Feb 10 2011

A Simple Way to Make a Homebrewed Eisbock without a Keg

In December of 2009, I did a co-brew with a friend and made a doppelbock and an eisbock. That eisbock (named “Fargin Eishole“) ended up doing well enough to make it to the final round of the National Homebrew Competition in 2010. (I squeaked in a cider, as well, that year.) It was a pretty good beer, but I’d tweak up the alcohol and a few other factors with a re-brew. (I won’t be posting a recipe for the Eisbock. It was basically Jamil Z’s “Steve’s Fifty”, and I’m not taking money out of his pocket. If you don’t own his book, Brewing Classic Styles, you should.)

At the end of 2010, based on a dare of course, I returned to the world of absurdity and made an eis-barleywine. Weighing in at over 15% ABV, that one was a bit of a beast and will deserve a separate post and tasting of its own. (Coming soon…) “Eis”ing the English barleywine hit a minor glitch, but I’ll talk about that towards the end of the post.

But it hadn’t occurred to me, until recently, to put up a blog post about making eis-beers. There are two big challenges to making an eisbock. First, you have to make a really, really clean beer because the cold distillation will magnify any flaw. Second, there’s the matter of freezing the right amount of water in the finished beer and then getting that distilled beer back out again. Every time I had heard someone talk about making an eis-beer, it involved using a keg. That wasn’t going to work for me since I do not keg*.

Making that clean and well balanced beer, well, that is a topic worthy of an entire book. And others have done so. So I’m going to focus on the second challenge with this post.

The trick of an eisbeer, for me, was getting the beer frozen and back out again since I use glass carboys. The solution I came up with was racking my beer into a sealable bottling bucket and freezing it in there. The elegance of that solution is that the ice (now just frozen water) floats to the surface of the bucket and the distilled beer is towards the bottom of the bucket and close to the bucket’s spigot. Once you can see that the ice portion of the bucket is ~20% of the beer, it is time to rack.

The bucket after the eis-beer had all been bottled.

How long does it take? That depends on your freezer, the size of the batch and the ABV of the beer. I think you’d be safe to check it after 24 hrs and ready to go at 48 hours.

When I did this with my eisbock, I bottled straight from the bucket. I did not re-pitch yeast, and I didn’t need to, and I used Cooper’s Carbonation Drops to prime. If you wish to keg, lager some more, or prime and re-pitch yeast, you’ll probably find yourself racking into another container. I get nervous about sanitation and splashing a beer about if I rack a beer more than twice, so I went straight to the bottles and that went smoothly.

The only real hiccup I had was when I was freezing the eis-barleywine last month. When I tried to bottle that one, the spigot was frozen solid. I’m guessing that happened because I left some diluted Star San diluted water in there while cleaning the bucket and didn’t drain it back out. I’d be careful to make sure that area is clean AND empty before you start to drain the bucket.

There you go, simple and easy. Let me know below if you have a different method of making eis-beers. As with all homebrewing, there isn’t a “right” answer, there’s just the way that works best for you.

* – I usually brew a lot and no one, save me, drinks beer in my house. Bottling is how I started and I love to share my beer, so that is what I still do. (Some 15 years later….)


Dec 31 2009

Collaborative Brewing During Bockapalooza

Here’s a strange little admission: I had never done a collaborative brewday until a few weeks ago. 

It’s not a secret or anything.  It is just a bit surprising since I’ve been brewing for 14 years at the time of this blog post.  Sure, I’ve hung out with someone who was brewing and I’ve had prospective brewers watch me brew before, but I’d never worked together with someone to brew beer until the big bock brewday I just did with my friend Greg.  I guess that’s a long time to have, essentially, worked by yourself. 

There’s a huge opportunity in working with another brewer and seeing their methods, peeves and shortcuts.  And I’m sure that I would be a better brewer now for working with peers and gathering some solid best practices over the years, but brewing alone has some benefits. When you brew alone, you establish YOUR method.  You get a rhythm to your day and timing down in the repetition.  Also, you get a good feel for tweaking your methods since you are the only person performing all of the brewing actions.  Put another way, if you are the only person doing everything, you are going to be a bit more consistent batch to batch. (Albeit, perhaps, consistently either bad or good.) 

But these are minor advantages and, honestly, they could be my unconscious attempt to justify why I always ended up brewing solo. 

Fast forward to October during a homebrew club meeting and Greg and I discovered that we had both had plans to brew a doppelbock in December.  This seemed like a great time to join forces.  And, of course, like all great ideas it quickly swelled from the realistic brewing of a doppelbock to the absurd idea of a marathon brewday that would net us 12 gallons of doppelbock and 12 gallons of eisbock.  This is makes the day a game of logistics, because the beers are similar but not quite the same. And you are talking about 80 pounds of grain and still unknown, once you factor in the chilling, amounts of water. 

Doppel and Eis - Sparge Water

LOTS of water

After we each bought a bag of grain (Greg bought a 55# bag of Munich and I bought a 55# bag of pilsner) and a couple of weeks of planning, I drove over to his house, in an unusual early December snow, to commence to Bockapoolza.  It started off very orderly, although our 10 gallon mash tuns were filled to capacity with the grains need for these high gravity beers. 

Doppel and Eis - Mashing In

Greg: Mashing like it was his job

Doppel and Eis - Distracted Me

Me: Pretending to work.  What a hobo.

Doppel and Eis - Mash Totem Pole

From the “don’t try this at home” department, we created a mash tun totem pole.  Just. Because. We. Could.

There was down time in between, of course, where I acted like I was doing something important. We, unlike a side by side brewday, we had to stagger our batches a bit. This was simply because Greg had a homegrown wort cooling system (made from a pond pump and using blocks of ice, simple but genius) that we wanted to use to get the bock worts down to below 50 degrees. 

Doppel and Eis - Double Boil

Double Boiling

The double boil went smoothly and the heat from the burners kept his deck warm and dry from the snow. 

Doppel and Eis - Perspective to Big Ass Starters

Extreme Yeast Starting

 Since these were big and lager beers, we needed to go strong on the yeast we were going to pitch.  Greg headed up this effort and started up two beastly batches of yeast.  After he talked to the Wyeast people, he went with the Wyeast 2206 Bavarian lager and Wyeast 2124 Bohemian lager yeasts.  The doppelbock received 100% Bavarian yeast, and the eisbock received 35% Bavarian and 65% Bohemian yeast. 

Doppel and Eis - Four Carboys

Four Carboys of Love

In the end we came out with 24 gallons of finished beer, although I think it was a much longer session than we both were expecting.  But it went by quickly due to the amount of brew (or busy) work that needed to be done and we had a few beers and a nice lunch during the session.

What did I learn? Honestly, less than I expected.  But, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have anticipated all that much knowledge would be dropped into my head because of what we were trying to do. We weren’t co-brewing a simple 6 gallon homebrew batch that we both could have done blindfolded.  We were attempting something bigger and stranger than either of us had ever done before.  This was a very cool collaboration, because of the teamwork and creative thinking we need during the day, but there were very few opportunities to swap methods.

What was interesting is that I came away with a clearer idea of what kind of brewer I was.  Greg is a big front end planner in grain and water ratios, and then he lets the beer be the beer it wants to be once it hits the fermenter.  I’m the opposite, which isn’t to say that I don’t wring my hands over recipe formulation and double checking my numbers in brewing software.  I just work in more of a zen state DURING the brewing since I’ve done this so many times, it just have a feel for it.  Put another way, when you are riding a bike you don’t actually put any thought into leaning into a turn.  It is instinct.  I don’t get obsessed with the numbers once the brewday begins.

This isn’t to imply that my fellow homebrewer is inexperienced. He’s a great brewer.  Greg just goes into the relaxed zen state during fermentation. That’s where I get bunged up, take meticulous notes and sweat the fermentation temperatures.

That’s another reason why I dig homebrewing so much.  I’ve documented before that I love that this hobby uses all of the creativity and science that you can throw at it.  Both sides of your brain can get nice workouts.  But, for me, the act of brewing is a few hours of meditation and getting in a groove.  A runner’s high.

So, in the meantime, scheme a plan and brew with a friend. Don’t wait as long as I did.


Nov 25 2009

More Split Batches and Falling off the Blogging Horse

I took an accidental hiatus from the blog for a while.  Yeah, I fell off the blogging horse, so I’m dusting myself off and getting back on track.

I’m still moving forward with split batches, and I’m still trying to squeeze as much learning as I can out of these brews.

Sour Saison

My sour saison split is still getting funky. That was the one that I split a saison into two 3 gallon carboys, and I pitched brettanomyces B on one, and the cultured up dregs of an Avery Brabant on the other. They are still aging and they have both dropped ~0.001 in the gravity department.  The biggest difference between the two, from my infrequent visits to them, is that the Brabant is showing the signs of having some pediococcus and lactobacillus.  Neither are particularly enjoyable to taste, but these things take time to clean up. Before it is all over, I’m sure I’ll be adding the last bits of some sour commercial beers in the brett-only saison to fill out the flavors and complexities of the beer.

I might be bottling these beers in the near future. Although they have only been souring for about 3 months, I was aiming for more of “at bottling time” addition of brett than the long souring and aging variety.

Robust Porter

The robust porter split is done and bottled, and I’ll be comparing the robust porter fermented with Safale US-05 against the same wort fermented with the Safale-04 in a future blog post. I’ve tried them side-by-side once and there were slight, but obvious, differences. I’m not sure what I was expecting to find with this split, and I think I’m still better off not having expectations until after the last taste.

Belgian Dark Strong Ale

The next split was my Belgian Dark Strong Ale which is going three ways. Six gallons of the BDSA went down in a typical fashion with lots of grain, some simple sugars delivered through cane and candi syrups, and that was all fermented down with a gallon starter of the White Labs WLP530 Abbey ale yeast.  This was a relatively small BDSA, and it weighed in only (merely!) at an 1.081 OG. After that fermented down, I bottled about a gallon of that beer and then pitched the Wyeast brettanomyces lambicus on the rest, along with pinot noir & French oak. 

The third part of this brew was a gallon that BDSA wort that was fermented with Safale US-05 yeast (a clean, American strain).  What exactly is the style of a beer that has the malt and sugar bill of a Belgian Dark Strong ale, but is done with a California yeast?  A dry and malty Old Ale? I don’t know.  We shall see.


The latest split brew is a Mild, and I will probably bottle that this week.  This is a low-alcohol session ale that weighed in at 1.038 OG, and it  finished at 1.009 (and rockin’ 3.8% ABV).  I’m really happy with how this one tastes so far. It is as close to a worty, grain flavor as I’ve ever gotten out of one of my homebrews without being cloyingly sweet, as well.  The other part of the split was the same exact beer and yeast (Danstar Nottingham), but I threw in some French oak when I pitched the yeast on the second portion of the mild. I’m only leaving the wooded mild on those oak cubes for two weeks, and I will be bottling that one, too, this week.

Sour Cider

The last atypical brew that I have in motion isn’t a beer at all. It is a cider. Now, I made a cider a month or so ago under the tutelage of a fellow homebrew club member who is the cider master.  That turned out great, but I am making another batch of cider with the questionable idea of fermenting it with the Wyeast 3278 Lambic Blend. I had a plan to go brett-only, but it takes time for the brett to take off and this is fresh juice (off the tree, into the press, and into the carboy) with lots of wild and unpredictable yeast on the skins and in the press.  This mixture of two brettanomyces, a Belgian wheat, and a sherry yeast strain, as well as a lactic acid bacteria, will hopefully beat out the unknown critters.  I picked up the fresh juice last night (which was 50% Staymens, and 50% Pink Ladys) and I added the sodium metabusulfite to hold the natural yeasts at bay for a time.

A friend, in a moment of genius, has called this… thing “Lambicide”.  I don’t know how that name CAN’T stick.

The Battle of the Bocks

A few weeks from now, I have an epic brew day scheduled. My friend Greg and I are planning to do two 12 gallons batches at the same time. One will be a Doppelbock, the other an Eisbock.  At the end of the day, we should both go home with 6 gallons of each beer. No experiments or splits are planning for this. That 24 gallons should be enough.

Details of the above beers and ciders will follow….