Monthly Archives: September 2010

Why I love my stainless mash tun

apa1I don’t use a cooler mash tun. Unlike the majority of all-grain homebrewers, I mash in my boil kettle. It’s a process that was suggested to me by a former employee of my LHBS in order to save money on start-up equipment, and I’ve never changed.

The downside to doing this is that I do a mash transfer to my Zapap lauter tun after my mash is done. It’s one more step, but since I’ve always done it, it seems normal.

The upsides to having my mash in my boil kettle are many. First of all, it’s one less piece of equipment that I had to buy. Secondly, if I want to do a step-mash, or even just ramp up to a mash-out temperature, I don’t have to boil water and hope that I’ve heated enough to get me to the step I want to hit. I just turn on the burner and stir until I hit the temp I want.

I know that mastering a multi-infusion process would be a good thing to learn, and I’m sure I will someday, but for now, I like my process. It works really well for me, and I’m glad to have it.

Book Review: Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher

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Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher is a very interesting book to say the least. I first had the opportunity to flip through this book shortly after switching to all-grain brewing, and I found the book a bit difficult to approach at that time. I was reading a lot of new books, and I was very process oriented at the time, and I found this book, which is packed full of information and ideas, to be a bit overwhelming. A recent discussion with Erik Lars Myers of Mystery Brewing prompted me to give the book another pass.

I was surprised to find upon opening the book for the second time, that there is a whole introductory section for beginning brewers, and some pretty solid advice at that. Little tidbits that would have helped me a long time ago, like the fact that liquid extract goes stale faster than dry extract. (Who would have expected that?) Mosher walks the novice brewer through the process of the first batch, and provides simple steps that any beginning brewer can take to drastically improve their finished product beyond the kits that many homebrew shops sell.

Mosher doesn’t dwell on the beginner’s process long though, and moves on into all-grain brewing, and then into what constitutes the bulk of the book, recipes, historical beers, different styles, and a seemingly never-ending catalog of ideas and methods to make your beers just a little different from the traditional recipe. This, along with several charts and indices of herbs, spices hops, grains and other adjuncts, along with flavor and aroma descriptions, are some of the most valuable assets contained within the pages of Radical Brewing.

Mosher also gives ample coverage to the more popular variations on brewing: basic styles, lagers, belgians, over-the-top big beers, alternative grain beers, spiced beers, even fruit and honey brews. There’s very little that’s not covered in Radical Brewing in some way, shape or form. You’ll likely find yourself with a book full of bookmarks to come back to when you’re ready to do that [insert beer type here].

Radical Brewing is an extremely dense book at over 300 pages, there’s a lot of information. It may seem a little overwhelming at first, but take your time. If you’re an experienced brewer, pick it up and flip the book open anywhere. You’re likely to find something that piques your interest, and gives you a little inspiration that you’ll be grateful for.

Dry Hopping in a Corny Keg

I’ve long disliked the idea of putting hops into the fermenter. It seems like an unecessary step, and I’m always torn between getting the beer kegged fresh and letting the dry-hops have enough time to do their thing. This was further compounded by learning that firkins are often hopped in the cask (though their design allows the hops to settle below the outflow tap).

I decided to try using a hop bag in the keg, and I use corny kegs (or cornelius kegs), the standard 5 gallon soda kegs most homebrewers use. I wanted to use a mesh bag, something that was fairly benign and of natural fibers so that nothing bad would leach into the beer along with the hop flavor and aroma. I settled on the cotton mesh bags that many extract brewers use for their steeping grains. These are cotton and only run about 50 cents a piece. I tried it with my first Pale Ale of the summer (which turned out Amber, but whatever), and it turned out very well. I snapped some photos as I packed up the hops for my second batch of pale ale (and it’s actually pale this time).

Step 1 – sanitize the bag in star san, along with your hands.

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Step 2 – gently pour your hops into the bag

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Step 3 – twist the bag around the hops, gently so as not to stretch out the mesh. Double over and repeat until you run out of bag

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Step 4 – Shove it into the keg, wedging it under the dip tube to hold it in place (the foam is star san)

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You dry hop as the beer is conditioning, and it will continue to improve. I had the last hops in the keg for over a month, and could not perceive any negative effects from long term dry-hopping.

Prost!

Book Review: Brew Like a Monk by Stan Hieronymus

brewlikeamonkI must confess that Belgian beers still make me a little anxious. For a long time, I thought that I didn’t like Belgian beers. Something about them seemed a little strange, and I preferred the tamer ales. Then about a year ago, I had a couple that I really liked. My expectations were now very confused. After years of thinking that I didn’t like Belgian yeasts, maybe there was more to it than that.

When I was given an opportunity to read Brew Like a Monk, I made up my mind to throw myself into it in an effort to try to decipher just what differences there were amongst the Belgian beers, and why I might like some more than others, and what better way than to learn about how they’re made, what makes them different, and what flavors the different styles showcase.

Hieronymus begins with the story of the monastic brewing tradition, correcting some misconceptions about their brewing practices, and providing a timeline of the development of Monastic and Trappist brewing. Hieronymus moves on to cover six trappist breweries, their histories and the beer that they have become known for. Next, Hieronymus moves on to Abbey beers, beers that are not brewed within the walls of the monastery, but are either attempting to mimic that style of beer, or have been contracted by a monastery to brew beer for them.

The next two chapters though, are where I really start to dig in. Just in case you didn’t start to gleam some of this information before, Hieronymus starts to get all technical now about mashing and brewing profiles, breaking down even more recipes in the process. Hieronymus then gets into yeast in a big way, going through various profiles of the two big suppliers in the US, Wyeast and White Labs, providing profile information on their popular strains of Belgian yeast, and even breaking them down by temperature range during fermentation, which I thought was really cool. Hieronymus even goes through and tells you which of the big Belgian Abbey/Trappist breweries have a commercial yeast culture available through one of the vendors cited above.

Next comes one of the more challenging, and yet, most important components of Belgian Trappist/Abbey production, bottle conditioning. I’ve always found the process of bottle conditioning to be a challenging one, but I’ve never pitched fresh yeast at bottling time either, something which all commercial brewers do. There are two main reasons Belgian Trappist/Abbey brewers bottle condition their beer, one is for flavor, and the other is to develop the high volume of carbonation expected in the style, which develops best in champagne type bottles with a cork and cage closure.

The last section of the book focuses on the reader and next steps, one chapter discussing the sub-genres of Belgian Trappist/Abbey beers, in an attempt to further educate the reader if they are looking to brew a specific style, or to judge in a competition. The last chapter focuses on recipes and recipe formulation. As a budding brewer myself, I like the tone that this section sets. Here are some recipes, but we encourage you to take these recipes, and draw inspiration from them, don’t brew them ounce for ounce. This has to be one of the best take-aways of this book, that there is no secret recipe, the way to make a special beer is to take it and make it your own, put yourself in the process, and see what happens.

This was definitely an enlightening book, and even though I’m still on the fence about Belgian Trappist/Abbey beers, I feel much more empowered and educated to move forward in my appreciation of the styles, and also to draw a little inspiration from within, and without the walls of the Abbey.