Monday, August 29, 2011

Brewing Improvements

Update: my oak beer still tastes like crap.

So my past few beers I've brewed haven't been the pinnacle of success. All brews came significantly under their OG.

A quick primer on OG and gravities. Measuring the specific gravity of a liquid tells you how thick or thin it is compared to water. Water being a 1. This is done with a hydrometer. OG stands for original gravity. OG is measured at the beginning of the fermentation process right when you dump the yeast in your fermentation vessel (bucket, carboy, bathtub, what-have-you). Ideally it measure how much sugar has been extracted from the grain and resides in your wort. This sugar is what gets eaten up by all the little yeasties to make alcohol. The counterpart to OG is FG. FG stands for final gravity. This is measured when your yeast is all done dining, and fermentation has slowed to a stop (essentially). The whole idea is that by subtracting your FG from your OG (and dividing by 0.75) you get alcohol content.

Now you see where my conundrum comes into play. If my beers' OG are coming in low, there's not enough sugar for the yeast to devour. Not enough yeast to devour means not enough yeast pooping alcohol. Which means my alcohol levels were way below style. This effects the flavor and body of the beer. It's like taking a shot of vodka that's 50/50 water. Ok, it's not that noticeable, but still not good. Talking with some of my brewer friends I've come up with 2 things I've been doing wrong that contribute to sugar extraction.All of which takes place during my sparging.

1 - Slooooow down hoss. 
So I know that sparging is to be done slowly. Lautering slow (60 to 90 minutes) is beneficial in a few ways. Slow flow prevents your grain bed from getting too compact, leading to a stuck sparge. Slow flow gives the chance for the grain to release more sugars. A slower flow will also give you a nice even sparge, and prevents channels from forming.

What I didn't realize is just how critical this could be. A friend of mine was listening to a podcast the other day about sparge times. Apparently the difference between sparging for 60 minutes and 90 minutes yielded an extra 10% efficiency bringing them up to around 80%! I didn't realize how much of a difference that could make. It then dawned on me that all my brews I ended up finishing the sparge around 5-10 minutes short. Knowing what I know now, I'll probably jack my time up to the 1:15 range to start and see what my efficiencies look like. My brew day is long enough as it is.

2 - Keep up that sparge temp!
 Here was my issue. Typically to sparge, I gravity feed my AutoSparge using the hot water from my hot liquor tank. The hot liquor tank (picture, right side) is just a keg with the top cut out of it. I use it for the mashing process as well. To gravity drain it I have to hoist it up on the table behind it? See a problem? I've got a keg, that's well over 170 degrees, with over 10 gallons of water in it. My rough estimate puts the weight over 100 lbs. Did I mention it was f%@#ing hot? I've almost killed myself a number of times. To combat the heat I would spray it off with my hose, drastically dropping my sparge temp. Keeping the sparge at the right temperature is critical, and quite frankly, I neglected it. Too cold, no sugars, too hot, lots of tannins. I realized I could put a valve on the output of my pump and throttle the flow down for my autosparge. Now I can keep my keg down, and monitor and adjust the temp as I see fit. Happy day.

We'll see if this helps! It damn well better. I've got some brewing to do in the next few weeks. There's the next company homebrew extravaganza. There's also a birthday coming up that requested a keg. No problem! I aim to please.

Any question on OG? Ask me anything!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

How to Recommend Beer

Once in a blue moon (har har) somebody who knows my reputation for enjoying good beer asks me for a personalized recommendation. Usually I don't get any more information than "Pick a beer I'd like." I want to think my high success rate is due to extreme crazy mind powers involving both telepathy and hypnosis, but sadly that's not the case (unless you want me to make you bark like a dog or take a bite of red onion and like it.) It's actually quite simple to make a good recommendation; luckily for you (but not Gene) it's not based on this crazy thing.

Unlike phrenology, the zodiac, or viking navigation I don't need to whip out my astrolabe and consult star charts to know what you'd like. It's actually pretty simple.

The key to any good recommendation is knowing (in this order) generally which part of the tongue they favor, how susceptible they are to persuasion, and whether or not they like any beer. The last one is obvious, but it bears pointing out: some people don't like any beer whatsoever. You might be able to get away with a lambic or a Bacardi O, but that's about the best you can expect.

Persuasion can set up a powerful bias for any recommendation. If I'm your friend and I tell you something is good, you're inclined to believe me (rather than trust your own senses.) It creates a bias that can be overcome if the beer is blatantly awful, but it definitely sets the tone of a persons expectations. I wouldn't try and pass off Pabst Blue Ribbon as a Belgian, but I could probably get away with claiming Beck's Bier is "pretty good."

I believe people are born preferring one of the five tastes our taste buds can perceive. These include Salt, Sweet, Bitter, Sour, and MSG (aka Savory.) You're not likely to find a salty beer (Chelada being one notable exception) and to my knowledge no beer tastes like red meat (so Savory is out.) That leaves the primary three beer flavors: Sweet, Bitter and Sour. Pick the one of the three you think they like (hint: sweet for girls,) see which beer you have on hand has the most of that quality, and you're good to go on a recommendation.

If you're not a walking Beercyclopedia like Gene or myself, you might need to consult a chart or read the labels on the bottles. If you need a little help, here's a diagram to get you started:

 Whether you use the chart or just know your stuff, there's no secret to becoming the local beer sommelier!

Did I miss your favorite beer? Do I seem pretty on the mark? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Little Yeasties

I just finished mowing the yard and I'm enjoying one of my summertime Coronas. Today was a special day, because I even mowed the back yard. I know exciting. But the back yard doesn't get mowed very often. My active dogs keep my back yard in a constant state of construction zone. To continue that analogy, their toys and tennis balls are like the construction equipment you see parked everywhere (even the crane the hoists the ladders 20' in the air. I love it when they do that.). It's an offroading experience since they've managed to dig a track where they always run back and forth. Well now it's cut, and along with grass its fertilized with the pulverized remains of tennis balls and baby dragons.

Today's post is a review of a book I started read a while back. Just last Christmas actually. The book "Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation." You may recognize one of the authors, Chris White, if you've ever purchased White Labs yeast. I was really excited about this book when it came out because it touches on a topic that I really don't mess around with very much. At the start the book is very promising, and vouches for itself to be a book for beginning homebrewers to smaller sized production brewers. It also goes as far to say as this is not a book for large breweries that already has a number of labs devoted to yeast. 

Multiple labs? Yes, labs. That's way over my head and probably yours too. The book is relatively easy to read, and is definitely a go-to book for all questions yeast. To clarify my viewpoint, I tend to focus on the recipes of the homebrew, and I'm one to keep the yeast a constant. Following some of the rules of engineering, successful experimentation relies on tweaking one variable at a time as to know exactly what effect that variable has on the process. My recipes are my variables. My brewing method is a constant (as best I can make it), my yeast, and my method of fermentation and carbonation.

Diving into this book, Part 1 was written for a guy like me. It describes a lot about yeast, history, fermentation, and the attributes for a good fermentation. After part 1 however, the books takes off from there and proceeds to go way over my head. Biology. Caring for a strain of yeast, caring for multiple strains of yeast. Counting yeast cells. Propagating different cultures. Petri dishes. Petri dishes! I haven't seen those since 9th grade biology. The book tops the whole thing off with building you own lab, right down to test tubes, beakers, microscopes, flux capacitors and hadron colliders.

No. Really.

Anyway, I can safely say that I will never need another book on yeast. This book has everything covered (save growing it from the DNA of a monkey or stem cells). One of these days I might kick up my brewing and use other parts of this book, but right now I'm perfectly content with part one. Now if I can only get this car past 88 mph...

Have you read this book? Any comments? Post below! We love to hear from you. It helps us know that you readers really exist and our hits aren't just from spambots somewhere on the internet.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beereview: Victory HopDevil

I have a particular fondness for the first few beers I tried after learning about how different and wonderful they can be. For some unexplainable reason that fondness doesn't seem to extend to reviews.

If you've been to many bars in the Philialphia, New Jersey or New York areas you've probably seen the worlds dirtiest bathroom, an extremely large butt on a very small bar stool, and something from Victory on tap. Odds are pretty good what you saw was HopDevil, Prima Pils, or Golden Monkey.

Gene covered Golden Monkey in another post which is by far the best of the bunch (and it's a really good bunch) but HopDevil holds a special place on my table right next to a big steak, a pile of unopened mail, and my elbow.

Victory Brewing Company - Hop Devil

The aroma almost resembles some of the Belgian ales that I love so much. The initial smell is sweet honey and hops with a dry almost brandy like finish. This beer pours a deep amber with a pretty small head, although the head retention is excellent. The picture I got from their website shows the right coloring, but they would have had to upend the bottle to get that much foam (it's probably dish soap anyway, food photography is notoriously hard.)

The sip of this beer is bitter bitter hops with the aftertaste of grapefruit. It's literally spicy with hops. After you adjust to that, you start to be able to taste a subtle sweet flavor (but honestly this beer is called HopDevil, there's not much else.) HopDevil is clear and crisp and is definitely best served chilled. The best comparisons to this beer are probably Stone Arrogant Bastard and Hoptical Illusion; I don't think I could tell the difference between these three beers with a bag over my head (especially if that bag was filled with spiders.)

I highly recommend this beer; It goes especially well with a heavy meal. At 6.7% ABV it's on the higher end which doubles my recommendation for food. Hops being the predominant flavor, people are going to either love or hate this beer but you can't do much better than HopDevil.

Do you prefer hoppy beer or sweet? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, August 15, 2011

1st Quarterly Brew Off

Friday has now past and has closed the chapter of the first company homebrew extravaganza! The party was a huge hit and thanks to the company we also had about 12 pizzas to serve the crowd (which went quick!).

Two days before the brew off I was talking with one of the other brewers about our preparations. I had my keg o' beer. I had my bucket. I even had enough red solo cups to host the largest game of beer pong ever. My brewing buddy asks, "have you tested your draft system?" Test? I've got a CO2 canister that hooks directly to my gas post, and a faucet that hooks directly to my liquid post? What is there to test? Well...

That night I was studying for my PE examination (kinda like the BAR). Behind me the hum of my kegerator called. I can be made pretty paranoid. And since my coworker mentioned my draft system it had been eating away at my confidence. So fine. I put down my materials and got together my parts. Hooked the gas up, no problems. I hooked the faucet up and before I knew it beer was bubbling up through the disconnect. Not out through the faucet, not from underneath, but through the disconnect.

I instantly thought about those crazy cooking shows. Every show there's someone who decides to use a pump. That pump never works. I always find myself pissing off at the television, saying things along the lines of "if you're going to compete on television why the F$%* wouldn't you test your $10 toy pump???" And there I would've been. Helpless at the competition, people gathering around for their first pour, and I would have beer shooting out of a seam I didn't know existed.

Well I fixed it. Turns out you can dismantle those disconnects. After about an inch of teflon tape (a recurring theme in the homebrew world) our leak is fixed. So then I tested my keg. Beer's good. Carbonated. But not hoppy... strange for an IPA... I study my system for a second and realized I tapped the wrong keg. Which brought me to my next revelation: my oak beer doesn't taste like rotten wood anymore!!! Joy!

The rest of the story goes off without a hitch. Friday morning I strapped my keg in for it's first ride to work. The clock hit 11:30 and I was off to get some ice. Fresh ice that is, right off the truck at the local 7-11. I helped the other brewers set up and the competition was underway. Everyone was more then happy to "fairly" sample at least each beer before voting. I proudly say I came in third after a very tight race for first. Of the four brewers the votes were tallied, 13-12-10-4. For a while there was a tie for first. So congrats Paul. I'm coming for you crown, and I won't sleep till I get it!!! Until next time!!! It's on....

If you have an idea how we should improve our competition, lets hear it! Post below!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Beereview: Wells Banana Bread Beer

We were at the diner the other night and noticed an odd ale on the menu. Normally I'd associate novelty beers with the places that stock hundreds of bottles in the hopes that you'll pay $11 for one; this little gem was unassumingly placed near the middle of an above average but not noteworthy beer menu. We've reviewed some strange ones before from Lobster Ale, to Very Bad Elf  to the dreaded Chelada but never before have I tasted Banana Bread Beer.

Before diving into the review, let's talk a little about expectations.

Expectation 1: This beer will taste a little like banana bread.

Banana Bread belongs to a family of breads I'm going to name: "Take a healthy thing, cook it to death, and bury it in a pile of cinnamon and sugar"-bread. Lots of breads belong to this category, including (from disgusting to delicious): Fruit Cake, Carrot Cake, Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Zucchini Bread, Cinnamon Loaf, Apple Bread, and Banana Bread. For a beer to taste like any of those things I'm expecting at minimum spices (like every Christmas Ale has) and some fruit flavoring.

Expectation 2: This beer will taste a little like beer.

This expectation should go without saying. If you're going to market something called Banana Bread Beer than it ought to taste like beer, not Mike's Hard Banana (...).

Put these two expectations together and what do you get? A Christmas Ale with slight banana flavoring which I would imagine tastes delicious. This beer fails on both counts, and here's why:

Beereview: Wells Banana Bread Beer

The first thing you will notice about this beer is that they have used shiny gold ink on the label lending it some degree of fanciness. The next thing you'll notice is the word BANANA in huge capital letters. If you're not sold yet, you're not going to be. This screams novelty beer which is generally a hit or miss proposition.

The label boldly proclaims the presence of  "Banoffee" flavoring, rich malts, and carefully selected hops along with fair trade bananas. After sampling this beer I have to disagree.

With a strong aroma of yellow Runts (kind of like older bananas, not fresh smelling,) this beer pours a light brown with no noticeable head.

Flavor-wise, this beer tastes exactly like plain banana chips soaked in Molsen Golden. There is no sweetness left and the beer is pure flavorless malt and sourness. In fact, Molsen Golden has a lot more flavor than whatever sub par ale they used in trying to pawn off terrible ale by adding (likely powdered) bananas. The beer tastes (as generous as the word "tastes" is in this case) almost exactly like Fuller’s London Pride Pale Ale.

So how did this beer stack up to my expectations? It completely let me down. If they are going to use the term "Banana Bread" it should have some sweetness and some spices. This beer is not good.

Have you tried this beer? Did I get a bad bunch (no pun intended)? Let me know in the comments below!

I usually check around the internet for similar reviews after I post mine. Usually they somewhat agree but in this case they really didn't. Either I had a weird batch or English people don't have the same taste buds as me. Oddly enough they must not have "Banana Bread" on the other side of the pond because they read it like "Banana AND Bread AND Beer." Maybe expectations influence how we taste things?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

First Beer Post-Starvation

Now that I've completed my fast, it's back into the swing of things... or should I say "swig of things?" 10 days without beer, food, or caffeine wasn't anywhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be. I had been hoping that once my tastes readjusted beer would taste amazing, unfortunately it didn't quite work out that way.

Not this Plus-Sized Lady
To celebrate breaking my fast, I popped open one of my all time favorite Belgians. Of course I'm not talking about Peter Paul Rubens' casket, but good guess. I had another plus-sized lady in mind, a 24 oz. St. Bernardus Abt. 12.

As usual, I didn't fully think things through. I probably should have guessed that after living on only juice for 10 days drinking a 9% ABV 24 oz. Abbey Ale wasn't going to be a great idea. When I took a sip, all I could taste was stinging alcohol that burned inside my entire face (from my eyeball sockets to my ear holes.) It seriously tasted like gasoline. I nursed my first glass for about an hour and got pretty drunk after the first sip. Eventually I started being able to taste all the good flavors in the beer but it still seemed super strong. It took me another three hours to finish it. If you're ever going to break a fast, don't take out the good stuff.

After that first night my tastes seemed to pretty much revert back to the way they were before, although I find that I don't put as much salt on stuff and I am drinking far less coffee (which can't be a bad thing.) I've also been eating a lot more veggies and a lot less meat, so I guess it did something. The only major thing I'm trying to avoid doing again is getting hooked on diet soda. I don't really want to die of a brain tumor once they realize that aspartame is yesterday's asbestos.

What's your go-to celebration beer? Has it always tasted the same to you? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Beereview: Singha Premium Import

Let me first start by saying... Nick, I'm glad you're still alive. I thought the idea of substituting a Super Big Gulp of liquid veggies from each one of your meals was a little insane. You've made it through the ordeal. What's next? Placing onion slices in your shoes?

I just went to the beach this weekend as the temperatures soar all across the states... and it was wonderful. Did a little sunbathing, threw around a football, drank some beer. It was a damn find weekend. Also saw Horrible Bosses... all I have to say is that Jennifer Aniston is hotter than ever...

Oh, right! Also went to the bar Friday night. I have to admit. I have a dirty little secret when I'm at the bar. If I go to a bar, and it has Icehouse on tap... I just have to get myself one. Why? I'm not really sure. The cost is good... about $2.50 for a 32 oz. beer is a killer deal. I don't care how bad it is (unless it's Chelada). There's just something about the blatant lack of taste, and super-fast drink-ability that brings me back to my college days. Where the beer was cold, the sports were fun, and winter and summer break lasted eons. Ahhhh college...

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful. I know you have a vice as well. If you're man (or woman) enough you'll post it below. On to the Beereview...

This is another beer that is from my local brew store I wrote about a little while back, Wine Styles. I probably should've reviewed this beer a few weeks ago when the heat was really kicking up. I've been doing a long line of ales. It's been some time since I've thaied out a lager.Well I've got my shoes thaied. I've thaied out some other brews. I'm thaied to the thought that I'm going to have this beer. Thai think you'll really enjoy this post....

Do YOU know the
capital of Thailand?
Singha Premium Import is a beer imported from Thailand (anyone saw that coming?). It's got a relatively modest white label, and classifies itself as the "original Thai beer." No fancy stories, but it certainly is proud by it's Thai heritage. Do you know the capital of Thailand? Bangkok. And that's where this beer is brewed, at the "Boon Rawd Brewery."

This beer is light. I mean real light. For a second I almost thought clear. The layer of foam is bright white, and the retention is good. What scares me a bit is the aroma. Why would the aroma scare me you say? No, it doesn't smell like death, or whatever the mother-in-law is cooking. It smells like Colt 45. I imagine it can't give me an instant hangover like the Colt did, but that skunky smell is very pervasive. Odd, cause the beer comes in a brown bottle, so it's like not skunked. Lets kick this pig...

Relief. No I didn't just pee myself. This beer tastes nothing like the Colt. The beer is very smooth. VERY light on taste. I'd really almost mistake it for an American light lager... A brew judge told me once "to judge an American Light Lager, you take a sip, and if you taste anything, it's not following style." I couldn't tell if he was kidding or not, but it is very true. This beer could be dangerous though. Weighing in at 5% ABV, this beer is high for it's style, which I'd assume is American Light Lager. Obviously this beer isn't American, but a lot of countries will brew beer to specifically cater to American tastes. This is a great beer for a summer day if you don't want to be carrying around a lot of limes.

Had it? Agree with me? Post below. Also post your dirty little beer secret or vice and lets get a conversation started.