Honey Smacks Honey Brown Ale

The following recipe was of my own design for our Brewminaries cereal beer showcase, pouring mid-August.

I chose Honey Smacks and decided to make a brown ale to showcase the cereal and for nostalgia reasons, since when I was in Syracuse we used to drink J.W. Dundee (Genesee) Honey Brown fairly often, it being a cheap Upstate New York beer and all.

This is actually riff off one of my oatmeal stout recipes, the base malt is a 95% 2-row and 5% rye mix from a beer kit they were giving out at this Beerland event and I swapped out the oatmeal for cereal.

Recipe and steps

It’s my usual 3 gallon brew-in-a-bag batch, so I’ve shown both percentages and weight.

  • 6.2% – 6.4oz – Caramel / Crystal 60L
  • 5.2% – 5.3oz – Chocolate Malt 350L
  • 5.1% – 5.2oz – Roasted Barley 300L
  • 60.9% – 3lb 14oz – 2-Row Barley
  • 3.5% – 3.8oz – Honey Malt
  • 1.2% – 1.3oz – Midnight Wheat 550L

Mash for 45 minutes at 152F. According to Bru’n Water, I should make the mash more alkali, so I added 0.5g of pickling lime to the mash. Turns out I could’ve also just diluted the mash to reduce the acidity, though on a positive note the lime added calcium, it’s Ca(OH)2, which I’ve read improves the character of the beer. Pickling lime can be found at Kalyustan’s in Manhattan, it’s also used for softening corn for pozole.

Next step, add the cereal for 30 minutes and add some rice hulls so the wort drains properly.

  • 15.6% Honey Smacks cereal (Malt-o-meal version)
  • 0.25lb rice hulls

Boil for 60 minutes, 30 IBUs. I got a little extra in the 1oz hops package, so I put it in as an aroma addition.

  • 0.5 oz East Kent Goldings 60 mins
  • 0.3 oz EKG, 30 mins
  • 0.25 tsp Irish moss, 15 mins
  • 0.27 oz EKG, 10 mins

Danstar London ESB yeast.

Brew day went as expected. I followed all the additions and then used the chiller coil to get the wort down to 65F in around 20 minutes. I topped off the fermenter with some boiled water, added in rehydrated yeast, and put the fermenter in the minifridge on 64F to ferment. OG was 1.055.

The yeast started off quick and was bubbling like crazy by the next morning. By 36-48 hours later, it was completely done and wouldn’t budge from a FG of 1.024-1.025. Quick ferment but low attenuation, same as last time with this yeast. In the future I’ll try a more attenuative yeast like Nottingham or S-04.

Final stats and conclusion

OG 1.055
FG 1.024
ABV 4.1%

Tastes like Honey Smacks and had a bit of a funky taste at 14 days (3 in keg) that has completely disappeared at 18 days (7 in keg).

The beer was ready quick, tastes even better now, with the roastiness really coming through. It’s a mild, poundable summer beer, since it’s cold, sweet, and only 4.1% alcohol. It will be roughly 5 weeks old by the time I bring it to the August Brewminaries meeting for our showcase, so the malt character may smooth out further by then and taste even better.

DIY: Hand-Pump Beer Line Cleaner

We’ve all been served from a dirty draft line at some point, leaving us with a flat, soapy flavored beer lacking any of the usual hops “bite” or maltiness that we remember.

Since I pieced together my minimalist kegging setup, I have left StarSan no-rinse sanitizer in the lines to avoid this, hoping that the disinfectant would keep them clean and microbe-free. However, from experience, I know that StarSan can also leave them sticky and it’s not a cleaner, only a sanitizer.

Either way, eventually they need to be cleaned. Now is the time.

Many people use a spare keg to hold cleaning fluid or simply use their empty beer keg to flush the lines. I didn’t have a keg or the space to spare, and I didn’t want to spend $40-50 on a purpose-built setup for something I’d be doing once every month or so, so I built my own.

Here are the ingredients, which I purchased at the local Home Depot:

  • Pump sprayer, 1-gal (RL Flo-Master Model 56HD)
  • Teflon tape
  • Brass coupling: 3/8 in OD x 1/4 in OD (Watts LFA-109)
  • Brass flare fitting: 1/4 in FL x 1/4 in MIP (Watts LFA-80)

Total Cost: ~$15

Steps:

  1. Unscrew the green nozzle on the sprayer. This is a 3/8 in threaded connection. Wrap this connection with Teflon tape. I wrapped 4 times which seemed sufficient.
  2. Screw on the 3/8 x 1/4 brass coupling.
  3. Wrap the threads on the MIP end of the 1/4 FL x 1/4 MIP brass flare fitting with teflon tape. Screw the MIP non-tapered end of the fitting onto the coupling.
couplings
Packaging for the two brass fittings you’ll need

The flare end will face outwards and connect to clean your tubing, it probably will not need tape.

Your pump sprayer will no longer hold its own pressure since you’ve replaced the nozzle. Instead, connect the pump sprayer to the MFL disconnect on your keg before pumping.

Others have done a similar project, only using a pin-lock keg disconnect instead of a 1/4 flare. If you’re looking to clean from the keg disconnect through the tubing, this is a good option, though you’ll have to buy the parts at a homebrew store, probably online. See this thread for more details.

DIY: Dipstick for Measuring Water Level

Ever finish brewing your beer and add it to the fermenter, only to notice that the water level is way short of the mark? It happens to the best of us or at the least those of us that don’t have a brewpot with gradations etched on the inside. Making your own dipstick is the easiest solution.

You’ll need the following:

  • Wooden spoon
  • Measuring cup or bucket with measures
  • Sharp knife
  • Brewpot

Then follow the improvised the following steps that I improvised:

  1. Since I’ve been doing 3-gallon batches, I measured and filled the pot with 2.5 gallons of water, 1/2 gallon short of my target.
  2. Then, I touched the spoon to the bottom of the pot and used the knife to score the spoon. Note: As you make your marks, set the pot on your stove and check that you measure the same side of the pot each time. Our floor is crooked and thus the pot will give different measurements on one side or the other.
  3. Next, I added 1/2 gallon of water and made a mark again on the spoon at 3 gallons, and again at 3.5 gallons. You’ll use want to mark 3 or 4 lines on either side of your usual target volume.
  4. To finish, extend the lines across the spoon by digging in with the knife, then mark it with a sharpie as a note.

There you have it, an easy way to measure brew pot volume using the things you have lying around your house. Enjoy.

 

DIY: Kegerator and Fermentation Chamber (Part II: Construction and Assembly)

This post continues where I left off in Part I: Concept and Equipment. Read on for the steps to constructing and assembling the kegerator and fermentation chamber from parts and equipment discussed earlier.

If you’re in a pinch, you could also just skip right to the chase by reading on and grabbing the tools as you go.

Steps

Making the kegerator was one semi-difficult manual task followed by a lot of assembly and improvisation using duct tape.

Step 1: Make the hole for the faucet

Use the electric drill and 7/8″ hole saw to drill a hole in the door of the fridge. Drilling through the door allows you to be sure you won’t hit any coolant lines or electronics. The door is hollow, I promise. It’s also thinner than the sides and thus easier to punch through. After much consideration, I drilled the hole right in the middle about 4″ from the top for the sake of symmetry. Having the faucet near the top also means you won’t have to bend over as much to pour a beer.

To make the hole I just pressed really hard until the drill bit in the middle started to catch and the hole-sized saw followed soon after. I measured the same distance down on the inside of the fridge and punched a hole through the plastic to meet the one on the outside.

Note: Don’t touch any of the metal while you’re in the process of making the hole or you will burn yourself from the heat developed from drill bit friction (whoops!)

Step 2: Move the freezer unit

fridge_freezer

The U-shaped roll of metal you may have in your minifridge is the freezer. It is also the cooling unit and contains coils that circulate coolant. Unfortunately you’ll need to move the freezer to allow space for the faucet shank, tubes, and clearance for the fermenter and keg.

At the top you can see the bolts that hold the freezer to the top of the fridge. They are plastic bolts that serve to lock the unit in place, though it is not screwed in place.

The steps to move the freezer are as follows:

  1. Carefully but firmly press the freezer backwards until it clicks out of the bolts.
  2. Disconnect the clip-in thermometer probe (metal wire) and its casing from the underside of the freezer
  3. Carefully bend the freezer to the back of the fridge and duct-tape it in place.

fridge_bent

As noted, I later used duct tape to affix the freezer to the back of the fridge. It hasn’t moved since. This will give you plenty of space to work with for your fermentations without having to do something difficult like remove the door panel to make extra space.

Step 3: Attach the faucet and shank

As noted above, the Perlick faucet and shank can both be attached using the faucet wrench. It isn’t necessary to over-tighten this connection, just place the sheath between the faucet and the tighten it enough that the faucet doesn’t move on its own. This sheath may also be called a flange.

Once you’ve attached everything together, screw on the small black tap handle.

faucet shank

The photos above are the outside (tap) and inside (shank) of the kegerator’s beer faucet.

Step 4: Assemble the lines

Connecting all the various tubes, nuts, and bolts is a bit of a pain, but once you’ve done it once, you won’t have to take it apart for a long while. The next time you disassemble it should be for periodic cleaning in roughly every 2 months.

Beginning at the keg, here is the order in which the connections should be attached on the beer side:

  • Three-pin keg post ->
  • MFL Pin Lock liquid quick disconnect -> 1/4″ flare swivel nut ->
  • 1/4″ barb -> 5 ft of 3/16″ ID x 7/16″ OD Thickwall PVC Beer line ->
  • Hex nut -> 3/16″ tail piece -> gasket ->
  • 7/8″ lock nut -> 7/8″ shank ->
  • Flange -> Perlick 630SS flow control faucet

At either end of the tubing it is good practice to add a hose clamp. On the liquid side I used easy-turn 1/2″ clamps. On the gas tubing I used 5/8″ clamps.

Here is the order of connection for the gas side:

  • Two-pin keg post ->
  • MFL Pin Lock gas quick disconnect -> 1/4″ flare swivel nut ->
  • 3/8″ barb -> 4 ft of 5/16″ ID x 9/16″ OD Thickwall PVC Gas line ->
  • Regulator -> CO2 tank

For the regulator to tank connection, make sure you tighten it down using the adjustable wrench or gas will escape everywhere. Spoken from experience. This particular regulator has a built-in rubber gasket, as seen in the photo below, but some will require a gasket at that connection point.

regulator regulator_seal

Note: Care should be taken when connecting the parts because a slow gas leak can drain your tank. Tighten and check all gaskets and connections, even the ones on the keg itself, by spraying some Star-San or soapy water on them to see if they bubble.

Step 5: Disassemble, clean, reassemble keg

The graphic below from the American Homebrewers Association shows how all the parts fit together.

IMG_1912

When you purchase a used keg, it’s likely to come complete with ancient liquid or residue, thus requiring cleanup via:

  1. disassembly,
  2. soaking in PBW for 30 minutes, and
  3. sanitizing with Star San,
  4. reassembly,
  5. fitting keg into fridge.

PBW and Star San can both be reused to wash multiple items if they aren’t too dirty. Soak everything for at least 30 minutes the first time around and then soak in sanitizer. Star San sanitizer saved in a spray bottle is a great way to sanitize an area without having to submerge everything.

Most kegs are around 8.25-9″ in diameter, which was the exact depth of the floor area of my minifridge. Mine fit perfectly once I raised it up above the door lip using a styrofoam wedge.

If you’re extra lucky, you’ll find a fridge without a compressor bump, which would give you space for 2 kegs. If unlucky, you may have to remove the interior plastic on the door to capture an extra few inches of space. I was in between. Always measure before you buy your fridge.

See Cleaning and Sanitizer under Brewing 101: Building the Brewhouse (Equipment) for more.

Step 6: Fermenter and Temperature Control

I purchased the Ss Brewtech Mini Brew Bucket, which is really just a half-sized fancy version of the standard brew bucket. Luckily, it fits snugly into the fridge if you reinsert the bottom shelf. To hook up my temperature controller, I did the following:

  1. threaded the temperature probe and cord through the space between the door and the body of the fridge on the hinge side;
  2. duct taped a sock to the fermenter as insulation; and
  3. slid the temperature probe under the sock to sit against the side of the fermenter;
  4. plugged the fridge into the cooling socket of the controller and the controller to the wall.

fermenter temp_controller

Now the fridge turns on only when the liquid inside the fermenter warms up above the set point, which for my last brew was 64 F.

That’s it for the fermenter and kegerator. If you’re new to the brewing process, check out my Brewing 101 series from earlier this month.

DIY: Kegerator and Fermentation Chamber (Part I: Concept and Equipment)

New York apartments are small, too small for mountains of bottles, that was my rationale for jumping into kegging my homebrew beer. Though to be totally honest, my motivation was a desire to professionalize my homebrew setup with temperature control and quicker grain-to-glass times. Combining keg, tap, and temperature controller in one mini fridge allows for better ferments and quicker serving times.

Read on for the parts needed and steps to take to make this project happen.

Sizing

Fitting everything into this sleek and compact package required a conscious decision to focus on smaller 2.5- or 3-gallon batches of beer.

The typical homebrewer would consider these half-batches, as most pre-packaged recipes come in 5-gallon sizes. Smaller batches means more room to experiment, but they also mean buying your ingredients a la carte, which lends itself well to all grain / BIAB brewing (more on that in a later post).

My three-gallon kegs is approximately 16″ tall and 9″ wide, while my Ss Brewtech Mini Brew Bucket is 16″ tall and 11″ at its widest. Either of these vessels fits easily inside a standard minifridge.

Parts: Big Items

The parts below are the big-ticket items ($20+) for the project build.

4.6 cu ft Kenmore minifridge

I found a used stainless steel-accented minifridge on Craigslist for $75. A new minifridge would cost around $150 or more. Larger minifridges like this one give more space without needing to tear things out of the inside of the fridge.

As it is, the keg fits on the floor of the fridge on a wedge of styrofoam, no further modification needed. The fermenter fits on the bottom shelf, which I normally take out the shelf when the keg is in.

Ss Brewtech Mini Brew Bucket 3.5-gallon fermenter

This particular fermentation vessel is solid, easy to clean, and happens to fit perfectly in the fridge. Plus it looks really slick in stainless steel. It does not come with a stick-on thermometer, which is a recommended addition. The price is $130 from Ss Brewtech. If you’re not looking to break the bank, a modified $40 used Cornelius keg could have probably fit. A plastic fermenter like the one from this kit might work as well.

Perlick 650SS flow control faucet

This fancy faucet with flow control for overly foamy beer cost $50, though in retrospect the simpler Perlick faucets without flow control would have been fine at $30-35.

Note: A forward-sealing faucet will be the best extra $10-15 you’ll ever spend on beer dispensing. Perlick faucets are forward-sealing, which means that when the faucet closes its internal parts are insulated by the beer liquid. The cheaper rear-sealing faucets allow beer to dry inside, gumming up the piston that releases the beer and resulting in a completely immobile beer tap that has to be taken apart and soaked and will break if forced.

4 1/8″ Stainless steel shank and tail piece

This is the metal rear sheath element that attaches to the faucet on the inside of the fridge. It costs $35.

3 gallon Cornelius-style pin lock keg (used)

At one time, small, mostly 5-gallon kegs were used by Coke and Pepsi to distribute flavoring syrup for their soda fountains. These kegs have large openings that allow easy access for adding liquids and cleaning, plus they’re made of food-grade stainless steel. My 3-gallon example is a rare find that is perfect for half-batches.

A healthy secondary market of used kegs and replacement parts exists because of the kegs’ ability to hold beer under pressure. These kegs may be found used or refurbished for $30-50 or purchased new for $75-150.

5 lb CO2 tank

When buying a CO2 tank, you have two options: new or trade-in. Places that sell CO2 and propane will nearly always swap your current take for a full one, but not all will refill your tank. I paid $130 for deposit and $17 for a tank fill.

Inkbird ITC-308 temperature controller

This little gem is inexpensive ($35-40), has simple directions, and functions perfectly. Plug your fridge into the Cooling circuit, and it will turn on when the temperature registers above your set point. This allows for clean controlled fermentation in the 60s, even during summer heat waves. Find it on Amazon Prime.

4 x 6″ Stainless steel drip tray

I actually haven’t installed the drip tray yet. Functionally and aesthetically it isn’t really necessary, but it will catch some drips if you want to keep the floor clean. Cost was $22.

Tools

The tools needed are to drill the hole for the tap, disassemble the keg, and assemble the jumble of hoses, hose clamps, and nuts in the beer and gas lines.

Electric drill

7/8″ Hole saw drill bit

You’ll need these two tools to do the one semi-difficult step in this project: drilling the hole for the beer faucet and shank in the door of the minifridge. Our electric drill was a Christmas present and the hole saw bit cost $8 from the hardware store across the street which usually inflates their prices.

13/16″ Wrench or pin lock keg socket and wrench

This is the size of wrench that will fit a pin lock keg disconnect. It may also fit the ball lock, but there are several styles so Google it first or bring the keg to the hardware store for that matter.

Medium adjustable wrench

You’ll need an adjustable or open wrench to attach the nut for the regulator to the CO2 tank. I believe the actual size is 1 1/8″ so get an adjustable that opens to larger than that size.

Flat head screwdriver

The flat head screwdriver is for adjusting the gas pressure on the regulator and really nothing else, at least not for this project.

Faucet and hex nut wrench

The faucet and hex nut wrench is a specialized wrench for attaching and detatching the faucet as well as the nut on the back side of the faucet that threads into the faucet shank.

Parts: Small Items

This project requires a lot of small connectors and fasteners, most of which are only available easily from a homebrew or beverage supply store. All cost $10 or less, which adds up after a while.

Take a look at the list below. You’ll need everything on this list except the gelatin, yeast nutrient, and Irish moss at the end, those are additives for recipes.

items1

items2

This post was getting a bit long, so I split it up. Read on here Part II: Construction and Assembly for the next post on how to construct and assemble your project.

Brewing 101: Making a Very Clean Soup (The Brewing Process)

If you enjoy cooking and you also enjoy drinking beer, you will likely enjoy beermaking. The basic brewing process is as simple as following a recipe for soup, albeit a very clean soup — essentially boiling water, steeping grain, and adding hops, keeping things sterile, then waiting.

This piece will teach you how to begin. You’ll probably also want to see the earlier entries in this series:

Brewing 101: Building the Brewhouse (Equipment)

Brewing 101: Grocery Shopping (Ingredients)

Once you’ve mastered the steps below, you can build to refine your technique or experiment with novel ingredients and processes.

Before brew day

Step 1: Order your equipment and ingredients.

There are many large online or mail-order suppliers of brewing supplies. I made a short list of suppliers here: Brewing 101: Suppliers

Consider ordering your equipment and your first recipe online, then finding a local supplier for the future. It’s convenient, ensures fresh yeast and hops, and helps support the hobby.

Step 2: Store your ingredients.

Hops and yeast are best stored in the fridge. Extract can be stored in a cool place.

Notes: Dry malt extract lasts a long time, years even if in the freezer, but liquid malt extract is best used within a few weeks to a month of arrival. If you put liquid extract it in the fridge, it needs to warm up first on brew day or it may be close to rock solid.

A note on sanitation

Sanitation is very important for beermaking, so learn to follow simple best practices:

While the beer liquid, known as wort, is boiling, it is sterile. It can be touched by anything.

When the wort is finished boiling, it is susceptible to infection by bacteria or wild yeasts in the air or on utentils or containers. Thus, try to make sure anything that touches the wort is clean of crud and sterilized using a bucket of StarSan or something similar.

Once you’ve roughly followed those rules, relax!  Brewing is a forgiving process and it is very unlikely you’ve ruined your beer.

I would argue from personal experience that attention to the recipe, proper yeast pitching, and especially temperature control during fermentation are all more important to the taste of the final product.

Now, onward to the brewing process.

Brew day

Step 1: Measure and boil water.

You may use your bottling or fermenting bucket at this point to measure out the proper amount of water for your beer. Plan to lose from 1/2 to 1 gallon during the process, so add a bit extra to your pot (if it fits).

Don’t worry if you inevitably don’t hit the mark, you can always add more water later. Having markings on the inside of your boil kettle helps when aiming for the perfect volume.

Step 2: Steep grains (if part of recipe)

If required, add the cracked grain in a mesh grain bag and follow directions for heating and steeping. My most recent extract batch called for heating to 155 degrees and holding at that temperature for 30-40 minutes. This is akin to a mash for all-grain beers.

Once this step is complete, remove and discard the grain bag.

Step 3: Heat to a boil

Heat water to a rolling boil. I use a thermometer to make sure I reach a full boil but you can also eyeball it.

Step 4: Add malt extract and bittering hops

Most recipes call for a 60-minute boil, with the first hops added at 60 minutes. Recipe additions are listed in descending order by boil time. These first hops will be in contact with the wort for the longest, which leads to the necessary bitter backbone to your beer.

Step 5: Add flavoring or aroma hops (if part of recipe)

Flavoring hops are those added for around 30 minutes. Aroma hops are added in the last 10 or so minutes or even after the boil is complete.

Ten minutes or less may seem like a waste of hops since they are in contact with the boiling liquid for much less time and less of the hops flavor is extracted. Indeed, less of the hops oils at that point are infused into the wort.

However, many of the most prized beers use these late additions to add a great “nose” to the beer without the bitterness from an extended boil. Most top commercial IPAs use this technique to add depth of aroma.

Step 6: Cool wort to close to room temperature

Cooling the wort to around room temperature allows the liquid to reach a temperature to support the propagation of yeast and thus fermentation. The goal at this point is to create an inviting environment for the yeast, then to add yeast and only yeast to the wort to start the conversion of sugar to alcohol.

The point between boiling and the addition of yeast is a window during which your beer may come in contact with contaminants and thus cooling rapidly is considered best practice.

One simple cooling method is to submerge the kettle in a sink or tub of cold water and ice and stir the wort until it’s cool. Change the water as needed. This is sufficient for small batches of 2.5-3 gallons.

For the next level, a snake of coiled copper tubing called a counterflow chiller circulates tap water through and out of your wort, carrying away excess heat. This is the quickest option, especially useful if you’re making larger-volume batches of 5+ gallons.

However, beermaking is forgiving. I either tested or heard first-hand of the following less-than-ideal methods being applied by both first-time and long-time brewers without ill effect, roughly in descending order from best to worst idea:

  • Addition of cooled boiled water to drop the temperature of the wort
  • Refrigerating sealed fermentation vessel overnight and adding yeast the next morning
  • Adding tap water run through a Brita filter
  • Adding plain tap water to cool and reach the right volume
  • Pouring wort into fermentation vessel filled with ice

Step 7: Pour wort into fermenter

If you have a bucket, just pour it in, ideally with a cleaned and sanitized kitchen strainer to catch the hop goo at the bottom of the kettle. If your fermenter has a small opening, you’ll need to use a funnel.

Step 8: Aerate wort

Shake the wort vigorously for 2 minutes to add oxygen to the liquid. Yeast need oxygen in their initial growth phase. Keep your finger over the hole in the lid so wort doesn’t fly everywhere

Note: If you stirred vigorously during the cooling down process, this may be unnecessary.

Step 8: Add additional water (if needed)

See advice from Step 6: Cool wort to close to room temperature (65-80 F).

Step 9: Add yeast

Dry yeast should be rehydrated for at least 15 minutes first in a cup of warm (80 F) boiled water or a 50/50 mix of water and wort. Just pour, don’t stir. You could use non-sterile water or even just pitch the dry yeast directly into the cooled wort in the fermenter.

Liquid yeast can also simply be added to the fermenter or it can be added to a starter. Starters are basically wort mixed with yeast prior to brew day so that the yeast will start reproducing and be big and strong. I’ll explain starters in a later entry.

Wyeast liquid yeast comes with a special starter-like “smack pack” that confines liquid yeast and small amount of sugary water to an airtight package that you smack to mix together. It inflates to show that the yeast are working.

Basically the more forethought the yeast preparation takes, the healthier your yeast and more vigorous your initial fermentation. Vigorous fermentation creates alcohol quickly, which will poison most anything non-yeast trying to take hold in your beer.

Step 10: Check and note gravity

Using your hydrometer, read the number at the surface of your beer liquid. It will start with 1.0-something, e.g. 1.060 or 1.038. In fact, most of my beers have been in that range. Your beer liquid contains sugar and is slightly more dense than water (1.00).

Step 11: Close fermenter and add airlock or blow-off tube

CO2 from fermentation needs a way to escape the container without letting air and contaminants in. One option is a PVC plastic tube with one end in the top of the fermenter and the other submerged in a container of sanitized water, which allows gas to bubble out. You may also buy a plastic airlock which does essentially the same thing but has a narrower diameter.

See my forthcoming piece on Brewing Questions for a longer discussion.

After brew day

Step 1: Keep beer at ideal temperature for 10-14 days

Fermentation should start within 12-24 hours. Keeping your beer at a temperature within the ideal range for your yeast (generally 62-72 degrees, use 68 degrees as a rough guideline). This will ensure that the yeast work steadily and efficiently, keeping off-flavors to a minimum and avoiding dormant yeast.

However, the fermentation process itself throws off heat and your beer may get hot regardless of the temperature of your room. Here are a few simple approaches to keeping cool:

  • Place the fermenter in a bucket of ice or cold water
  • Move the fermenter to a cool spot, like the basement
  • Wrap a wet towel or t-shirt around the fermenter and aim a fan at it — this is called evaporative cooling and is the same process as sweating
  • Build a temperature-controlled fridge and place the fermenter inside. I’ll explain how I did this in a later post.

Step 2: Check gravity

After 10-14 days, check the gravity of your beer. It should generally be between 1.004-1.016. Lower numbers mean less residual sugars, and is a function of your ingredients, alcohol percentage, and choice of yeast.

Check your one reading against the guide for your recipe and take two readings several days apart to check that they haven’t changed more than a few points, though either approach is usually sufficient.

When touching the beer, use a measuring cup you’ve dunked or boiled to sanitize and do not return the sample to the fermenter.

Once your final gravity, as it is called, is reached, get ready to bottle.

Bottling day

Step 1: Move to bottling bucket

Use an auto-siphon to start the beer flowing from your fermenter to the bottling bucket. Raise the fermenter and lower the bottling bucket and gravity will do the rest.

Just a note that your bottling bucket and its spigot should be cleaned and sanitized as they touch the beer.

Step 2: Add priming sugar

The yeast is done with its initial work, but adding priming sugar, around 2/3 cup dissolved in water and added to 5 gallons of beer is enough to restart fermentation in the bottles and carbonate your beer.

Step 3: Bottle and cap

Fill your cleaned and sanitized bottles and use the capper to seal sanitized caps on your beer. Bottles may be stored for months or even years, so ensuring that they are completely sanitized will make sure nothing unwanted grows in your beer over time.

Step 4: Wait 2-4 weeks

I know it’s painful to wait, but this time is needed for the beer to self-carbonate. I’ll write later about how I created a kegging and serving system that skips this step.

Step 5: Drink

Enjoy.

Brewing 101: Building the Brewhouse (Equipment)

The beer brewing toolkit consists of a handful of inexpensive items, a few of which you likely already have in your kitchen. The list below is a comprehensive accounting of all the tools you’ll need to start out.

Like any hobby, the more obsessed you get, the more money you can end up spending, though you can easily get started with $50-100 of supplies. Somewhere along the way you may either break things or want to upgrade your equipment.

Proper sanitation and cleaning is the first step to good beer, so let’s start there:

Cleaning. If you’re looking to remove grime and gunk without scratching your equipment with a scouring pad, OxyClean or PBW work wonders. OxyClean can be found in any grocery store, while PBW is a similar brewing-specific powder that removes everything from labels to dried-on gunk. Generally, I try to remove the mess while it’s moist using a sponge and then sanitize right away.

Sanitizer. After some trial-and-error, I’ve settled on StarSan as the ideal sanitizer. It’s non-toxic, requires 30 seconds of contact, and doesn’t need to be rinsed. It can also be saved for weeks and used in a spray bottle to clean on the fly.

If you’re looking for what you have around the house, bleach works and is cheap, but it needs rinsing and can stain your clothes if you’re not careful. Iodophor is an iodine-based sanitizer that is cheap and simple.

I started my brewing career by using the high heat / dry cycle on the home dishwasher to sanitize. It works a bit like the autoclave from your dentist’s office and is fast, simple and doesn’t require dunking dozens of bottles.

Kitchen Items

The following items you probably have in your kitchen already.

Large pot. Space in the pot for at least 4-5 gallons of boiling liquid is necessary. In a pinch you can boil 3 gallons and add cold water. When you add your hops, the liquid will foam up suddenly and may overflow, so more space is better.

I purchased my 8-gallon aluminum pot for $55 at a restaurant supply store in Chinatown. Stainless steel is more durable and can be easier to clean, though it is usually 2-3 times more expensive.

Spoon or paddle. I’ve noticed that my large steel spoon leaves marks in my aluminum kettle if I’m not careful. Wooden paddles look cooler and may function better for breaking up grain, though stainless steel is easier to sanitize for use after the boil.

My metal spoon cost $4 at the restaurant supply store in Chinatown.

Thermometer. I use a long stainless steel cooking thermometer to monitor the temperature of the boiling wort as it approaches 212 F and I have a stick-on thermometer on my fermentation bucket to make sure it’s nice and cool for a clean-tasting final product.

My cheap cooking thermometer cost around $5-7. An accurate digital thermometer can be found for under $20.

Homebrew-Specific Items

You’ll have to buy the following inexpensive items to start brewing.

Brew bucket or fermenter. This is where your beer will ferment. It is a 6.5-gallon food safe bucket with a hole drilled in the top for an air lock. The air lock allows CO2 gas from fermentation to escape without air or contaminants reaching the beer.

Plastic buckets ($), glass (or plastic) carboys ($$) can be purchased from any homebrew shop, either online or in-person. Stainless steel fermenters ($$$) are the next step up and easier to clean. An entry-level plastic bucket costs around $15.

Hydrometer. This contraption looks a bit like a floating thermometer and measures the density of the beer-liquid, i.e. how much fermentable sugar is dissolved in water. A higher density means more sugar and thus, generally, a higher final alcohol percentage for your beer.

This is a bit of a specialized product and thus has to be purchased from a homebrew shop, though it shouldn’t cost more than $8-10.

Auto-siphon. This is a plastic tube contraption that looks a bit like a slide trombone and allows you to start the beer flowing from your fermentation vessel to your bottling bucket without contaminating your beer. It costs around $10 from any homebrew shop.

Bottling bucket. This plastic bucket looks similar to the brew bucket, only it has a hole on the side for a spigot, and this spigot is where you’ll fill your beer bottles after adding the priming sugar.

A bottling bucket costs around $12-15 from any homebrew shop.

Saving your beer

The items below are needed to get your beer into bottles, which is the final step in the brewing process.

Bottle capper. I started bottling my beer by rinsing out old beer bottles, sanitizing them, and capping them using this special hand-held contraption for crimping bottle caps.

A capper costs around $10-15 from any homebrew shop.

Bottles. Get your bottles for free from a friend’s house party or a local bar. Make sure they are the non-twist off kind with the standard lip, as the others can’t easily be re-capped.

If you can find 22oz bombers or European half-liter bottles, even better, as larger bottles mean fewer to clean and cap. Avoid green glass, as it doesn’t protect from UV light and will lead quickly to “skunked” beer.

Bottle caps can be purchased for $0.10 or less each from a homebrew shop. You’ll need 48-50 for a standard 5-gallon batch and, unlike the bottles, they can’t be reused.

Time to start brewing! See my post Brewing 101: Suppliers if you’re not sure where to get the necessary supplies.

Brewing 101: Suppliers

Cover image by Pierre-alain dorange (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Finding out where to buy your homebrewing supplies the first time around can be a chore. Luckily, there are hundreds of homebrew shops, both online and brick-and-mortar.

I tend to buy my equipment online and my ingredients locally to support the local store. It’s a tough market, and it’s essential to have a local supplier during a brewing emergency. Plus homebrew shop staff are usually very helpful, especially with beginners.

The online stores all offer low flat-rate or free shipping and have similar prices, though some have regular sales. Bulk hops, i.e. anything over single-ounce packages, tend to only be available online.

In-person

I’ve lived in a few places since beginning my homebrew career. These are my choices in those cities:

Brooklyn: Bitter and Esters (700 Washington Ave)

Small store that also offers brewing and tasting classes in addition to carrying all the usual ingredients and malts. They also have house recipe binders for those looking for inspiration. From what I can find, it also happens to be the only brick-and-mortar homebrew shop in NYC.

Syracuse: Sunset Hydroponics and Homebrew (3530 Erie Blvd E)

Friendly staff, though a bit disorganized. The beer I made with their ingredients turned out amazing so I have no complaints. Large, centrally located store with big selection.

Washington, DC: 3 Stars Brewing (6400 Chillum Pl NW)

The only homebrew supply within Washington DC city limits is at 3 Stars Brewery. These are nice guys that brew good beer and this is a Thursday-Sunday side-business especially good for fresh yeast, impulse shopping while filling a growler, and emergency runs after work or on a weekend brew day.

Online

Adventures in Homebrewing

Has a loyalty program that gives you 5% on purchases redeemable after $200 in spending. Sometimes has rare equipment in stock, such as the used 3-gallon soda keg I recently purchased to make half-batches for my kegging system.

Austin Homebrew Supply

Lots of unofficial clone recipes of your favorite beers. Good prices on self-branded malt extract.

Label Peelers

Has had a wide variety of hops on sale 30-50% off by the pound recently and sells in bulk.

Midwest Brewing Supply

MoreBeer

Carries many specialty products, including the affordable new Torpedo kegs (1.5, 2.5, and 5 gallon sizes). This is where I purchased my 3.5-gallon Ss Brewtech Mini Brew Bucket with free shipping.

Northern Brewer

Has a really nice glossy mail-order catalog with unique and official brewery clone recipes, as well as constant special sales via their subscription email.

Even if you don’t order from them, it’s nice to have their catalog to visualize what you’ll need for your next homebrewing plans.

Good luck with your homebrewing plans and remember small, lightweight things like stick-on thermometers and thermometers can even be purchased on Amazon Prime if you’re in a pinch.

Brewing 101: Grocery Shopping (Ingredients)

This is second in a introductory series about homebrewing and I’m starting with the basics, ingredients, equipment, and process before delving into more complex topics.

If you’ve ever talked to a German about beer, you’ll have been told that beer has four, and only four, ingredients: water, hops, yeast, and malted barley (sometimes wheat). Not entirely true, but these are indeed the building blocks of your standard beer. You can add all kinds of other fun and useful ingredients in small quantities to improve flavor, clarity, alcohol percentage, and much more.

Flavor-wise, hops, yeast, and malt generally contribute a similar amount to the final taste of your beer, though certain styles are distinguished by favoring one ingredient over the others. This article serves as an overview

Water. Most tap water is fine, though you might consider spring water if yours is particularly nasty. If the water tastes good, it’s probably good to brew with. If not, running “bad” water through a Brita filter can help, and spring water – not distilled – can be substituted for tap.

Hops. These little flowers, Humulus lupulus, are what give beer many of its most distinctive characteristics, especially in the case of very bitter or floral beers like an IPA. They are added in small amounts, generally from 0.5 up to 2 ounces per gallon. Fun fact: hops are in the Cannabaceae family.

There are dozens of varieties of hops, from light floral or citrusy German hops, to earthy English hops, to dank and resiny from the Pacific Northwest. If you like a strong hops character, an IPA would be a good first beer. The typical American IPA is an excuse to try out various hops in large quantities.

Malt. Barley is the most common malt for beermaking and even wheat beers use generally half-half wheat and malted barley. The malted wheat or barley has been malted to ready its starches to be converted to sugar. Malt is generally inexpensive and used in copious amounts, several pounds per batch, then discarded once it has been cracked, steeped, and the sugar extracted. The resulting sugary liquid is called wort. Barley can be anywhere from lightly roasted to chocolate malt, which has a dark and bitter bite akin to French roast coffee.

Generally, only malted barley is used in beer, though it may be mixed with wheat, oats, or other sugars to build body, flavor or to boost alcohol. Wheat tends to be light in flavor and body. It’s a necessary ingredient in beer styles such as the hefeweizen or Belgian wit.

Homebrewers can go the all-grain method, and extract sugars directly from the malted grain or they may buy pre-extracted sugars in the form of liquid or dry malt extract.

All-grain will save you money and allow you more flexibility but it involves a one-hour mash, the steeping period where sugars are extracted from the grain by enzymes in the barley.

Extract saves you the step of extracting sugars, which allows you to better estimate the strength of your beers and it saves time and space. It also happens to generally be more expensive. Lastly, malt extract tastes a bit like maple syrup, so if you’re looking for a pancake topping, it could do double duty.

If you like the bready, malty character of beer, try an amber ale or an English mild. If you enjoy roasted coffee flavors, try a porter or Irish stout.

Yeast. These little guys are the star of the show because without them the sugars in your wort would never be converted to alcohol. Once they’re done with their work, however, they are left aside.

Yeast comes either liquid or dry. For simple recipes where yeast isn’t the star, dry yeast is the simpler and less expensive option, e.g. Safale US-05 is common for most IPAs and clean-tasting ales. Liquid yeasts can help round out a unique flavor profile.

If you like yeast in your beer, the aforemenioned hefeweizen (which roughly translates as yeast-wheat in German) or a Belgian witte is for you. In most beers, yeasty haze is to be avoided and left at the bottom of the bottle.

There you go. Ready for your first beer groceries run.

Brewing 101: Today is Brewing Day (Introduction)

Somewhere I heard a mention of the hobby, and it sounded like a mix between playing with a chemistry set and cooking soup. I had to try it.

Way back in grad school I decided on a whim to try my hand at homebrewing. It turns out, home-brewed beer can be tastier and even cheaper than buying from the store, and it makes you feel like a mad scientist. Consider this series an introduction to the hobby for the uninitiated.

I was no beer fanatic or IPA-crazy “hop head” at the time, but I had tried a few fascinating beers that were difficult to find in stores and thought I might be able to make a halfway decent approximation of those brews myself. My kit was from the local restaurant supply store and my instructions a four-page pamphlet that came with the box. That and the amazing power of the Internet. Every possible answer and freak-out concern you have as a novice brewer is on there: why isn’t my beer fermenting, did I ruin it by touching it, etc, etc.

Let’s not talk about my first beer, which was mediocre due to substituting cheap sugar for barley malt extract. My second beer, an oatmeal stout, was amazing and is still one of the tastiest I’ve ever made.

Home brewing is simple, inexpensive, and fun, and it briefly makes you popular with your friends (until the beer runs out). That’s the best endorsement I can make for trying it yourself.

Next, hear about the ingredients in your standard beer, equipment needed, suppliers, and brewing steps.