Archive for the ‘How To’ Category

Throwing an Over-the-Top Shindig

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

So you’ve been dreaming of crafting the perfect party, a shindig of sorts where everyone comes with the highest of expectations and everyone still leaves impressed. It’s not an easy feat to pull off, but it’s certainly not impossible either. The key is in creating a party environment that plays to a lot of different tastes, but pulls them all together in an artful display that makes everyone feel like they’re enjoying the same party (even if different moods are being catered to). Below, we’ll focus on creating a high-class shindig at a low budget, so you can feel on top of the earth even if your wallet doesn’t make that the case.

Focus on the Small Touches

A classy party doesn’t really take much. You won’t need thousands of dollars worth of decorations, or some giant, fancy hot tub placed front and center to make it look like your party has unconventional swagger. Everything boils down to the small touches, the finer things that people think they’re being swift for noticing but which were intentionally placed all the same. For appetizers, try caviar, for instance. Caviar creates a notion of wealth and grandeur because of its origins, so even if you still offer generic crackers and a vegetable platter, people will remember the caviar.

Push the Beer

Any classy party can be filled with lots of good wine, but if you want to stand out, you can’t go the traditional route on anything. Need a suggestion? Try beer. And we’re not talking about basic, domestic beers that cost a few bucks at the local gas station. Go for high-end, award-worthy beers, the kind that are just enough under the radar that they aren’t popularly known yet, but have just enough general awareness that a few key people at the party will be impressed by the display. Once they get talking, your party will soon have a unique, hipster vibe, and you’ll seem like you’re in-the-know off the bat.

Don’t Forget the Party Favors

Everyone likes free stuff, and that holds true for the richest and poorest among us. If you want to make sure everyone who leaves walks away with a positive image of your party, seal the deal with a party favor or two. Our suggestion: keep it simple, and keep it ‘big idea.’ Simple is just for sanity’s sake, as trying to create gift bags for everyone sounds like a nightmare waiting to happen. The ‘big idea’ suggestion, however, is essential. The gift itself doesn’t have to be all that spectacular; rather, it’s what the gift suggests that counts. If you decide go gift everyone some comfy bathrobes, everyone thinks they just got some swank goods, considering they just ate caviar and drank unusual, expensive beer at your party. And now you even want them to continue with the good time. It doesn’t matter if the bathrobes are from the local department store or even a website; so long as the gift fits with the image you want to get out there, your party favors will be an end of the night success.

How To Ask A Question

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

from theweeklybrew

clipart-questionmarkI was crawling the brewing forums tonight and realized many people don’t know how to ask questions. I can’t count how many times someone has asked a question only to get a response asking for more info. Even then they don’t get the needed info right. So I’ve written a guide to asking questions. Hopefully this will help in the future so I won’t ever again need to respond with need more info.

Somethings Wrong With My Beer

This is numero uno in terms of brewing questions. At some time every begining brewer asks this. The problem is even when you provide the right info you don’t always get a great answer. The odds go up when you ask properly though. First things first with this question. Always state your recipe, including what yeast was used, and hoping schedule. The reason for this is different ingredients cause different flavors. Especially in the yeast category. You may have a banana bomb from high temperatures, or because you used a yeast that produces strong fruity flavors.

While we’re talking temp though make sure you include that also. The person answering will need to know pitching temp and fermentation temperature. If you don’t know the fermentation temp because the environment isn’t controlled then say that and state the fluctuation range (ie temp in apartment ranged from 65 -70). A few more things to include is how long it fermented in secondary, if it was dry hopped, was fruit added, gravity readings, and sanitation procedures.

Example

Wrong

Help, My beer tastes gross and smells bad. What did I do wrong?

Right

My beer has a watery flavor and a vinegar smell to it. I used a dead guy clone kit from Rogue. Not sure exactly what was in it. I pitched my yeast at 75°F. I don’t have AC, but the temp in the house never got above 80°F. I let it ferment for a week like the recipe said and then bottled. For bottling I primed with 3/4 cup sugar. I rinsed the bottles with hot water before filling them. What went wrong?

Cellaring Beer, The Rules

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

This is part two of my post on cellaring beers. For the first part click here. Also Ryan, on of the guys at the company that maintains and runs this blog (I’m just the guy who writes it) is giving away his Porsche Cabriolet. Check out PorschePerfect for a chance to enter.

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Back in part one of this post I mentioned that a google search on cellaring beer usually turns up an article written by Angie Rayfield. Usually if your lucky enough to find one not credited to her or written by her though at least half the article will be plagiarized from hers. So since Angie is the Internet authority on cellaring let’s take a look at her rules (paraphrased so that I’m not necessarily plagiarizing)

• Cellar the beer at serving temperature. Heat can cause a beers lifespan to shorten, and too cold can cause chill haze. Then she gives you temperature suggestions (but I don’t wanna do that).

• Store bottles upright.

• Always purchase at least two of whatever beer you want to cellar. Drink one immediately, then cellar the other for at least a year. This way you can do a comparison.

• Although it’s included as a sub rule unworthy of boldness Angie also suggests not storing beer in a refrigerator since the lack of humidity will dry out the corks causing them to fail

While Angie’s rules are all well and good they are mostly written for corked beers and personally I have issues with some of them. So here are Jared’s rules for aging.

• Make sure the bottle will maintain a proper seal. If it’s a corked bottle follow the rules for aging corked beers. If it’s a capped beer that you want to store long term then melt some paraffin wax in a double boiler and put a wax seal on that puppy. After all, seals in caps go bad, and if that $15 bottle of barley wine you’ve spent a year aging came out of the cellar worse then it went in it would suck. Keep in mind that if your only aging a beer for several months and not a year or two then special precautions may not be necessary.

• Purchasing of multiple beers allows you to taste the beer as it ages to determine when it’s at it’s best. That being said it’s not a hard fast rule that you should buy more then one. The six pack of old foghorn aging in my pantry is next to a single bottle of an imperial stout I purchased. Granted I’d tried the stout before so I have an idea what the original is like, but I don’t have six bottles of that stout up there for incremental age testing. Also if you want to compare a beer year to year the only reliable way is to add multiple bottles of the same beer to your collection every year. That way you can try the 2 year, 1 year, and this year beer in one session for comparison. The idea that you’ll distinctly remember the original in a year is silly.

• Lastly, and something Angie mentions in the comments on the original post. Beer aging wont make a beer better persay. It helps to think of aging as making a beer different. Over time the flavors and aroma of a beer will change. For some people this is good, some people however prefer their beers young and full of hop characteristics. Aging is a matter of personal preference, and it should be enjoyable. If you are cellaring beer to sell later at a profit then of course you should take the matter more seriously, but if not then remember beer is meant to be enjoyed. If you pile on the art, snobbery, and the various crap wine makers have done to their beverage then you will effect it’s enjoyment for yourself.

Methode Champenoise

Friday, May 29th, 2009

If you haven’t voted for the style of my next brew make sure you do here
Also Señor Brew is taking votes on naming his kegs here

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Recently I heard about methode Champenoise, and it really has intrigued me. So much so that I think I may do it for all my future competition submissions. So since the process intrigued me so much I figured I’d explain how to do something I’ve never tried before.

Methode Champenoise is a process used in making champagne that removes all yeast sediment from the carbonated product. This would definitely come in handy in a situation like a competition where you want your bottle conditioned beer to come out as clear as possible. That and shooting plugs of yeast sounds like a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon. So how does it work? Well I’m getting to that.

The first step in methode Champenoise is riddling your bottles. This is done by placing the bottle in a riddling rack or for the more do it yourselfers with small amounts you can place the bottles upside down. As the bottles carbonate yeast sediment in the bottle will settle in the neck of the bottle. For riddling racks the bottles have to be turned periodically to ensure an even spread to the sediment. Riddling can take awhile since you have to wait for all sediment in the beer to fall out. To help it along I’d probably crash cool the bottles upside down after they have carbonated. That way a several month process could be knocked down to a month.

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After riddling has taken place you freeze the necks of the bottles up to the top of the sediment in a brine and dry ice solution. This will turn the yeast sediment into one big ice plug. Next you pop the crown cap, shoot your plug, top off the bottle with more beer, and recap. The whole process from shooting the plug to recaping should only take seconds, not minutes. Once this is done then you should supposedly have a sediment free beer.

If anyone has done this, or does try it I’d love to hear how it worked for you.

Modifying A Recipe

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

beer-kitToday Davo left a comment wondering how you would downsize a recipe for a Mr. Beer kit. This really isn’t a hugely difficult thing to do, and if your having trouble because you haven’t done fractions since highschool then that’s what you have children for right? For those of us who try to avoid math whenever possible though I figured I should explain how to modify a 5 gal partial mash recipe (that means an extract recipe with some grains). Also some tips for spicing up your kits.

Changing Batch Size

Let’s take the “Uncle Fuggles Slightly Rye” I’m brewing right now, as we speak. The 5 gal recipe is as follows

1 lb Rye malt
.5 lb Biscuit malt
.25 British Crystal malt
3 lb Dry Light Malt Extract
3 lb Dry Amber Malt Extract
1 oz Fuggles for 60 min
1.5 oz Fuggles for 20 min
1 oz  Fuggles for dry hopping
Predicted OG 1.058, IBUs 37

Now we use 2/5 the ingredients for a 2 gal Mr Beer fermentor

7 oz Rye malt
3 oz Biscuit malt
2 oz British Crystal Malt
1.25 lb Light Dry Malt Extract
1.25 lb Amber Dry Malt Extract
.4 oz Fuggles at 60 min
.6 oz Fuggles at 20 min
.4 oz Fuggles for dry hopping
Predicted OG 1.055, IBUs 35

As you can see the math is easy, just multiply everything by 0.4 to get your weight, then convert it into an easier measurement ( lbs become oz). Also some creative rounding is needed to make the numbers easier. The rounding causes the OG and IBUs to not match up, but they are still close.

Spicing It Up

One thing I’m a big advocate for both in brewing and in cooking is making the recipe your own. With kits this may seem difficult, but in reality it isn’t. In fact kits are a great starting point for even experienced partial mash brewers (they don’t quite fit for all grain though). My Rose Red is a good example of a kit mod recipe. I started with a Coopers Wheat Beer kit and modified it with specialty grains, wheat malt extract, and spices.

One thing to always consider with kit brewing is hops. Many kits go lighter on the hops in order to appeal to a broader range of brewers. Adding a small amount of hops in at your boil and extending the boil to a full hour can give your beer a nice bitterness, or flavor if added near the end. Also dry hopping (adding hops to sit in the beer after fermentation) is another great way to give your beer that great hop aroma and take things up a notch. Just remember, most kits are prehopped, so don’t be heavy handed when adding them. Another great way to spice up beers or to raise your OG to a more acceptable range is with grains and malt extract.

Hope these tips were helpful. It’s time for me to go stir in my flavoring hops though, so I need to stop writing.

Small Beer

Monday, May 4th, 2009

smallbeerCurrently I have 10 gal of a modern attempt at a small beer bubbling away in both my carboys. I say modern because even at 2.5% ABV it’s still not a true small beer. In fact most small beers out there aren’t true small beers, even the ones made using the same process. So what is a small beer?

Small beers are deeply rooted in history, and the need to provide beer for ones household. Back then beer was made in the home, usually by a woman from the kitchen. In a small family this would usually be the wife, and in a larger household a servant. Beer was in integral part of society then and much of it was made. Unlike modern day brewing though the batches were often larger, and not as diverse. One day I may brew a small beer, and the next a nice roasty stout. When you’re brewing large batches for an entire household for a large space of time though you wouldn’t do this.

So what is a small beer exactly? From what I’ve gathered by reading books on the history of beer what we call a small beer nowadays used to be called a table beer. Malt extracts are a fairly new thing to brewing, and before them all brewing was all grain. When the grains were rinsed in the tun there were multiple runnings made. The first running is what we call now call beer. This was added to the pot, boiled with hops, and turned into what we often think of as a normal beer. Once the first runnings were pulled off they sent more water through the tun and got what was called a second run. We have now arrived at what we now call small beer. This beer is usually around 3% ABV and would be drunk throughout the day and at meals. If it was possible a third running would be made to produce a true small beer. This beer was loaded with tannins, and didn’t have much flavor. It was usually reserved for servants and children.

So is it possible to brew a modern small beer using old methods? Anchor Brewing has a small beer made from the second runnings of their barlywine, and Firestone Walker makes a small beer called lil Opal from the second runnings of their wheat whine Opal. Notice both these small beers are made from big malty beers. With a big beer like a barlywine your efficiency goes down and more sugars are left in the grains. This means that when you make a second running you’ll still get alot of flavor, without a lot of tannins in the wort. This makes big beers the perfect candidates for the homebrewer to experiment with when it comes to making small beer. So if you brew all grain, and your making a big beer like a barlywine then get out an extra fermentor and make some small beer.

The Cost Of Homebrew

Friday, May 1st, 2009

money_stackPerhaps the thing that’s gotten the most strange looks and questions is when I tell people I save money when I homebrew. Apparently no one believes that brewing your own can save you money. But the truth is it really can. My beer may not always be as cheap as a sixer of Budweiser, but it can definitely be cheaper then those craft beers in the store. Take the current summer rye I have bubbling away right now. The ingredients cost around $35 dollars for a 5 gal batch of 5% abv beer. That comes out to around 75 cents per a bottle. However I doubled the water in this batch in order to try and achieve a small beer of around 2.5% abv this has lowered the cost of this beer too around 35 cents a batch. How much does your Bud Light cost per a can? and I promise this has more flavor.

My Summer Rye doesn’t have alot of specialty ingredients though, so how does a bigger beer like my Rose Red compare? Well it came out to around $1.25 per a bottle, or $7.50 per a sixer. Not really that bad considering. Even if making recipes isn’t your thing it still can be cheap. Last time I was in the local brew shop I failed to find a 5 gal kit beer over $50, and these were nice, but spendy, kits like Rogues Dead Guy.

So we now know how much a batch costs, so what about start up? This is the part that intimidates people the most. After all where does one start? Do I need a glass carboy or a plastic food grade bucket for a fermentor? What about a pot? Do I need a propane burner like the guys online say? What is all grain? What is a lauter tun? Do I need a lauter tun?

As you can see it’s overwhelming when you start looking for equipment. Want to know a secret though to creating a free homebrewing kit? Back when I first started brewing consisted of the largest pot I had at the time (less then 3 gal), and several 2 ltr soda bottles for fermentors. There were no thermometers, hydrometers, bubblers or the like. But how this all worked is another post.

Let’s say you want something a little more substantial then the ghetto setup I started with. Let’s say you want to start where most hobbiests start, extract brewing using your cook top. For a pre-packaged starter kit your looking at a starting cost of around $50 to upwards of 2 or 3 hundred dollars. So what are the basics you need for your kit? For a person just starting you will need at least the following. Bottles aren’t listed since you probably have some lying around from all those beers you’ve purchased at the store.

Needed

•3 gal pot (5 or more would be better)
•5 gal food grade plastic bucket with a lid that has a spot to insert a bubbler
•bubbler
•racking cane
•siphoning tube
•capper and caps
•bottle brush
•thermometer

Optional things that will help

•bottling wand
•hydrometer
•wort chiller

If one were to scavenge their undamaged fermenting buckets from restaurants then you could theoretically have a brewing kit for under $50 easy. Considering how much other hobbies like golf, cycling, and the like cost brewing is a cheap hobby. Combine that with a good beer  that you made for cheaper then the cost of a sixer at the store and one can really appreciate the savings of brewing your own beer.

Recycling Bottles

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

obi_023cIt’s Earth Day….. I know that gets some people excited, but to me it’s just another day. But in honor of this day I figured I might as well tie something beer related into helping the earth. After failed starts with another organic beer post, and other ideas I finally struck on one that might work. We all drink beer right? So we all have left over bottles that we recycle right? Well why not reuse your own bottles?

With the whole green movement going on many people are switching from aluminium to glass. Beer drinkers have been ahead of the curve though because most good craft beers come in glass bottles. The problem though is glass really isn’t as super friendly to the environment as people think. Pick up a glass bottle in one hand, and a soda can in the other. Which one is lighter? Which one takes up less space? When it comes to shipping aluminium has the edge. It’s light, compact, and more disposable, and therefore takes less fuel to move. The problem is aluminium can only be recycled a certain number of times. Glass can potentially be recycled till the end of time.

scapeglas1So let’s say you buy this whole glass is better thing, or not, and you dutiffuly recycle all your glass bottles. What happens to them now? Well after your glass is picked up it’s taken to a recycling center where it is crushed, cleaned, and sold. From there your glass ends up in all sorts of places. Ultimately the only way glass can be reused infinatly though is when making more glass. The problem is only recently have companys been using more recycled glass. If your glass bottle is destined end up in another container though it is melted and reformed into a new glass bottle. Gone are the days where bottlers washed and reused glass bottles just as they were.

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Ok, now that I’ve been a negative Nelly let me give you some cool uses for those glass bottles. first off you’ll need either a bottle caper (these only work with pry off bottles), or a corker. These things are easy to find online, or at your local home brewing or wine supply shop. You’ll also need to pick up a bottle brush and caps or corks while your at it. When you get back it’s time to decide what you want to do with your bottles. Then you just have to clean out any material in them with the bottle brush (never reuse a bottle with scratches or damage to the inside), and sanitize. Here are some things to put in those bottles.

  • •Those fancy infused vinegars people make
  • •Bottle your own water
  • •Make some soda pop
  • •Make beer or wine
  • •Make your own cordials or liqueurs
  • •Buy liquids in bulk then break them down for storage
  • •If you live in an area of political unrest you could even make Molotov Cocktails (I don’t recommend this since it destroys the bottle and is usually illegal)

Washing Yeast

Friday, April 17th, 2009

One thing I’ve wanted to do for awhile is wash and use my own yeast. Sure it would only save me a few bucks every time I brew, but there’s something about it that seems fun. The problem was I felt like an idiot asking people how to wash yeast after having brewed for going on two years. Well after some research I’ve figured out how, and thought I might post a tutorial for anyone interested in knowing. In fact when I finish this batch of beer it might be cool to do another video.

So why wash and reuse yeast? Well for a lot of people the reasons are different. If you’re going to make another batch of beer the same day then you won’t have any lag time while the yeast start multiplying as there will already be a high concentration of yeast. Reducing lag time supposedly reduces off flavors and makes a better beer. Another reason is if you’re into recycling and self sufficiency then you’re eliminating the need to buy new yeast every time. Also I’ve heard some brewers say that over time the yeast will adapt to your specific brewing environment and help produce more consistent results. So if those reasons sound good to you then next time you siphon off your beer then take a bit of time to reuse your yeast.

When you siphon off your beer you’re left with what’s called a yeast cake in the bottom of your fermentor. Some people will just pitch straight on this. One of the issues though is that’s not just yeast in that yeast cake. There’s also something called trub that’s basically dead yeast, waste, and all sorts of gross stuff that’s settled out of your last batch. Personally the thought of pitching a different style of beer on the trub from a previous batch just doesn’t seem kosher. Maybe it is, but it doesn’t seem that way to me.

So once you’ve siphoned off your beer then you swirl the yeast cake to bring everything into suspension. If you don’t have enough liquid for this add 1/2 a cup or so of pre boiled water to help. Next pour the slurry into a mason jar and rubber band some plastic wrap over the top and stick in the fridge. After awhile it will break down into two layers. The bottom layer is the trub, the top is yeast. There will probably be a thin line in the middle made up of both also. Just carefully pour the yeast off into another container. If you want then repeat the process, then put an airlock on the container and stick it in the fridge. You can store yeast for up to a year, just be sure to make a starter if you plan on storing it.

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