Monthly Archives: November 2010

Book Review: Smoked Beers by Ray Daniels and Geoffrey Larson

smoked-beersI had my first smoked beer a little over two years ago, something that many Americans have never even heard of, let alone tried. It was a Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen, a smoked malty beer with a full body and a mind-boggling amount of smoked character. As I said, I had never had (nor heard of) a smoked beer before, and so I was blown away. For a while, I enjoyed them on a rare occasion, but had never made a smoked beer.

Recently, my wife requested that I make her a smoked beer, and I was only too happy to oblige, and so I made a smoked porter (which at the time of this writing has aged for a couple months and is keg conditioning). I really enjoyed making this beer, as the mash and boil smelled amazing, and so I was intrigued to learn more.

When I sat down to read this book, I had no idea the history lesson or chemistry lesson that was in store for me. I expected a book which of course would cover the obligatory history of smoke in beer, but spend the majority of it’s time covering how to formulate a good smoked beer recipe, but this book packs way more than that. It covers 70 pages of history and historical kiln designs before getting into modern producers of smoked beer.

Current high-profile producers of smoked beer and their processes are given about another 65 pages of coverage, providing information on their smoking process, wood type, kiln types, and beer types, as well as differences between countries and then some breakdowns of different beer formulas used by a handfull of smoked beer producers.

The chemistry of smoke is given the next 30 pages or so to describe exactly what happens when you smoke malt, some do’s and don’ts, as well as important advice for avoiding some nasty flavors in your malt. This chapter was a bit heavy for me the first time through, but then again, I wasn’t reading this book as a primer for smoking my own malt. If that ever becomes a goal of mine, I’ll be sure to go through this chapter more carefully, which brings me to the next chapter, smoking malt. This chapter provides a variety of methods for smoking your own malt, ranging from slow and high-yield, to fast and low-yield.

The last chapter, which is possibly the smallest chapter in the whole book, is focused on giving you some recipes to brew a wide variety of beer styles using smoked malt. While this is what I was expecting to find in the book, I actually enjoyed the other chapters much more. This is followed by a nice appendix of some ideas for cooking with smoked beer.

I really did enjoy this book, albeit not for the reasons I thought I would. I don’t plan to smoke my own malt anytime soon, but I now feel well informed and prepared should I choose to. And if nothing else, I hope this inspires some others who haven’t tried a smoked beer to do so, they’re not like any other beer you’ve had before!

First Wort Hopping with Dual-Use Hops

fwh-lauterI’ve been fascinated with the idea of first wort hops ever since I first read about it. To sum it up for anyone who isn’t familiar with the idea, the official method for first wort hopping (FWH) is to take 1/3 of your finishing hop addition, and add it to your first runnings as you lauter your mash. The expectation is that somehow, from steeping in the warm (but not boiling) wort, you will extract a significant amount of flavor and aroma that will not boil off during the boil (due to how it combines with the warm wort during the lautering process).

Exactly how this happens is less well explained, or even understood, and as a result, opinions on first-wort hopping vary widely.

What I began doing about a year ago, is to FWH using 100% of my bittering addition. I still use a finishing addition, but I rarely use a hop for bittering that I don’t like the flavor and/or aroma of. It has been my experience that I still get full utilization for bittering (due to isomerized alpha-acids), and that bittering seems to be very smooth. I also seem to get a nice subtle hop flavor from that addition if I happen to be brewing a beer with only a bittering addition (such as a Hefeweizen).

I don’t know if anyone else is doing their FWH addition like I am, but I’d be really curious to hear the results from what anyone else is doing.

Recent Recipes, Fall 2010

imperial-stout-2010It occurred to me this weekend that it’s been a while since I’ve posted recipes. This fall has been a little strange, as I’m trying a lot of new recipes out, either massive variations on an old recipe, or something I’ve never tried before.

First up is the Imperial Stout that’s on tap. It’s a variation on last year’s, with a large percentage of the base malt swapped out for Munich. I also used Crystal hops for finishing rather than Centennial. This was a 3-gallon recipe.

Recipe Overview

US 2-Row Malt 7.00 lb (54.9 %) In Mash/Steeped
German Munich Malt 4.00 lb (31.4 %) In Mash/Steeped
US Caramel 60L Malt 0.75 lb (5.9 %) In Mash/Steeped
US Chocolate Malt 0.75 lb (5.9 %) In Mash/Steeped
US Roasted Barley 0.25 lb (2.0 %) In Mash/Steeped

German Hallertauer Magnum (11.0 % alpha) 0.50 oz Loose Pellet Hops used First Wort Hopped
UK Golding (5.5 % alpha) 1.64 oz Loose Pellet Hops used 20 Min From End
US Crystal (3.5 % alpha) 1.18 oz Loose Pellet Hops used 20 Min From End

Yeast: Wyeast 1318-London Ale III

Next up was my take on Tasty McDole’s Janet Brown ale, an “Indian Brown Ale”. Mine was 100% Cascade in the mash and boil, with Centennial for dry-hops, along with some other grain substitutions and simplification. This was a 5-gallon recipe. Oh, and a side note, this hasn’t been kegged yet, but just from what I can see so far, this is a dark beer. Next time I’ll cut the chocolate malt in half.

Recipe Overview


UK Pale Ale Malt 9.00 lb (61.0 %) In Mash/Steeped
German Munich Malt 3.00 lb (20.3 %) In Mash/Steeped
UK Wheat Malt 1.00 lb (6.8 %) In Mash/Steeped
UK Dark Crystal 1.00 lb (6.8 %) In Mash/Steeped
UK Chocolate Malt 0.75 lb (5.1 %) In Mash/Steeped

US Cascade (4.5 % alpha) 2.00 oz Loose Pellet Hops used In Mash
US Cascade (4.5 % alpha) 2.00 oz Loose Pellet Hops used First Wort Hopped
US Cascade (4.5 % alpha) 2.00 oz Loose Pellet Hops used 10 Min From End
US Cascade (4.5 % alpha) 2.00 oz Loose Pellet Hops used At turn off
US Centennial (8.5 % alpha) 2.00 oz Loose Pellet Hops used Dry-Hopped

Yeast: Wyeast 1318-London Ale III

Last was a big pale ale, an imperial pale ale, if you will. Low IBUs, but big hop flavor and body. This is my first recipe using Victory malt, I’m really hoping it gives me that crackery-biscuity flavor I like so much. This was a 5-gallon recipe.

UK Pale Ale Malt 9.00 lb (65.5 %) In Mash/Steeped
UK Munich Malt 4.00 lb (29.1 %) In Mash/Steeped
US Victory Malt 0.75 lb (5.5 %) In Mash/Steeped

US Centennial (8.5 % alpha) 0.75 oz Loose Pellet Hops used First Wort Hopped
US Centennial (8.5 % alpha) 2.00 oz Loose Pellet Hops used Dry-Hopped

Yeast: Wyeast Pac-Man

Book Review: Yeast by White & Zainasheff

yeast_bookOk, so you have to be a bit of a geek to read a book called Yeast, let’s get that out of the way right off the bat. It’s a geeky book for beer geeks. In that sense, this book delivers. Yeast covers cell biology, metabolism, and flocculation – and that’s just in the second chapter.

There’s a whole chapter dedicated to choosing the right yeast for your brewery, home or commercial, with an excellent guide for commercial brewers to determine how many yeast strains they can keep active in their brewery based on frequency of brew days. There’s a chart of the most commonly brewed styles, with an elegant fallback for fewer yeast strains, and an optimization for which yeast to add if you’re going to be adding one more.

Chapter 4 breaks down the whole process of fermentation as it relates to brewing, and gives you specifics on all the relevant factors that will effect the flavor and quality of your beer, aroma, flavor, attenuation, etc.

Chapter 5 was the most interesting to me, as it covered pitching rates. Now if you’re a homebrewer, you probably have experienced they varying rules about pitching rates, plus your own experience of not following those rules with acceptable results. This chapter breaks down pitching rates into the specifics I’ve been looking for – exactly what happens if I don’t follow the rules? What if I overpitch or underpitch, and which is better?  It also has some excellent explanation and charts about growing up a starter, providing great analysis of investment vs. return. Lastly, this chapter covers yeast harvesting and re-pitching guides, as well as yeast washing. Again, information very widely available, but it’s nice to see it presented in such a well organized manner, and following a scientific process.

The last chapter was where the geek in me started to get a little overwhelmed, and it’s a big chapter, all about setting up your own yeast lab. Now White and Zainasheff do a good job here providing scale – meaning that they provide many levels of labs, from high-end commercial to a homebrew scale. This chapter spans information about guesstimating cell count from the color of solution in water (nice for a homebrewer), all the way to cell staining for viability and mutation. This chapter is jam-packed with information about equipment purchases and setting up a sterile lab room, but always brings it back to the bare-bones methods for accomplishing a similar task.

This book is a fantastic reference book, and while it took me a while to read through it the first time, I know I’ll be going back again and again for reference.