Mar 25 2011

The Mr. Beer Experiment Begins

The great Mr. Beer experiment will begin this weekend.

Truth #1: I was sent a free Mr. Beer kit, the Premium Edition Beer Kit to be exact, by the company to try out. There was no obligation to write anything about it on my blog, but clearly I am doing so. As a side note, this is the first time I can remember being sent anything at all because of having a blog. I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing.  😀

Truth #2: I’ve been really excited about making beer with a Mr. Beer kit for years. No kidding, no sarcasm. I’ve known brewers who’ve started on those kits. Some stopped there, and some moved on to more advanced equipment and less processed ingredients. It has been a minor obsession. I just want to see what these things can do.

Perhaps you might think I’m viewing it as a Top Chef challenge where they have to cook a meal with an Easy Bake Oven. Maybe. There certainly is a challenge in that. But I view any entry into brewing your own beer as a wonderful thing. I’ll take that stepping stone drug.

I’m planning to brew with this kit in, at least, two different trials:

Trial #1:

The game plan here would be to brew the “West Coast Pale Ale” kit that came with it while following the instructions to the letter. This will be a test of the Mr. Beer equipment AND their kit. In theory, as someone who has been homebrewing since the mid-90’s, I should be able to pull this off at a pretty high level. I understand sanitation and I can follow directions. Well, almost as good as Brooklyn’s Garrett Oliver.

What I’m testing: What is the quality of beer that someone can expect from using a Mr. Beer kit as it is intended? This is the control.

Trial #2:

The idea here is that I will use the Mr. Beer Kit equipment but, like any curious homebrewer, I’ll design my own extract beer recipe. The concept is to use high-quality DME, hops and yeast, and to brew it inside, on my stove, like any budding homebrewer would.

What I’m testing: What are the limits of the Mr. Beer equipment? Is this system flexible enough to crank out great beer for the homebrewer who wants to keep his brewery small for space or monetary reasons?

Is there a third experiment? Maybe a gueuze? OK, I’m going a little crazy there.

Stay tuned.


Mar 17 2011

Scottish 80/- Homebrew – Piper Down

The next beer in my series of style driven beers, fermented at low temperatures and using the East Coast Yeasts, was my Scottish 80/-. This was the last of my ECY yeast and it was the Scottish Heavy:

“ECY07 Scottish Heavy: Leaves a fruity profile with woody, oak esters reminiscent of malt whiskey. Well suited for 90/shilling or heavier ales including old ales and barleywines due to level of attenuation (77-80%) – recommend a dextrinous wort. Suggested fermentation temp: 60-68°F”

The only problem was that I just wasn’t in the mood for a Wee Heavy, and I was more interested in turning a beer around in 4 or 5 weeks, rather than months. So I decided that I was going to make an 80 shilling, even though the final beer and recipe might border into the 90 shilling territory.

Although I will admit to drinking a lot of Killian’s Red in my misspent youth, I know very little about the Scottish and Irish ale styles, so this seemed to be a good time to brew one. (And, I apologize to all proper Irish Red beers by mentioning you in the same paragraph as Killians, which I believe is really an amber lager.)

Referring to the homebrew master, I checked out Jamil’s take on the style. He advised to do some kettle caramelization and a colder than usual fermentation. So I took the first gallon of runnings from the mash and boiled it separately until it was reduced to ½ a gallon, and then I poured that into the full boil.

My Youngest Holding the Only Specialty Grains in the Beer: Black Roasted Malt

Milling the Grains


I’m a Morning Brewer, But This Brew Day Ran Long. A Rare View of My Burner After Dark

It was later that I made my bonehead move of the day. (There is always one and it is always different with each brew day.) After crashing the wort down to 70º F, I put it in the cooler to drop the last 4 degrees, added oxygen and the yeast, and then simply forgot about it. The next morning, instead of finding it bubbling way, I discovered that the carboy had dropped to 54º F.

I rocked the carboy, turned the cooler off and left the door open, and let it warm up to 66º F. Luckily, the ECY07 was up to my cruel challenge, and began fermenting later that day.

I’ll try to come back to add some tasting notes, but I’m happy with how this beer has turned out thus far. It is still young, but it is malty, pretty clean and has a smoky note that came from the yeast.

This one is called “Piper Down”.


Piper Down – (Scottish 80/-) (6 gallons)
Starting Gravity: 1.062 (2/13/11)
Secondary Gravity: N/A
Final Gravity: 1.014 (2/28/11) Days
6.4% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 76.5%
Real Attenuation: 62.7%

Mash (70 minutes ~154º)
12 lb Maris Otter
3 oz Black Roasted Barley

Boil (75 min)
1 oz EK Goldings Pellet Hops (4.5% AA) (60 min)

Primary (66º F)
East Coast Yeast – Scottish Heavy ECY07 – 125ml (No Starter)

Lagering (32º F)
No secondary, but it was crashed down to lager for 3 days


Mar 15 2011

Why are Commercial Breweries Afraid of the Berliner Weisse?

The Berliner weisse style is a favorite among homebrewers.

It’s a sour session beer, around 3% ABV, which originated in Germany back in the 16th century. I’ve brewed this style several times, with great results, and it always seems to popping up in homebrew tweets. Just last week, James from Basic Brewing Radio and The Mad Fermentationist talked about brewing the style in a podcast.

Yet, for all our love of the BW, there are very few examples of the style that are commercially available. If I am lucky, I might be able to find a few bottles from two breweries at the best local beer store. The Bruery’s Hottenroth and Fritz Briem’s 1809 immediately come to mind.

This had me wondering why are the commercial breweries so far behind the homebrewing community with this style?

And let’s not pretend that I have some inflated opinion of the homebrewing and its effects on breweries. Sure, most pro brewers started their careers with small batches made at home, and homebrewers have the ability to wildly experiment with new styles and ingredients without hurting the bottom line of a business. So there a safety net there in that only pride, and not a company, is hurt when a 5 gallon batch is poured down the drain.

This isn’t an experimental style. It is pretty clearly defined, and no more challenging to make than any other sour.  In fact, it can be turned around in a matter of weeks, rather than months, so that should be attractive to a commercial brewery from a simple logistical standpoint.

I can think of dozens of other reasons why and why not, but it seems like something better throw out to the community.

I say this in some jest, but why are commercial breweries afraid of the Berliner Weisse?


Mar 10 2011

Tripel Homebrew – Triple Lindy

This time around I attacked a classic style and brewed a Belgian Tripel. This style only required two grains and some cane sugar to create a high-alcohol, pale beer that is spicy with a soft malty character. Tripels are tricky in that you want it to finish around 9% ABV, but you don’t want it to taste like it or have any of that hot, alcohol warming character. This beer can very easily get phenolic, too, and you want to keep the banana esters to a minimum.

The key to keeping the banana and hot alcohol flavors at bay is to ferment this one cooler than I thought Belgian yeast can, and should, go. My yeast of choice for this brew was one of the East Coast Yeast strains.  I picked up the ECY13, which is the trappist strain:

“ECY13 Trappist Ale: Traditional Trappist yeast with a complex, dry, fruity malt profile. Rated highly in sensory tests described in “Brew Like A Monk” for complexity and low production of higher alcohols. Apparent Attenuation: 74-76%. Suggested fermentation temp: 66-72° F.”

The brew day was long, but relatively uneventful. The only grains were Belgian pilsner malt, and a small amount of Belgian aromatic malt to add some color and malt aroma. All that pilsner malt means that a 90 minute boil to reduce the likelihood of DMS and, to make this as fermentable as possible, I mashed the grains at 149º F for 90 minutes. You are staring down the barrel of 3 hours in pure mash and boil time right there.

Aromatic Malt, Cane Sugar, and Pilsner Malt

The Mash

The Boil

Crashing down to 62º F and Oxygenating

I was nervous about the fermentation, but I crashed the wort down to 62º F, and pitched a big starter of the ECY13. If you are fermenting at cool temperatures, and this is a good general rule for lagers as well as ale yeasts that are being pitched into the cold, you want to pitch big. Making a starter is a necessity, and then try to get the starter very close to the temperature of the wort so as to not shock the yeast.

Despite my fears, the yeast took care of business. I pitched at 62º F and let the fermenting beer free rise up to 66º F. In a little less than 4 days, the East Coast trappist strain took my beer from a 1.077 down to an absurdly low 1.007. Color me impressed.

I, then, brought the beer up to a 74º F to clean itself up, and then I racked it to a secondary carboy and lagered it ~32º F for 3 weeks to clarify.

I’m excited to see how this tripel turns out, and I’ll be trying it out later this week. I even racked 1 gallon of the beer off and aged it on French oaks cubes and Blanton’s bourbon.

It goes to show that you can ferment beers cooler with the right yeast pitch and a little optimism.

The recipe is below, as is a link to the video explaining the Triple Lindy reference if you didn’t get that.

Triple Lindy – Tripel (6 gallons)
Starting Gravity: 1.077 (1/30/11)
Secondary/Final Gravity: 1.007 (2/26/11) Days
9.4% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 90.4%
Real Attenuation: 74.0%

Mash (100 minutes 149º)
13 lb Belgian Pilsner
0.25 lb Aromatic Malt
2.5 lb Cane Sugar

Boil (90 min)
2.0 oz Tettnang (4.5% AA) Pellet Hops (60 min)
0.5 oz Saaz (3.9% AA) Pellet Hops (10 min)
1 tablet Whirlfloc (Boil – 15 min.)
½ tsp Brewer’s Choice Wyeast Nutrient Blend (Boil – 10 min.)

Primary (62º F) (Started at 62F, ramped up with heat, to 66F)
East Coast Yeast ECY13 – Trappist (Starter, Stir Plate)

Secondary (32º F) (Lager)
After warming up to 74, it was crashed down to 32º F (lagered for ~3 weeks)

Bottled with “TR” on caps

This Tripel has been named the “Triple Lindy”: