Monday, June 27, 2011


This is the result of a nice healthy volume of yeast, a wort with lots of happy sugars to be eaten, and excellent aeration.  Vigorous fermentation has been going on since yesterday, only about an hour after I racked the wort onto the yeast cake!  For those of you who are disturbed or grossed out by this picture, let me explain what you are seeing here (from the bottom up):

On the very bottom is some yeast sediment, as well as some trub (coagulated proteins and hop particles).

The dark stuff is beer (obviously)

The weird textured layer between the dark beer and the top layer of foam is comprised of the apricots.  Delicious!

The top layer is the kräusen, or head of foam on top of the beer caused by fermentation.  It looks "dirty" because of hop particulate and a small amount of brown protein "scum" that is coagulated during fermentation.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Père Noël de Bruxelles: Christmas in June

Racking the BTB, reusing the yeast cake!
Today was a wonderful brew day.  I woke up bright and early this morning and got my strike water and mash ready.  I stabilized the temperature at 150° and left it alone...for the next four hours.  I went to my church choir gig and left the mash alone to do its thing, which actually isn't a bad thing at all; it actually gives the grain ample time to convert, and pretty much can only affect the result for the better.  Anyway, after singing this morning, I came back and found that my mash tun had only gone down 4 degrees over four hours.  Awesome!  I was able to really get into brew day and do my thang from there on out.

For those who are scratching their heads, make no mistakes; this is a CHRISTMAS beer.  But Jeff, why are you brewing it in late June?  Well, I want to give the beer a few months to age into beautiful wonderfulness so it will be just perfect for wintertime.  This one should weigh in at about 8.2% ABV, a really nice strength for a winter warmer.  Here is the recipe (remember this is a half batch):

Anticipated OG: 1.084
Actual OG: 1.084 (f yeah 75% efficiency)
Anticipated SRM: 15 °L
Anticipated IBU: 34

5 lbs Franco-Belges pilsener malt
1 lb Flaked wheat
1 lb light Munich malt
.25 lbs Belgian amber (biscuit) malt

.5 lbs 90°L Belgian Candi syrup

1 oz. Hallertauer pellets @60 minutes
.5 oz. East Kent Goldings (I've been in a wicked EKG mood lately) @15 min
2 lbs dried Turkish apricots (no preservatives) @10 min, then added to the fermenter
.5 oz fresh-crushed coriander seed @10 min

.5 oz French oak cubes in secondary

Wyeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes, yeast cake reused from Belgian Table Beer

Collecting sweet sweet runoff
Amidst the mashing, vorlaufing, sparging, racking, and boiling of stuff, I also managed to bottle my delicious Lucky Leaf summer cider.  It is really tasty and should be ready to drink in a couple of days! 

C is for cider, that's good enough for me

Overall, brew day was fantastic and I got so much done, it just felt good.  Everything went smoothly, not too many hurdles, and I just know that this Christmas beer will be a winner.  Can't wait to see how it progresses over the next few weeks, and then in the bottle over the next few months!  Should be awesome.  Stay tuned for its release in December, and stay tuned for the upcoming brew day of my English Christmas beer, the Figgy Pudding Ale.  It will be a very similar beer, but with its own uniqueness.  Delicious!  It will be hard to wait six months for them but it will be worth it, and I'll have some great beer (and cider) to drink in the meantime.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Next venture: Kombucha?

To begin with, I was at the Whole Foods in Nashville so that I could get some preservative-free dried apricots to use in my Belgian Christmas Ale, as well as do some nice casual browsing, something I always like doing.  Right before I left, I saw a fridge case full of kombucha (and a few other chilled items), and I decided that it was high time I tried some.  For those who do not know, kombucha is a mildly fermented tea beverage (with just trace amounts of alcohol basically) believed to be a sort of superfood with amazing health benefits.  Thanks to the wealth of information on HomebrewTalk, I had already developed a genuine interest in making kombucha because it sounded interesting and it is relatively easy to make (not to mention drastically less expensive than buying it).  Well, I am drinking it right now and on top of just being "interesting," it is delicious.  It's very hard to describe the taste...but it's sort of like a tart, mildly sweet, mildly carbonated (no doubt due to fermentation) iced tea with a little bit of vinegar/funk in the nose.  The one I got is ginger flavored, and I think that that lends a wonderful character to it.  Now I'll definitely have to look into making some.  Basically, it's as simple as buying a bottle of commercially made kombucha and building up a "mother" culture from it (ends up looking like a gelatinous rubber pancake that floats on top of your fermenting tea), which is apparently not too difficult.  You can read more about making kombucha here (one of my favorite homebrew blogs), or there are a bunch of good YouTube videos about making it.  Cool!

Brewing up my Belgian Christmas ale tomorrow.  I'm singing in church so I'll set up my mash early in the morning, stabilize the temperature, and then leave it while I'm gone.  This longer mash time will likely result in a good efficiency and is a great option for anyone who wants to brew but has to work or whatever.  I'll update you on how it goes.

Friday, June 24, 2011

BowThai 2.0 review

It's been a while since we were first graced with the second coming of the BowThai ale, and I just now have gotten down to doing a formal review of it.  There were a few small issues with it off the bat: first off, the spices were just *slightly* harsh at first, when the beer was still "green;" second, the batch was a bit overcarbonated (I overcompensated for the fact that it was undercarbonated last time...stupid).  After relieving the batch of its excessive carbonation, I have now been able to enjoy it much more.  Here is my review:

Appearance: beautiful deep amber/copper color, slight haze, finger and a half of off-white head that slowly dissipates to a nice ring of foam with decent lacing

Aroma: lots of spice...coriander, ginger, licorice (basil) blended with smooth honey and coconut

Flavor: earthy lemongrass, melded together with same spices found in the aroma and medium hop bitterness, sweet honey and coconut balance it out with a bit of alcohol warming, and that oh-so-familiar spice (heat) on the finish

Mouthfeel: smooth and creamy feel that balances out the spice like a wonderful Thai curry, really nice body...and the *new* carbonation level is perfect

Overall: This beer is my baby, and I love it.  I still consider this a work-in-progress, and it will be perfect someday.  Next time I brew it, the one change I would make would be a cooler fermentation temperature (I didn't control the temp for this AT ALL because it wasn't my own house) for a slightly more well-rounded and mellow flavor.  Still, this is a great beer to drink with Asian food, and it's definitely not too "weird." You can still enjoy this beer anytime.

BowThai 2.0 Brew Day 4/2/11

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Not the best picture ever but...'s the beautiful pizza braid that Claire and I made from the spent grains dough yesterday.  It was delicious.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Going green with grain and summer cider!

Following a recipe from the latest issue of Zymurgy, last night I made some delicious no-knead pizza dough that included--you guessed it--the spent grains that were leftover after collecting the runoff of my last batch of beer (this time just Franco Belges Pilsener malt and a little flaked wheat.  The awesome thing about this pizza dough is that it makes a double batch and can be used to make cinnamon rolls.  I let that baby get a nice long rise overnight last night, and when I woke up this morning I had a beautiful mound of soft dough with the wonderful texture and flavor of brewer's malts.  I rolled it out on a floured surface, added some butter, cinnamon, sugar and stuff, rolled it into a log and sliced it up to bake in the oven.  The other kicker on this recipe is that it has a stout glaze that goes with it, that basically involves reducing stout (I used my own), brown sugar, and butter on the stove until you get a syrup-like consistency.  The result of both efforts was DELICIOUS.  The cinnamon rolls were light and fluffy, with a flaky outside and amazing flavor.  The glaze was out of this world...basically tasted like pralines and went amazingly with the cinnamon rolls.  All in all, it was an easy project that made a great recycled use of something that I would otherwise throw out, and the taste was incredible.  Definitely something that I'll do again.  SOON.  Also probably gonna make a pizza out of the rest of the dough tonight!  Homebrewers, if you subscribe to Zymurgy, definitely give this recipe a shot.  You will not be disappointed.

Beautiful, golden cider
 I also got another batch of my "famous" cider going, since it was so easy and satisfying the first time and should be a great thing to have around for summer.  I went with the same yeast, Fermentis S-04 (a Whitbread ale yeast), which fared me very well last time.  To do a somewhat controlled experiment, though, I decided to vary the juice this time, using Lucky Leaf instead of Mott's.  To be honest, just tasting the unfermented juice, I already liked Lucky Leaf better than Mott's as it has a little more tartness to it and in my opinion a little more complex flavor (probably because it's not totally made from concentrate).  Seeing as my last cider experiment was pretty derpy and still came out great, I am excited to get this one going.  It should be excellent and, as I mentioned, great for the summer months.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"Eye of the Storm" Belgian Table Beer

Hydrometer floating in the golden wort
Yesterday, amidst threatening weather, I was able to crank out the second brew of the summer, a Belgian Table Beer.  I read quite a few blogs of other homebrewers, and when I read this post on Ryan Brews, I knew I needed to brew this beer for summertime.  I woke up yesterday morning to start brewing, and before I even mashed in, it was as dark as night and started pouring down rain.  No problem, I thought, I'll just do the boil the next day and split my brew day up.  I happily went along with the mash, which once again went perfectly with essentially no drop in temperature (and 77% efficiency!).  I did my mashout and collected the first runnings, and I realized that the sky was getting brighter and the rain softer. 
Perfect mash temp consistency
As I did my sparge and collected the second runnings, I saw that it was no longer raining!  Upon checking the radar, I noticed that among all of the thunderstorms in the south, there was a huge opening over Nashville.  I decided to risk it, and braved the outdoors to do my (90 minute) boil.  It went great, and I again went back inside just as a few drops of rain were starting to fall (hence eye of the storm).  From there, it was just an elevator ride, wort chiller, and yeast pitch (not to mention lots of cleaning), and I was done for the day.  Fabulous.  I even "went green" (haha) with my brewing and conserved a couple of quart bags worth of spent grains with the intention of using some of them in cooking/baking (see the latest issue of Zymurgy).

Fresh whole-leaf Hallertauer hops in the boil
Here is my recipe, a slight modification of Ryan's (thanks, Ryan!):

Anticipated OG: 1.040
Actual OG: 1.044
Anticipated SRM: 2.4 °L
Anticipated IBU: 26

6 lbs. Franco-Belges Pilsener Malt
2 lbs. Soft Flaked Wheat

1 oz. Hallertauer (Whole 4.3% AA) @60
1 oz. East Kent Goldings (Pellets 7.2% AA) @10
1 oz. East Kent Goldings (Pellets 7.2% AA) @0, 10 min. steep

Wyeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes, with an 800 mL starter, started 2 days ahead of time on a stir plate

Happy Birthday to Matt Clark, and Happy Fathers Day to my dad and all the dads out there!  Have a homebrew in their honor today.


Belgian Table Beer Review, 8/5/11

Friday, June 17, 2011

Summer Outlook

My imperial red, and the Wyeast 3522 starter
You all know how much I love looking ahead and planning when it comes to my brewing.  Hell, I even spent an entire semester in school reviewing commercial beers from the different BJCP style categories, all the while formulating recipes and thinking about what I would brew when I got the chance again.  Well, my first brew of the summer is nearly complete (Cicada Imperial Red baby!) and I thought I'd just do a quick mapping out of the rest of the summer as I see it right now.  Here is the plan:

Brew up my Belgian Table Beer tomorrow.  There is an amazingly lively starter on my stir plate right now, and I can't wait to unleash it on a batch of fresh wort.  It will be done really quickly and will be a great summer session beer.  The other important thing about this beer is that I will reuse the yeast cake from it to make my Père Noël de Bruxelles Belgian Christmas Ale.  Make all the jokes you want about Christmas in July, but this baby is topping out at around 8% ABV and I'm going to give it a few months to age to perfection (Cutts family and close friends, get excited for the holidays).

What I didn't mention about the Belgian Christmas Ale is that it will only be a half batch...and that it has an English brother, the Figgy Pudding Ale; a 9.2% ABV behemoth of a beer made with fresh figs, black treacle, and mulling spices.  Mmm...and both of these will be "oak aged," but more on that later.

Well with those exciting brews to look forward to, I figured that I'd want one more good one for while the weather is still warm, so with the help of some sneaky and speedy methods described by a recent issue of Zymurgy, I want to try to fit in a Berliner Weisse.

Oh, and definitely more cider.  ASAP.  Stuff was SO GOOD, SO EASY and gone SO FAST.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Andover and a Thank You

For my 100th post, I would like to give a huge shoutout to my '06 Andover classmates.  It has been amazing to see you all this weekend, and I think that those of you who have sat through my many stories/musings about beer and brewing deserve a special shoutout.  I hope that when we see each other next, I'll be able to share a homebrew with you.  GO BLUE!

I also want to give a big shoutout and thanks to everyone that has put up with my beer rambling and supported my passion over the past year and a half: to my parents, who first supported my hobby and gave me a place to get started; to Claire Merlet, who has had to listen to more beer rambling than anyone else and who has helped me more with the process (particularly cleaning!) than anyone else; to Matt Clark, who so graciously offered up his apartment space for my brewing; to John Ballard and David Sugue, who are wonderful brewing colleagues; to Peter Konjoian, who got me into hop gardening (they're already shooting up this season!); to Victor Clarke and Ben Tieslau, who helped me out on one brew day and both show the foundations of great future homebrewers; and finally to Rebel Brewer, Jasper's Homebrew Supply, All Seasons, and Beer and Wine Hobby, who have all given me invaluable advice and helped to fuel my passion with a seemingly endless supply of wonderful ingredients and equipment; to all of you I say thank you, and prost!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dry-hopping and first taste of the imperial red

Sittin' pretty with some lovely FF dry hops
As indicated by my Twitter, yesterday I racked the Imperial Red to secondary and added an ounce of Falconer's Flight hops into the vessel to give the beer that extra fresh hop flavor and aroma that one can only achieve through dry-hopping.  My first taste of the beer was wonderful.  The specific gravity is down to 1.018, so this baby is almost fully attenuated and the taste will be pretty indicative of the finished product.  The up-front flavor is a delicious, citrusy hop bomb, but differently from your average IPA, this one has some serious biscuity, caramelly malt backing hop all of that bright hoppy flavor.  It is really tasty already and I can't wait to taste it after its two weeks of dry-hopping.  The beer is deceptively smooth for around 7.5% ABV, no nasty fusel alcohols or excessive esters, and I attribute that to the nice cool fermentation temperature (thank you, air conditioning).  Either way, this beer will be a great one to enjoy over the hot summer, and will almost definitely be one that I will re-do in the near future.  It's always nice to have a hoppy beer around for drinking, and this one will be no exception.