Weisen: First Taste

A week after bottling day, it was time to test out the weizen. Pouring into the glass, it made a decently large head, which retained pretty well. It had a citrus-y smell, and the color was golden, if a little cloudy. The taste was similar to Blue Moon, if a little more citrus-y (without adding fruit to it). The first sip seemed to be pretty well carbonated, but after that, there wasn’t much bubbliness to it. This was also the case with the Pale, though I presume it will get a little more carbonated as secondary fermentation continues.

We tried two separate bottles of the stuff, one of which was just slightly cooler than room temperature, and the other of which had refrigerated overnight. The first one tasted a little more flat than the cold, and it was harder to taste the alcohol content, which was surprisingly high (appx. 5.5%, if I recall correctly) for a wheat beer.

This is a good summer beer, and for the second brew in a row, I’m pleasantly surprised at how the batch seems to be taking shape. Tomorrow will likely be bottling day for the Peanut Butter Porter. Yum!

Peanut Butter Porter Recipe

This was the first recipe we’ve every put together ourselves.  Our first two beers were made from pre-packaged kits, which is a great way to start, but we felt like we were ready to experiment and mess around. After going to the Ann Arbor Brewers Guild meeting a few days before, we were inspired to do something beyond malt, grain, hops and yeast. We all like peanut butter, and we all like beer, so it seemed like a natural combination.

The Ingredients

  • 1lb American Crystal Malt 10L
  • ½lb British Chocolate Malt
  • 3.3lbs Liquid Dark Malt Extract
  • 6lbs Dry Dark Malt Extract
  • 2lbs Trader Joe’s Organic, All Natural Peanut Butter
  • 1oz Perle
  • 1oz Saaz

The Process

  • Bring ≈3 gals of water up to heat
  • Between 160-170ºF add grains in muslin bag and remove from heat. Allow to steep for 30 minutes.
  • Remove spent grains (we didn’t sparge) and bring mixture to boil.
  • Once it starts boiling mix  in the extracts and peanut butter. We didn’t try to get the oil out of the peanut butter. This didn’t have any oil added and it didn’t appear to be much on top.
  • Once malt/peanut butter is mixed in, add 1oz Perle hops and mix in. Start boil timer.
  • 50 minutes in/10 minutes from the end add 10z Saaz and mix in.

The Stats

  • Original Gravity: 1.083
  • Bitterness: 19 IBU
  • Color: 160 HCU (~48 SRM)
  • Alcohol Content: 9.1% ABV (maybe a bit higher with the peanut butter)

We used the Crytal Malt 10L  mainly for the head retention in order to offset the oil in the peanut butter. Also, Crystal has enzymes in it that can help break down non-malted sugars like those found in the peanut butter. The chocolate malt was for color as well as the nutty, toastiness it gave the beer. We ended up taking out a lot of the peanut butter solids off the top near the end of boil.

The beer smelled amazing during the boil.  I’m hoping it’s not too sweet with the peanut butter, but it had a more balanced scent once the second round of hops were added.  Also, the fermentation process should cut the sweetness quite a bit.  The peanut smell is certainly there, but it plays well with the maltiness. Hopefully the hops can balance out the sweetness and maltiness enough.  This is the beer I’m most excited to try at this point. Waiting 3-4 weeks is going to be really tough.

Bare-Bones Basics #2: Hops

Now, most beer drinkers know that beer has 4 things in it: Water, Grain, Hops, and Yeast. In our first Bare-Bones Basics dealing with one of these, we’re going to talk about the hops.

Hop flowers

Hop flowers

Hops are small green flowers (biologist-types will call them ‘strobiles’) that grow on the humulus, which is a vine-like plant. These flowers are harvested once a year in late summer. Since hops lose their bitterness easily, most often, they are ground up, dried, and frozen, until they are sent off to be put in beer. Often, especially for the homebrewer, the ground up hops are made into small ‘plugs’ or ‘pellets’ as seen below.

Paul holding a small bag of hop pellets.

Paul holding a small bag of hop pellets.

As many people know, hops are what give beer a bitter flavor or aroma. It is, however, not as Boston Beer Company says, where “Hops are to beer like grapes are to wine.” Hops provide no sugars to the wort. In fact, you can make beer without hops at all, though it may be a little sweet and/or bland. Flavor-wise, hops do two things, depending on when you add them to your wort.

When added before you are done boiling your wort, hops will make beer more bitter. Boiling hops releases the alpha acids in the flower. The alpha-acid content of hops is generally what you’ll see listed as the defining characteristic of different kinds of hops. Higher alpha-acid percentage means more bitterness per hop.

Adding the hops later, near the end of the boiling phase of the wort, will add aroma to the beer. Beta-acids are responsible for this effect. Beta-acids are more fragile and will boil away if you add them too soon. These can even be added after the wort is cooling. This is called ‘dry-hopping’.

Now, there are many hops that can be used with either technique, but some hops have stronger alpha-acids, and others have stronger beta-acids. Which hops are used all depends on what the brewer is trying to do.

Now last year, there was a bad crop of hops, which led to the prices increasing significantly. If you noticed your favorite craft brew going up a buck or two per six pack this last year, that’s why.

Review: Shorts Bellaire Brown

Shorts Bellaire Brown

Shorts Bellaire Brown

I’ve been a big fan of Brown Ales for a while. The first time I ever really remember tasting a Brown and really enjoying it was at Leopold Brothers’.  For a while, that was the high water mark for that style. Then, I tried the Bellaire Brown from Shorts.

Shorts describes it as:

A brown ale so rich, it’s hardly classifiable as brown. It’s born of copious amounts of hearty pale ale malt, and several specialty selections which make it a dark, rich and delicious masterpiece. Very light hop additions allow the malty sweetness and flavor complexity to be most protuberant. A beer so user friendly, we dub this the “gateway” beer.

It pours very dark with a small, creamy head that faded quickly.  The color, as you can see, is very dark.  It had a strong coffee smell in the aroma along with sweetness and maltiness.  The taste starts with a rich maltiness that is incredibly smooth.  It finished with a light note of cherry. The beer is incredibly well balanced with a very satisfying body.

I’ve had a few offerings from Shorts and have enjoyed them all.  Ashley’s has moved the Bellaire Brown and the Huma Lupa Liscious IPA onto its permanent menu, so I expect to make this a regular drink. I really need to plan a trip up North and hit up their tap house.

Bare-Bones Basics #1: How is beer made?

Beer has been made for over 10,000 years, but how? What’s happening in those big vats in the brewery downtown? How is it possible to produce beer in your kitchen? Don’t you need specialized equipment?

Well, first off, the reason beer has been made for 10,000 years is because it’s an incredibly simple process:

  1. The starches in grains (generally barley, but there are many different options that will produce various beers) are ‘mashed’ to turn into a mixture of water and sugars called a ‘wort’.
  2. Usually (but not always), small green flowers called hops are added, adding flavor and aroma. Hops also act as an antibiotic to help in the next phase.
  3. Yeast is added to the wort. Yeast is a fungus that eats sugars, and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide as waste products.
  4. After all the yeast has died, the beer is ready to drink.

Now, obviously you can’t throw a handful of wheat into a vat with yeast and say “beer!,” but that’s the nuts and bolts: Make wort, add yeast, wait.

Why Homebrew?

Thinking about homebrewing? Well, here are some great reasons to take it up as a hobby:

  • Depending on how willing you are to buy large quantities of malt/grain, you can make good beer cheaper than you can buy it in the store.
  • Creativity! You can experiment to make a unique beer you can call your own.
  • Depending on your state, it may be legal for you to brew and drink your own beer even when you’re under the age of 21.
  • You can only learn so much about beer without making it yourself. If you really want to ‘know beer’ you should know what makes each beer taste the way it does.
  • Amateur competitions. Local homebrewing clubs have frequent contests, sometimes with prize money, too.
  • It’s an interesting sub-culture. Local clubs are filled with other beer geeks who simply love beer and it will afford you an opportunity to spend time around people with whom you share a common interest.
  • Satisfaction. Nothing beats cracking your first beer of a batch, tasting it, and knowing that you made beer. It’s awesome.

Any other reasons? Share them in the comments.

Review: Bürger Light

Bürger Light, Cincinatti, Ohio

Bürger Light, Cincinnati, Ohio

Last night I was watching the hockey game with some friends. We started off drinking Bell’s Oberon, which most people in the region know, but being poor college kids/poor college graduates, economics eventually took over.

One of the kids we were with had recently been in Cincinatti, Ohio where he found Bürger Light on sale for $2.99 for a six pack.  Naturally he picked up a few of them to bring back to Michigan.  After a few good beers, we decided our palates were numbed enough to give this beer a go.

We made sure to keep it extra cold. We didn’t poor it into a glass because it would not have been worth the water/soap to wash the glass afterward. I cracked mine open and took a sip and didn’t really taste much of anything.  I guess water is the most drinkable and refreshing liquid on the Earth, so if those are the qualities desired in the beer, tasting like water is good, right?

There was absolutely nothing remarkable about this beer other than its price, which, especially for Michigan residents used to a higher alcohol tax, seems ludicrously low.  There’s a place and time for cheap beer, and if you really want to put the emphasis on cheap, you can’t really go wrong with Bürger Light.  I certainly wouldn’t drink it as my first, second or third beer of the night, but it’s not a horrible option to have just to have something to drink while watching a game.

Bürger Light is available throughout Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana at $2.99 for a six pack and $5.99 for a twelve pack. Here’s an article about it’s relaunch.

Vital Statistics:

Original Gravity: 9.02° plato
Final Gravity: 2.5° plato
Bitterness: 11 IBU’s (low)
Color: 3 SRM (Golden-Straw)
Alcohol Content: 3.22% by weight – 4.06% by volume
Calories: 110 per 12 oz. serving
Carbohydrates: 9.6 grams

What We’ve Learned

The new equipment really helped

The new equipment really helped

Before we attempted to brew our first beer we read a lot of stuff on the subject. We probably read too much. Every website and book had slightly different procedures to brew. One says proof the yeast; one says just sprinkle it on top; they almost all referred to equipment we didn’t have. Once we finally got to the intructions, there were so many different ideas and methods out there that it got confusing and inconsistent.  For our second beer, we read completely through the instructions, planned out what we needed to do, and then simply went through the steps. It was amazingly simple.

Another aspect that made it simple was knowingi the  hang-ups from the first time.  Our kit came with a glass carboy which works fine for fermenting, but is a pain in the ass to mix with given its weight and the narrowness of the opening.  We spent $15 on a bottling bucket and it made the whole process a ton easier. Being able to pour the boil into the bucket and mix it with water to get up to the 5 gallon mark really cut down on the stress. It also allowed us to take an original gravity reading and spread the yeast evenly while mixing it in.

Finally, buying three gallons of distilled water made life much less frantic. On our first brewday, we had to boil all the water that was going in, and to make matters worse, we didn’t have a microwave on site.  Boiling the water made it even more difficult to try to get the wort down to temp quickly enough. We actually put the yeast in when the wort was probably over 100ºF, it’s amazing it fermented at all. This time, we got the boil down to about 80ºF, and added 2 gallons of cold water and 1 gallon of room temperature water which got it right to 70ºF.

We’re still having some problems getting the hard break with the boil. We tried an ice bath in the sink and it still took about 20-30 minutes.  We have a keg cooler that we can get our hands on for next time, so hopefully that will help. We’re still using a cut open handle of gin as our funnel, mainly because it’s awesome, and funnels are like $12.  We much prefer not spending the money and keeeping the hilarity of our improvised funnel.

We still have to bottle, and we’re not quite set up perfectly for that.  The bucket with a spiget will certainly help, but we don’t have a bottling wand or a short piece of tubing to fill the bottle with. Last time we bottled with a siphon, and that was a royal pain in the ass.  It should be much better this time.

Hopefully we can continue this upward trend. The first beer will most likely be drinkable, and it was a fun experience making it, but it did get frustrating and stressful when it looked like the beer might not work.  Now that we get the basic process pretty well, we can expand into some more complicated stuff.