Green Brewing

The University of Michigan’s “Out of the Blue” (perhaps best known for boring the daylights out of viewers hoping they’d see sports late at night on the Big Ten Network) recently tackled a topic near and dear to our hearts: beer.

Michigan Grad Student Jarett Diamond

Michigan Grad Student Jarett Diamond

The show produced an 8-minute feature about Michigan student Jarret Diamond, whose Masters thesis revolved around how to make the brewing process more environmentally-friendly. Though inspiration struck at Arbor Brewing, the project centered around Arbor’s sister brewery down the road in Ypsilanti, Corner Brewery. Diamond and his team first learned about the commercial brewing process, before figuring out how to improve it.

Other members of Diamond’s team focused on improving the sustainability and infrastructure of the brewery. If you’re interested in not only beer, but also the environment (as so many beer lovers are), check it out.

Starting From Scratch: Building a Setup

Well, after the Breaking of the Fellowship, our brewing has been sparse. Tim, the only one living with brewing equipment, was without a stove, Paul only recently was able to brew, with his friend’s setup, and I was dealing with a roommate who was looking for a reason to get me evicted. Eventually I decided my roommate would just have to grow up and realize he didn’t get his way all the time (this prompted me recieving an empty threat that I was ‘getting an eviction notice tomorrow for brewing beer’, a laughable claim, that has yet to even earn me a landlordian repremand).

So what kind of setup did I want? What pieces did I need/want, and what could I do without? Having pieced together our setup in Ann Arbor over more than a year, I knew what was important, what was convienent, and what I could overlook. These were the things I had to get, and my options for them:

  • Sugar Conversion – Mashtun OR Only be able to use malt extract
  • Brew Pot – Large pot + stove OR Turkey fryer
  • Cooling System – Copper wort chiller OR Use of sink
  • Fermentation Vessel – 6.5 Gal Glass carboy OR Ale Pale
  • Carbonation/Storage – Spigoted Ale Pale/Bottling OR Kegging kit

Part of the fun of brewing is mixing your own grains and mashing them. Only using malt extract is easier, but other than the initial startup cost of a mashtun, the per batch cost of extract is much higher. I went with a 10 gallon rubbermaid mash tun using a modified ( read the instructions and made it up as I went along once I got to the hardware store) version of these instructions.

For the brew pot, I spent some time shopping around, but I actually was able to find a 7.5 gallon turkey fryer for less than I could find a brewpot of the same size. While this route also took the purchase of propane, it was totally worth it, but more on that later.

For cooling, I was able to find a wort chiller for about $45 dollars, but I hadn’ scrimpt on anything yet, and with the time savings from the turkey fryer, I figured I’d go cheap here. 45 minutes in time savings isn’t worth fifty bucks to me… at least not right away.

The final two items I was able to pick up as a package deal, along with other odds and ends I needed (thermometer, hydrometer, etc.) from Adventures in Homebrewing. For a little over $200, I was able to get a kegging kit, ale pale, and 5 gallon carboy. The other option was to drop the kegging kit and get a wort chiller, brewpot and a spigoted ale pale, but for 20 bucks more. Given my feelings about kegging (it’s awesome and easy) vs. my feeling about bottling (it takes too long, and requires hoarding bottles) I went with the kegging kit.

Now, all in all, this totalled up to about $350. Sadly, I also needed to get it to where I live. This added a good $200s in shipping costs, because the Vail Valley is apparently more difficult to ship to than Valdez (hyperbole, but not by much).

In addition to my order from Adventures in Homebrewing, I had them pack in a Wee Heavy recipe and shipped it out. Sadly, the autosyphon that shipped was damaged in transit, but everything else arrived safe and sound in less than a week.I finally got my shtuff together, found a friend to give me a hand and brewed. All went well, aside from a slight snafu involving the airlock seal on the ale pale leading me to think the yeast was dead, leading me to rush to the nearest brewery to beg for some active yeast, only to get home, open the pale, to find a nice layer of krausen on top… Always double check your grommets.

I have yet to fill up my CO2 tank, to keg the brew, but it is now fully fermented, and I eagerly await getting it all done (I did snag a taste of it from the carboy, as well as a gravity reading: A bit strong, and a little more dry than I was hoping, but should be a fantastic brew).

Recipe: Impromptu Cream Ale

Stove Substitute: Not So Useful

Stove Substitute: Not So Useful

I’ve been back to Ann Arbor several times since moving to Chicago. When I make it back, Tim and I try to do some sort of fermentable exercise. The only problem: Tim has been without a stove for the past 5 months or so. That certainly hasn’t stopped us. We have just had to be a bit more creative. This spawned our mead and cider, both of which can be made without any sort of heating element.

Well, this time was different. The landlord had installed a new stove, and we were ready to rock and roll, except for one problem: we couldn’t think of a beer to make. Looking back at what we’ve made, we’ve done mostly heavier, bigger beers. We decided it was time for something different. After bouncing around a bunch ideas, we landed on a Cream Ale.

Cream ales are light in color, with subtle malt and hop characters. Most of the interesting notes come from esters the yeast makes during fermentation. This is also our first time using a lager yeast (WLP810 San Francisco Lager Yeast). We’re hoping this beer will serve as a versatile canvas for different flavor additions from fruits, to chiles, to spices. Like we did with the mead, we’ll probably split this up after primary and try a few different things.

Grain Bill

  • 6 lbs 6-row barley
  • 1 lb flaked maize
  • .5 lb carapils

We mashed at about 155º for an hour in trusty water cooler mash tun with 2.5 gallons of water. We sparged with about 4.5 gallons and but as much as we could into our 5 gallon brew pot for the boil.

Boil

  • .25 oz  Willamette (4.6%) at 60 minutes
  • .5 oz Ahtanum* (4.5%) at 30 minutes
  • .75 oz Willamette at 15 minutes
  • .5 oz Ahtanum at flame out

We cooled it and pitched one vial of WLP810 lager yeast. The beer ended up pretty low gravity (about 1.024-6), so hopefully we’ll get pretty good attenuation. It should be sessionable, but it doesn’t need to be NA.

*75% certain this is the hop we used. It fits the profile of what were looking for, so even if we didn’t use it in this batch, we’d probably want to use it if we do it again.

The Three Meads

3 Meads

Split into bottles and 2 buckets.

As I’ve been without a stove for a while—documented here—brew days have been few and far between (a phrase which here means “nonexistent”). However, late in the fall, we managed to get started on a mead, thanks to a friend whose father is a recreational beekeeper. After several transfers between carboys and buckets and buckets and carboys, today was bottling day.

However, we at YBD aren’t satisfied with just any old mead. Of the 5-gallon batch, I bottled about 3 gallons (carbonated with sugar tabs), then made a trip to The Produce Station to look for some adjuncts. After furiously texting Paul back-and-forth for proportions (technology!), I headed back home with two grapefruits and two kiwi.

Fruits for mead

Kiwi. Grapefruit. Mead.

I juiced half a grapefruit into a bowl, and scooped the pulp into my food processor. Then, I skinned both kiwi and chopped them up, putting the meat into the food processor as well. After giving it a few quick pulses to puree the whole thing, I put the pulp and juice into the microwave for 30 seconds to kill any bacteria. Finally, I dumped the whole thing into a bucket with half of the remaining mead (just over a gallon). Since I didn’t want to leave such a small batch, I added about a quart of distilled water to the whole she-bang.

With the remaining grapefruit, I followed a similar process: juicing and scooping the pulp. This fruit-and-a-half went into the other bucket, and again I topped it with a quart of distilled water. This left us with 3 gallons of plain mead, 1.25 gallons of grapefruit-kiwi mead, and 1.25 gallons of grapefruit mead.

Can’t wait to taste the plain mead in a couple weeks, and the fruit editions a few weeks after that.

Recipe: Vail Ale Batch #1 Wee Heavy

Well, as it seems I am staying out in Vail for a somewhat long term basis, I’ve invested in a new setup. A post will soon follow about the contruction of said setup as well as my first brew day with it: The pitfalls, the triumphs, the shenanigans, etc. First off, though, I’ll let you in on the beer brewed.

As I now have a 10 gallon mash tun, instead of the 5 gal, we had in Ann Arbor, I decided to go Xtreme with the grain bill, brewing a beer we wouldn’t have been able to put together back in Michigan. Having been unable to brew for so long, I felt the first beer on the new kit should be one of my favorite styles, a wee heavy scotch ale.

As you may know, malt character is the driving force in these brews, which great because I now can put a bunch in a 5 gallon batch. The recipe follows:

Grains:

  • 9 lbs Maris Otter
  • 2 lbs Aromatic Malt
  • 5 lbs Amber Malt
  • 2 lbs Flaked Oats

Hops:

  • 1.5 oz East Kent Goldings (4.7% AA) 60 minutes
  • 1 oz East Kent Goldings (4.7% AA) 10 minutes
  • .5 oz East Kent Goldings (4.7% AA) dry

Secondary:

  • 4 oz American Oak Chips – 1 week

What Killed Brew Masters?

Brew Masters on Discovery Channel

Brew Masters

“The Dogfish Show,” as most people I know called it, had a very brief run on The Discovery Channel, as the network chose not to renew the show after its first season. The conspiracy theorists are out in full force, with accusations that Big Beer (those are scare-tactic capital letters) killed the show. Of course, there have been retractions and/or clarifications of that accusation, and even some denials by Big Beer.

So what if they didn’t kill the show? Maybe it was canceled because, quite frankly, it wasn’t a very good show. And if I, as a beer lover (at least enough to write a blog about the stuff, right?) didn’t think the show was very good, what does the average American think about it? Perhaps advertisers simply pulled their ads because they weren’t reaching a wide audience.

Was the show unsalvageable? No. But if it’s going to develop into a worthwhile piece of television, it needs to take fewer than 6 episodes to “find itself.” I saved all the broadcast episodes on DVR, and in the name of clearing space, watched them one final time. That inspired this post, obviously, and also made me think about what could have made Brew Masters a much better show:

  • Everything felt like the “first episode.” A little exposition for new viewers is fine, but every episode felt like I was watching a pilot. That may be because the first two episodes seemingly aired out of order (“Punkin and Portamarillo” was certainly intended to be the pilot, but it aired after “Bitches Brew”), but the problem didn’t get much better as the first season went on. Breaking chronology throughout the season–we saw the treehouse in the first several episodes, then it suddenly arrives, brand-new, at the facility–only added to this effect.
  • Too much focus on artificially-created (or just uninteresting) drama. If a batch of beer has improperly fermented, that’s interesting, and is making the plot revolve around beer. If a machine breaks and drops a component into a mystery bottle, or (ugh) a factory worker spills glue, it is crap. YOU ARE NOT MAKING COMPELLING TV if you’re focusing on such facile and shallow storylines. You ordered the wrong bottles. Great. What in the world made you think I’d watch an hour of TV revolving around that plot point? That’s Factory Drama X, and takes the show away from beer – its raison d’etre.
  • Didn’t let Sam be Sam. A big part of the reason Dogfish Head is so well-known (aside from the beer, of course) is the cult of personality that Sam Calagione has. He’s a personable guy, and just watching him in, for example, Beer Wars, you wanted to befriend the guy. Let him show his personality in the show. Having him narrate was a gross miscalculation, because it took him from “guy the show is about” (good), to “guy who makes the show” (bad, removes his personality). Using testimonial-style narration with the employees – and even Sam – would have been a much better choice. On the same note, have one of his brewing experts – Brian and/or Floris, for example – talk about the science and process behind the beer, not Sam himself.
  • This one might directly contradict the previous point, but I don’t care, because it’s super-important: Don’t rap. The Pain Relievaz sequences were painfully awkward.
  • Personal drama is alright. However, it has to revolve around interesting points. “Sam is kinda neglecting his family on vacation” is not interesting. Sure, it warrants a mention, but not an entire sequence. Same with “OMG THE SCHEDULE IS SOOOOO CRUNCHED!!!” Mention it, and move on. You aren’t creating a true sense of urgency with that; if you couldn’t finish the beer within your timeline, you wouldn’t have an episode about it.
  • This problem would be solved be resolving some of the above, but… too many storylines at once. Jumping around with no cohesion to the episode was a consistent problem. Of course, if we don’t have OMG SPILLED TEH GLUEZ plots, this problem disappears.
  • Lastly (and this kind of ties these points together), the storylines need to be not only about the beer (see above), but also interesting. Sam’s trip to Peru to study Chicha was a very interesting story. His trip to Egypt was also alright. The inspirations for these beers should be 50% of the content of the show, not 5%.

At the beginning of each episode, Sam Calagione said, “Every great beer starts with a great idea.” That should be the purpose of the show – and at times it was.  Too frequently, however, it was about day-to-day drama that was unrelated or barely related to the beer. If I want to watch “American Workplace Reality Drama,” I can do that in a myriad of places. If I want to watch “well-made show about the production of craft beer,” well… that show hasn’t been done yet.

Co-Op Brewery Week

Several weeks ago, Dave Bardallis wrote in a post that our local home brew shop, Adventures in Homebrewing, was opening up a location in Ann Arbor. Naturally, this sparked a conversation between me and Tim. He mentioned that it would be awesome if it was both a home brew shop and a brew pub.

We then started getting into how awesome it would be if the guys from Adventures teamed up with the amazing and capable Ann Arbor Brewers Guild and operated some sort of community brewery. Home brewing and even craft beer is such a communal movement, that it only seems natural to harness some of that community energy to make great beer.

Black Star Co-Op

Black Star Co-Op Pub and Brewery in Austin TX

This idea seemed to cool to be completely original, so I started poking around the Internet to try to find any community breweries, which led to research on co-op breweries. I was actually a little surprised to find how rare they were. As far as I could find, there is only one operating co-op brewery, Black Star in Austin, TX. Flying Bike Brewery in Seattle is still in the formative stage, but has a definite form and is moving forward.

Wanting to learn more about the co-op brewing concept and, even more interesting, the process of implementing and executing that concept, we reached out to both Black Star and Flying Bike. We were lucky enough to be able to ask the founders, Steven Yarak and Jeff Hicks respectively, some questions about the co-op brewery concept, and how the process their going through or went through to make it a reality.

Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery

Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery in Seattle, WA

Over this week, we’ll be exploring different aspects of the co-op brewery model from challenges presented by the unique organizational model to its feasibility in other cities. I think Steven and Jeff both provided some interesting insights into the world of co-op brewing, and at the end of the week, we’ll post lightly edited transcripts of the interviews.

Have any of you been to Black Star down in Austin? Is there an  awesome co-op brewery that I completely missed in my searching? Let us know in the comments. Also, as Steven and Jeff both encouraged us to send any follow up questions, so at any point during the week, if you have a question let us know in the comments or on Twitter.

What I Want in My Local Homebrew Store

There are few things that can help improve your homebrewing more than having an excellent homebrew shop in your neighborhood. This is using a very generous definition of neighborhood. While there are plenty of great homebrew shops online, there are certain benefits for being able to visit the shop, interact with the people, stumble upon things you wouldn’t otherwise find.

Brew And Grow

Brew And Grow is my local homebrew store in Chicago

When I started brewing, we picked up supplies from a party store that carried to aisles of homebrew supplies. We checked out a place that was a drive away, but had a much larger selection of ingredients and equipment. Finally, we ended up at Adventures in Homebrewing which, despite being about half an hour away, became our go to stop for any large shopping trip.

I don’t want to get into specifics and reviews of the different shops; that can be done at other times. I want to go into the things that I like to see when I head into the shop, and what separates a good place from a great local hombrew shop.

Knowledgable Staff

I was going back and forth about which aspects to lead with, but after a bit of internal debate, I decided this was the most important for someone at my level. I’ve been homebrewing for about 18 months. I read a ton about different ingredients, equipment and techniques. That being said, I’ll be the first to admit that I can use all the help I can get when I’m putting together a recipe.

When we were formulating the recipe for the all-grain version of our S’more Stout, we went into the store with a basic outline of what we were going to do. Working with the staff there, we swapped out the chocolate malt and roasted barley with CarafaII, which is definitely worked with our idea. It lends similar color and roastiness with out giving that acrid, burnt taste.

That’s one example, but plenty of times we’ve gotten yeast recommendations, tip on how to make sure we don’t get our keg clogged, equipment that might help and tons of other stuff. Being able to talk through my recipe idea with someone who has been brewing for a long time almost always results in something better than I could have come up with on my own.

Consistent Selection

Hop Pellets

These should always be in stock

I know when dealing with perishable items it can be a struggle keeping the stock consistant. Also, with hops especially, there can be runs when everyone rushes out to make an Amarillo pale ale or something. That being said, it is crucial that a shop tries to minimize these outages.

Especially now, going to the hombrew shop is something I need to plan. I usually try to pick up two or three recipes at a time. It gets really annoying if the shop is out of something that’s nearly a staple like Special-B malt or Wyeast 1056. There are usually alternatives, but it can be a downer when you get there and see an empty bin or shelf where what you want should be.

Convenient Hours

Maybe this is just my not being totally used to having a 9-5 (technically 8:30-5:30, I guess), but it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense having your shop open from 9am to 7pm or so. If I hustle out of work a little early, jump in a cab and tell him to step on it, I could probably get to the store with half an hour to spare. Maybe I’m naive, but honestly, how many sales happen between 10 and noon. Stay open until 9pm.  Please. I’m begging you. Maybe even be open from 10a-2pm on Sunday so I don’t have to wait a week to bottle because I don’t have enough caps, but that’s just selfish.

Bulk Grains

Bulk Malt

As you're measuring it out, grab a grain and try it. It's amazing how different they taste.

I don’t have a crusher at home, and I assume that most homebrewers don’t. Most homebrew shops do! There’s something perfectly simple about measuring the exact amount of grain you need out of a bin, mixing them all together for your recipe, running them through the crusher and being good to go. There’s something maddening about having to buy a 1lb bag of a specialty malt when I only need to a quarter pound and won’t be able to brew again for a while. Honestly, it’s probably not that big of a deal in dollars and cents to the consumer, but I really do think it’s the better way to go.

New and/or Special Items

These don’t fall under the consistent selection heading. A great shop should be able to secure the special release yeasts from White Labs and Wyeast. A great shop should be able to get the special recipe kits. Not every time, but maybe in a rotation have the newer, weirder hops like Citra or Sorachi. Help the homebrewer explore the world of potential out there.

A Sense of Community

This one is last, but no less important. Homebrewing is all about community. I learn a ton from talking to other homebrewers, trying their beers, having them try mine. Having the folks working at a homebrew shop be friendly and not condescending is so important. There will be people just getting started and people who have been brewing for years, but they’re all excited about making beer.

Additionally, I really like the idea of homebrew stores holding classes or having workshops or special guest speakers. Make it almost like a public square for the homebrewing community. Plus, how many homebrewers will walk into your store for an event and not leave with at least some sanitizer or a some priming sugar. If the law allows it, having samples from the kits you sell or recipes you provide is also a great perk that helps spark conversation and build knowledge.

What Do You Think?

Any big factor you need in your shop? Anything you disagree with? Let me know or set me straight in the comments!