Monthly Archives: August 2010

Spent Grain Dog Treats

Like most all-grain homebrewers, I end up with a lot of spent grain. Sure, I can compost it, but wouldn’t it be sweet if I could actually make something out of my spent grain?

The first thing I tried doing was the most obvious to me, which was to try to use it in homemade bread. I love my homemade bread, and thought surely that was the way to go. Following the advice of another homebrewer, I learned that a little goes a long way. Do yourself a favor and save Erik’s spent grain bread recipe for later.

So, that was a wash. I have way more spent grain than that, and I was still looking for something to do with it. I had heard of Dogfish Head’s dog treats, but hadn’t taken any action, as I had never seen them in person.

spent-grain-doughThen my friends Nate & Abby brought over a batch of dog cookies that they had made from their own spent grain, referencing a recipe on the HomeBrewTalk bulletin board.

4 cups spent grain
2 cups flour
1 cup peanut butter
2 eggs

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Press down into a dense layer on a large cookie sheet. Score almost all the way through into the shapes you want. Bake for about half an hour at 350 F to solidify them. Loosen them from the sheet, break the biscuits apart and return them, loosely spread out on the cookie sheet, to the oven at 225 F for 3 to 4 hours (or until they are really dry) to prevent mold growth. Store in an airtight container to keep them dry and mold-free.

I tried this route a couple times, and it works pretty well. What I really like to do (my friend Abby again is to thank for this) is to make them into giant, uh, logs, which then fit really well to plug the end of a Kong toy. My dogs get antsy sometimes (often), and to keep them occupied, we’ll put their dinner in a kong, and plug the end with one of these spent grain logs. It keeps the kibble from falling out, and also makes dinner extra fancy.

spent-grain-dog-cookiesI also add another cup of peanut butter to the recipe which makes it a little more sticky, but my dogs love peanut butter, and it makes them smell a lot more like PB if you do that, and I think it also helps to keep them stuck together a little bit more too.

4 cups still isn’t a lot of your spent grains, but I will usually make a double batch while I’m at it, which then ends up using a good amount of spent grains. And if you want to use more of it, your spent grains freeze pretty well, and you can make several batches of dog treats in-between your brewing days.

Book review: Great American Craft Beer by Andy Crouch

gacb-bookAndy Crouch is a beer lover and a very talented writer on the subject of beer. American beer has been given the short end of the stick for decades, largely due to prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s. American beer, and craft beer specifically, has been on the rise for the past 4 decades, and is finally beginning to gain the recognition it deservers for all the homebrewers, microbrewers and beer enthusiasts who have struggled to resurrect American beer from the doldrums of mediocrity.

Andy Crouch, for those unfamiliar with his writing, is well equipped to give us what we like. Crouch puts it out there like it is: punchy and to the point. He expands upon the vocabulary of the average beer reviwer but doesn’t get carried away, and speaks a language that we can all understand. In other words, to read a beer review written by Andy Crouch is a privilege, and this book is packed to the gills with them. I still find myself turning to the internet in many cases to attempt to determine if an unfamiliar high-end bottle of beer is worth my money, and I spend a while sifting through a number of reviews on RateBeer or BeerAdvocate before deciding whether or not to trust the feedback I’ve read. There are so many reviews and reviewers out there that I feel that I need to read quite a few to calibrate my own gauge before heading out to the store.

Andy Crouch has done the hard work for us, highlighting some of the best that America has to offer. Crouch does not contend that these are the end-all be-all of American beer, this is simply a guide to some of the best that America has to offer. He instills a confidence that if you were to order one of these beers, you would find a top example of the style, and not only that, but that you will see just what American craftbrewers are capable of.

Alright, sentimentalism aside, what is this book all about? Andy Crouch has compiled a book for the beginner and the fanatic. Sure, if you’ve been a craft beer fan for a decade or more, some of the information in the book may seem a bit simplistic, but thanks to Crouch’s brevity, you won’t be bored for long. This is not a book only for the seasoned beer fanatic, this is a book for the cautious beer fan, the freshman, as well as the experienced beer lover, looking to see just what’s out there that they might have missed.

Crouch gives a background of beer in America, taking us from colonization to the craft beer movement. He does this in a staggeringly small number of pages, giving us the Cliff Notes of American beer. The bulk of the book is reserved for a guide to a wide variety of beer styles, in each case highlighting some of the best that American Craft Beer has to offer. Crouch put himself through a grueling number of tastings in order to decide which beers to profile in this book, and you may be surprised to see how few of the holy grails of american beer made it in this book. After all, this isn’t a book dedicated to the rarest, most sought after beers in America, this is a book dedicated to style and education, seeking to educate and liberate the timid beer drinker.

If you’re a skeptic, wondering if you can trust Crouch to match your tastes, I would suggest you flip through the book. I live in Maine, a state with magnificent local breweries, but a tragic shortfall for national brand selection in our local 6-pack shops. I was surprised that I found myself able to fall into sync with Crouch’s notes on the national brands I have had the opportunity to try. His reviews are blunt and to the point, but not without a lack of descriptors that are capable of painting a vivid picture for those who may never have the opportunity to taste some of these beers in their lifetime.

Crouch doesn’t stop there however, he continues on to provide insight for the novice beer enthusiast on freshness, glassware, tasting, pairing with foods, and respect. I would venture to say that there are very few who couldn’t learn something from Great American Craft Beer. Beyond all this, the book is gorgeous. Full color throughout, and it has heft to it, making it feel special. As the dust jacket says, there is a beer out there for everyone, and I encourage you to find it. You’ll be glad you did.

Book review: Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow

wild-brewsHomebrewers are taught from the very beginning that sanitation is priority #1, and that anything growing in your beer other than saccharomyces (brewer’s yeast) is the worst thing possible, and as a result, we spend a lot of time cleaning and sanitizing. Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow brings to light a tradition of making beer with saccharomyces in concert with a handful of other microorganisms, and it’s good.

Of these styles, most Americans would be lucky to have heard of a lambic beer before, most of us have not. Wild brews introduces us to a handful of beer styles going back hundreds of years, all made with wild organisms. While science has allowed us to identify many of these organisms, and Wyeast and White Labs have clean cultures available commercially, Sparrow tells us that nothing is quite the same as when you let nature take it’s own course.

These beers become more like a fine wine, a product of their environment (or terrior) and a product of decades if not centuries of developing a signature blend of microorganisms within the brewery, which cannot be replicated by pitching a culture from a lab. These organisims live in the very walls of the brewery, and most importantly, in the oak barrels that the beer is aged in.

Sparrow takes the reader through a history of wild brewing, highlights the most well-known styles, tells us where we might travel to find examples still being produced, and then spends several chapters getting down to the nitty-gritty of production, fermentation and packaging of these beer varieties, rich in tradition, and like a fine wine, worth the wait (some of these beers take 3 or more years to get from brew to bottle).

For styles, Sparrow covers Flanders Red and Brown ales, Lambics and Gueuzes. For each style, he provides a history and regional background, as well as a standard formula one could use to formulate a recipe, as well as a description of each beer’s flavor profile. In the history chapter, Sparrow covers not only the evolution of the different beer types, but the where and the why of it all, broken down by region. The chapter Drinking Wild Beer covers current breweries manufacturing wild beer, and what they have to offer, including some US breweries.

The rest of the book moves from the where and the why and into the how. Beer Souring Microorganisms covers the major bugs responsible for wild brewing, but the reader is reminded that there are many that are not catalogued as easily that play an important role in authentic lambic beers. Production Methods, Wild Fermentation, Fermentation and Maturation Vessels and Finishing the Beer continue to break down the process into additional chunks, walking the reader through each phase with plenty of information.

If you have ever had a sour or an acid beer, and want to learn more, I would strongly recommend this book. I know that after reading it, I’m not far away from my first beer made with more than saccharomyces.

French Saison brewday recap

DSCN1632With the brewday behind me and fermentation going strong, it’s time to reflect on what went well and what didn’t, as always.

First of all, the recipe got altered on brewday. I had originally scheduled for only 4 pounds of wheat, but upon calculating what I was going to get for an original gravity, and noting that it will be September before this hits the keg realistically, I decided to go for 7 pounds to push the ABV up around 6%.

Second of all, my buddy brought over his scale (yes, I still don’t have a scale), which allowed me to stop my guesstimating of wheat volume, and actually know *exactly* what was going in. As I expected, my efficiency goes down whenever I use my own milled wheat, but more on that later.

Lastly, whenever I’ve been using more than 30% wheat, I’ve been doing a protein rest. This has thrown my game off everytime, as I am used to a single infusion and ramping up to mash-out. I keep doing my protein rest, going to saccharification rest, then forgetting my mash out. This time I got my whole mash transferred to my lauter tun before realizing it, and decided to skip the mash out rest. This may have contributed to my low efficiency more than I want to give it credit for, but it’s a factor nevertheless.
DSCN1637Instead of my expected 75% efficiency, I hit 65%, which made me glad I bumped up the grain bill. I also had way more hops than I needed for the lower grain bill, so I’m glad to have more gravity points to balance it out.

As to my wheat efficiency, well, I bought a Corona mill a few months back, and I’ve been pretty disappointed with it overall. It seems unable to produce a good crush for barley (big chunks or totally mangling the hulls), and on the wheat, well, I have it cranked down to it’s finest setting, and some bigger chunks still come out. Before I write it off forever as unable to provide good efficiency, I’m going to try double-milling the wheat next batch. My alternative is just use more wheat to make up for the lack of efficiency, and as I have a surplus of free wheat malt at the moment, it’s not really a big deal to do that, it’s just more grain to manage in the mash and lauter tun.

And as for the hops, well, it’s going to be hoppy. Never one to let hops sit on their laurels, I structured my additions to keep the IBUs down, but to use all my hops (2oz each Cascade and Centennial). I’m looking forward to the flavor and aroma profile.

Maine Beer Highlight: Allagash Coolship Cerise


In December of 2007, Allagash Brewery began experimenting with Coolship brewing techniques. From Allagash:

Last month we brewed the first two of our spontaneously fermented beers at Allagash. In brewing these beers we are using an authentic, traditional process honoring the classic Belgian Lambic tradition, including the use of a cool ship, which we built specifically for these spontaneous beers.

The process begins with a specialized decoction mash, which utilizes the addition of both two row barley and raw, unmalted wheat. After the mash and sparge, we add aged hops during the boil, which are traditionally used because they impart many of the beer stabilizing benefits of hops without contributing bitterness. The use of aged hops (aged a minimum of three years) necessitates an unusually long boil of over four hours.

After boiling, rather than cooling the beer in a sterile environment and adding a brewer’s yeast culture, the hot wort is pumped to a cool ship in a special room designed specifically to make these beers. The cool ship is a commonly used tool in Belgium, but is rarely seen beyond Belgium’s borders, if at all. It is a large, open tray that is 12 feet long, 8 feet wide and 1 foot deep. Once in the cool ship the hot wort spends the night cooling from near boiling temperatures to about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. To facilitate the cooling process, windows in the cool ship room are left open overnight. The cool Maine air, containing natural bacteria and wild yeast, drifts in and cools the wort. As soon as the wort is cool enough, the natural airborne yeasts and bacteria are able to survive in what will eventually be the spontaneously fermented beer (it is these natural yeasts and bacteria which will ferment the beer, rather than a yeast added by the brewer). Next, the wort is pumped back into a brewery tank, where it will spend one further day before it is pumped into special French oak barrels. Within one to three weeks, spontaneous fermentation begins in the oak and will continue for over one year. After the yearlong fermentation this traditional beer will age in French oak for at least one more year, sometimes with the addition of fruits, before it is finally bottled.

This process creates beers with very complex flavor profiles after an extensive aging process. I received two bottles from Allagash, Cerise and Red. I haven’t tried Red yet, but I have tried Cerise, and I consider myself privileged to have had the opportunity.

Cerise poured a bright orange-yellow with a bright white head of very tight bubbles. The aroma was very complex, I found apples, pear, and cherry combined with some of the more difficult (funky?) aromas to identify which gave the impression of very tart flavors to come.

Tasting was equally challenging, similar flavors matching the aroma followed, fruits and malt, funk, and with a very dry and tart finish, somewhat cirtic and tannic, but not displeasing. After spending several minutes waffling over what flavors I was able to identify, I resolved to stop trying, and just to enjoy it. I savored the lone glass for a long time though dinner, making sure to share with my wife.

I am definitely looking forward to trying the Coolship Red, and the time when Allagash begins to release these beers for retail sale. Cheers, Allagash!

Recipe in process: Farmhouse Ale

munich-maltI’ve finished formulating my recipe for this weekend’s brew, another first for the summer, a saison inspired by this summer’s reading materials.

  • 4lb Pale Malt
  • 2lb Munich Malt
  • 4lb Wheat Malt
  • 1oz Centenniel @FWH
  • 1oz Cascade @FWH
  • 1oz Centenniel @15 min
  • 1oz Cascade @15 min

And the star of the show, 3711 French Saison yeast

I’ll be brewing this weekend, and hopefully we’ll have some warm weather next week to boost fermentation temps.