brown craft paper, but the usual milk paste didn’t stick this porous paper to the glass well– eventually I fell back on rubber cement for some bottles.

Now I just need to be patient for 3-4 weeks…

[edit: 3 weeks later]

I’ve shared a few of these with friends and I’m happy with the result. A small but dense foamy head on the pour. A chewy, distinctly rye, flavorful beer with mild bitterness, light on the alcohol. Good with bread, cheese, and salad, and feels like a solid “at the end of a day of work in the fields” drink. The hop/yeast residue varied– some bottles we opened were a clear dark amber all the way through, others had residual hop and yeast silt at the bottom (probably an artifact of the non-ideal three-hands-full solo bottling, where the siphon kept dipping down into the trub at the bottom of the fermenter).

I declare success.


5 Jul

My first homebrew, a summer IPA:

Summer IPA

I enjoyed the process, so hey, maybe I’ll keep doing it. This weekend I shared this first batch with friends, bottled a second batch (an ESB), and started fermenting a third (a mostly-rye ale).

I’d decided to keep the equipment and process simple (just one pot and one fermenter, working with local water, etc), at least until I’ve brewed five or ten times and have a better feeling for it. In photos, an amalgamation of the first two batches:



Delicious Hetch Hetchy Reservoir water, straight from the kitchen tap (ignoring mineral/pH tuning for now):


Steeping grains at 150-155F in a pot covered and wrapped with a towel (not only for flavor– this temperature and the use of some diastatic malted barley along with specialty grains should also produce some enzymatic conversion of starches to sugars):

IMG_20130519_185118_849 IMG_20130519_194251_321

Adding liquid malt (barley) extract to provide the bulk of the fermentable sugars (which also gave me more leeway in the previous step, as I wasn’t depending on the whole grains for a specific amount of sugar), and boiling:

liquid malt extractIMG_20130519_200042_817

Adding hops at specific intervals during the one hour wort boil (to provide bitterness and flavor and a bit of hop aroma), then chilling the pot of wort in a sink of ice water:


Mixing with fresh water to bring it up to 5 gallons in a simple plastic bucket fermenter, along with dry yeast:


Moved down to the cool garage (about 65F) for a few weeks, to ferment at the low end of the yeast temperature range and ideally produce fewer esters. The bucket’s fitted with an airlock bubbler to let fermentation gases out but prevent contaminants from making their way in:


After about a week, fermentation slowed (determined by taking liquid samples and floating a hydrometer in them to read the specific gravity, which indicates the sugar concentration). I let the yeast keep go for another two weeks to eat other fermentation byproducts and clean up the beer. The staff at the brewing supply store recommend siphoning the beer off the yeast into a secondary fermenter at this point, but most other people I talked to including several experienced homebrewers said this was unnecessary and just another possible source for contamination or oxidation, so I left it in this bucket all three weeks to keep it simple. A week before the end, I tossed in some Simcoe hops to “dry hop” (this adds extra hop aroma, without the bitterness in the taste added by boiling the hops earlier, and Simcoe is a popular dry hop in West Coast beers).

After chilling the entire fermenter in the fridge for three days to “cold crash” the beer (not at all necessary– it just helps the yeast and other solids settle to the bottom, leading to a more clear beer during bottling without using any additives), I bottled and labeled the beer (with a little extra sugar, to give the yeast something to eat once it’s sealed in the bottle to produce carbonation), waited two weeks and then, voila! My first beer.

My goal was just to learn the process (during the first batch I read John Palmer’s excellent How To Brew) , and ideally make a beer that wasn’t terrible– but to my pleasant surprise, I think it’s actually a decent beer I wouldn’t be disappointed to get in a bar. About 6.2% alcohol by volume, a modest amount of grapefruity hop bitterness as intended (I’d been shooting for about 40 IBUs, the low end for an IPA), a touch of sweetness/maltiness in the aftertaste, and the distinctive Simcoe hop aroma. And while it’s varied somewhat bottle to bottle, several of them have poured reasonably clear, with a nice dense head of foam. Success!

Some day I’ll post more specific recipes for this and the science experiment that is beer #2…

Triple Rock / Laurelwood / Homebrew IPA

22 Dec

I dropped by Triple Rock in Berkeley for the first time tonight with a homebrewing friend. They and Beechwood (from Long Beach) were holding a beer event where they brewed the same Laurel IPA recipe and had both versions on top at each brewery .They also published the recipe and invited homebrewers to make their own takes on the beer and bring some to informally share.

Of the two “official” brews and three homebrew versions I tried, I think Julian’s version from Beechwood was my favorite– the distinctive Simcoe hop smell (which a friend describes as “reminiscent of cat piss”, but I refuse to agree), and a complex citrus-pine taste with a little sweetness that stayed with me. I’m even no IPA fiend, but I’d happily drink that again. My friend’s homebrew was also quite good. And hanging out at the brewers’ table is always fun. How the discussion migrated to physics, ultrasonic measurement of solar panels, and space-hardened robotics I can’t quite remember.