Category Archives: Homebrew

Hoppy American Wheat

Drinking outside is always better.

I’ve been doing malt focused lagers and ales over the past few months. With Spring right around the corner I felt it was about time to get some hoppy beers on the brewing schedule. I had a leftover Brooklyn Homebrew Hefeweizen beer kit that I picked up a while back, so I decided to leave the grain bill pretty much the same, ferment with neutral ale strain at cooler temps, and dump a buttload of hops into it. It has received quite a reaction from tasters over the past month so I thought I’d post some tasting notes.

Appearance. Cloudy bright yellow with a dense rocky head that lasts forever from the use of 50% wheat malt. Wheat is a wonderful contribution to any beer in my opinion.

Smell. Bright citrus peel, grapefruit, tropical notes of mango and papaya and a background spicy note. Lemon meringue pie also comes to mind. Aroma is still jumping out of the glass after six weeks in the keg thanks to an unusually large dry hopping.

Taste and Mouthfeel. Bold bracing bitterness up front and not quite enough malt behind it to back it up. I added a small bit of melanoidin malt to replace my normal decoction mash schedule that I would do for a hefeweizen. Mouthfeel could be fuller to balance the hops, but I think next iteration I will opt for low crystal malts instead of the melanoidin malt like carapils of carahell, mostly because I keep those around for other beers. There is a minerally edge to the bitterness, probably due to the IPA-like dosing of gypsum in order to bring out the hop perception. There is a spiciness that I believe is coming from the dry hop NZ Rakau that seems a bit out of place to me.

Overall Impressions. This is a really great beer. Super refreshing, hoppy, and goes down easy for when Spring (finally) comes around. I think for my next iteration, I might reduce the bittering charge and lower the amount of gypsum and CaCl to try to eliminate the mineral/chalk taste on the tongue. I will also leave out the Rakau to possibly eliminate the spicy note (I believe I only used it because I had it set aside with the Nelson Sauvin for another beer) but other than those few things, this beer is going into the brewing schedule rotation.

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Saison Nine Ways.

Saison Brett Bottles

Do try this at home?

In my preparation for Homebrew Alley 7, I brewed a ten gallon batch of saison and split the wort into two fermentors.  One would be a traditional Belgian saison and one, with the addition of a can of cherry puree, would be a cherry saison.  I started with the Brooklyn Homebrew recipe kits for the Belgian Saison and Cherry Bomb Saison. The two recipes were not exactly the same, but I combined both grain bills since they were very similar and the kits included hops for bittering and aroma that were very close substitutes for each other.  I mashed lowed for attenuation (as is normally done for saisons) at 148F and proceeded to the boil.  I added one pound of Domino cane sugar and one pound of Belgian Simplicity Candi Syrup because it was included in the kit.  Both batches would test out the new Belle Saison dry yeast, although the recipe kits call for different yeast strains.

I chilled down to 63F, a little lower than I planned, but I also didn’t want to start fermentation too high like brewers tend to do with Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison.  (Fermenting warm, sometimes into the 90F range, is used to get the characteristic earthy and spicy flavors out of the yeast.)  I allowed fermentation temperatures to free rise to 75F where they stabilized for a day or so, and then I dropped them down to the ambient temperature of 72F.  I added the cherry puree after high krausen began to fall and fermentation picked back up again.  After about a week I checked the final gravity of each batch.  The plain saison was 1.003 and the cherry version was at 0.998 (!!).  The plain saison exhibited some cidery flavor I equate with using too much sugar and fermenting warm.  It seems other people have experienced similar results, so it may mean this yeast benefits from a slightly higher mash temp (150F+) or possibly an all malt grain bill (meaning no additional sugar added to the boil or fermentor).

I kegged and carbonated the cherry saison.  My first impression was that the beer had dried out too much, tasting a bit like wine, and the cherry flavor was almost undetectable.  I decided to bump up the body so I boiled 4 oz. maltodextrin with 400mL of water and added it to the keg to bring the gravity up to 1.003.  I also dosed it with some cherry extract (~1 oz.) and some lactic acid to give it a bit of bite.  So far these efforts haven’t increased its drinkability so I’m going to stash this one in the cellar for a few months and revisit it later on.


Different Brettanomyces Strains (Not shown: Wyeast Brett Bruxellensis)

I made the experiment even more elaborate by using Mad Fermentationist’s idea and dosing the plain saison with seven different Brett strains at bottling.  I used all of the commercially available strains from White Labs and Wyeast as well as some bottle-isolated strains from BKYeast.  Choosing so many different strains may not have been the best idea because it only allowed me to have six bottles per strain (I bottled a few extra plain saisons for consumption/tasting).  This means I’ll have to schedule when to taste them and stick to that schedule.  My plan is to do 3, 6, 9, and 12 month tastings to allow the Brett character to evolve.  I will post tasting notes for all nine variations.

Here is the Brettanomyces strain breakdown:

WLT= White Labs Brett Trois (Slurry from Matt Chan)
WLC= White Labs Brett Clausenii
WLL= White Labs Brett Lambicus
WYB= Wyeast Brett Bruxellensis
BK2= BK Yeast Brett C2 (Cantillion Iris Isolate)
BK3= BK Yeast Brett C3 (Cantillion Iris Isolate)
BKBW= BK Yeast Berliner Weisse Brett (Wyeast PC 3191 Isolate)
The Help.

Got a little help corking and caging.

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100% Brettanomyces Beer

All Brett Beer

Dmitri (of BKYeast) dropped off some Brettanomyces cultures at Brooklyn Homebrew a few months back.  He had isolated three cultures from a bottle of 2008 Cantillion Iris (C1, C2, and C3) and one from a smack pack of Wyeast 3191 PC Berliner Weisse.  I decided to brew an experimental 100% Brett Beer using the C2 and C3 cultures. I pitched both cultures into a singe 2-liter starter on a stir plate for ten days.  I tasted the finished starter wort, and there was a distinct sourness along with some earthy, peach and apricot fruit aromas.  I then brewed a simple recipe of 75% German Pilsner malt, 8% wheat, 8% munich, and per Chad Yakobson’s recommendation, 8% golden naked oats to boost the body and mouthfeel.  Since the beer was experimental by nature, I decided to make it a single-hop beer as well and used all Meridian hops.  I fermented the beer for four weeks and then dry-hopped for two weeks using a big dose (5 oz. in 5 gallons) of Meridian pellets in the fermenter.  I then kegged and cold-crashed the beer for two weeks.

Appearance.  Hazy golden amber with a dense rocky head.  Despite two weeks of cold crashing at near-freezing temperatures, the low-flocculating nature of Brettanomyces left the beer cloudy even until the final pour from the keg.

Smell.  When I first tapped the keg, the massive amount of dry hops gave the beer a huge aroma of grapefruit, citrus, and lemon.  Towards the end of the keg, the citrus notes receded slightly and the telltale aroma of Brettanomyces — barnyard, pineapple, and mango — came strongly to the forefront.  This is the most aromatic beer that I’ve ever brewed, which I think is due to the combination of Brettanomyces and big dry-hopping of the Meridian hops.  The beer definitely had the wow factor upon the first sniffs of members of my homebrew club.

Taste and Mouthfeel.  Because the beer finished at 1.003, the first thing I noticed about this beer is how dry it is.  The citrus aromas carried into the taste, along with some strawberry-like flavors, which I think was the result of the Brettanomyces and naked oats.  The addition of oats was important in this recipe because of the low finishing gravity.  Brettanomyces is known to thin out beers because it is so attenuative, so the oats allowed for a fuller body to counteract the Brett.

Overall Impressions.  One of the most refreshing, aromatic, and easy-drinking beers that I’ve brewed.  About halfway through the glass every time, I would get the distinct impression that I was drinking a wit beer.  Because of the risk of contaminating my other beers and long turnaround time, this 100% Brett beer probably will not make it into my regular rotation.  But when I’m ready for more experimenting, I’d like to try this again with some of Dmitri’s other cultures and some of the commercial Brett cultures that are available.

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2012 New York Wet Hop Amber Ale


I had the opportunity to brew a wet hop beer this year using locally grown hops from Long Island, NY.  Brooklyn Homebrew received the hops from Farm to Pint just a few hours after picking.  Benjamin (the owner of Brooklyn Homebrew) and I brewed an American amber ale to highlight the wet hops.


Yeah, the wort is actually in there somewhere.

The brew day was a bit unusual because of the large amount of hops.  We used over two pounds of whole cones in the boil.  Most brewers only get to do this once a year so we weren’t quite prepared for so much vegetable matter.  They absorbed more wort than we had anticipated, even after increasing our pre-boil volume to compensate.  Because we didn’t know the alpha acid content of the fresh hops, we decided to bitter at 60 mins. using processed whole leaf hops with a known alpha acid to make sure we had sufficient bitterness to back up the substantial malt backbone that included 2 pounds of Munich and 1.25 pounds of Crystal 20L.

After fermentation was complete, there was very little hop aroma coming from the carboy and hydrometer sample.  This was surprising because of the quantity of hops used.  We split the keg and I decided to dry-hop my half with some of my dried home grown Cascade and Columbus hops to boost the aroma.  Here are the tasting notes on my half of keg.

Appearance: Cloudy and hazy, most likely from the whole leaf keg-hopping.  Amber colored with orange highlights.

Aroma: Initially this beer had very little in the way of hop aroma even with (seemingly) a ton of delicious fresh hops.  All you could smell going into the keg was sweet malt and alcohol, not very promising.  Dry-hopped in the keg with one ounce each Cascade and Columbus, both home grown, dried, vacuum-sealed, and stored in the freezer.  The keg hops brought out delicious strawberry, hay, and fresh cut grass that only lasted a few days.  Bubblegum is also present I think as a combination of the mixed berry and sweet malt flavors.

Mouthfeel/Taste: Too much crystal malt, cloying sweetness that is not balanced by wet hop flavor.  Makes this beer hard to drink.  Only positive aspect is the nice biscuit note from the Munich malt.

Overall:  Definitely too much crystal malt, but I’m not sure where we went wrong as far as hop aroma/flavor.  The hops smelled great when they arrived in the crate but we were unable to get that character into the glass.  It’s possible that we didn’t use enough hops, but after listening to Sunday Session with Steve Dresler from Sierra Nevada about wet hop beers, our ratio of 8 oz. wet for every 1 oz. of dry hops (we would have used in a normal batch) was very similar to his ratio.  Next season, I’ll dial back the crystal malt quite a bit.   I may even make it a pale ale and increase the quantity of fresh hops towards the end of the boil to capture that great aroma.


Looks great, tastes meh. 

9 lb (70.6%) Standard 2-Row; Rahr – added during mash
.5 lb (3.9%) White Wheat; Rahr – added during mash
2 lb (15.7%) Munich TYPE I; Weyermann – added during mash
1.25 lb (9.8%) Organic Caramel Malt 20L; Briess – added during mash
19 g (2.1%) Columbus whole leaf  – added during boil, boiled 60 m
2 oz (6.1%) Chinook Wet Hop – added during boil, boiled 20.0 m
6 oz (18.4%) Cascade Wet Hop – added during boil, boiled 20.0 m
2 oz (6.1%) Chinook Wet Hop – added during boil, boiled 15.0 m
6 oz (18.4%) Cascade Wet Hop – added during boil, boiled 15.0 m
2 oz (6.1%) Chinook Wet Hop – added during boil, boiled 5.0 m
6 oz (18.4%) Cascade Wet Hop – added during boil, boiled 5.0 m
2 oz (6.1%) Chinook Wet Hop – added during boil
6 oz (18.4%) Cascade Wet Hop – added during boil
1.0 ea WYeast 1272 American Ale II™
1 oz Cascade Dry Hop – added to keg
1 oz Columbus Dry Hop – added to keg
Chalk: 4 grams in the Mash
mash pH: 5.68
Gypsum: 5 grams in the Boil
Actual IBU’s should be around 45, since the bulk of the hop additions were “wet”
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“Welcome to Brooklyn”

Extra Virgin Shoot

Just a quick post for anyone relaxing in front of a TV tomorrow.  I make a guest appearance on the Cooking Channel’s show Extra Virgin with Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos.  It was filmed this past summer and airs tomorrow, December 25 at 6:30 PM EST.  I teach them to brew a batch of beer and also bring over some of my homebrew to share at their backyard BK barbecue.  I haven’t seen the episode yet, but I’m hopeful that there’s a cable TV somewhere in my extended family.

If you miss the “Welcome to Brooklyn” episode tomorrow, you can catch it again January 12 at 10:00 PM or 2:00 AM or February 2 at 9:30 AM.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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Inaugural Thanksgiving Lambic.

Thanksgiving Lambic Brew Day 1

Homecooked Lambic Style Brewday

Sour beer is currently trending commercially and in the homebrewing world.  I will readily admit that I don’t have a lot of experience when it comes to tasting and brewing these styles.  I’ve had a few of the classic examples like Rodenbach and Cantillon, but not often enough to have a strong understanding of these beers.  In fact, in honor of Zwanze day (which I skipped to brew a split batch of Kolsch/Munich Helles) I tasted my first Cantillon Geuze ever.  I’ll be saving some wort from my brew day to get a starter going from the dregs of this bottle (and a few others) for my next Lambic batch.

One of the main hesitations in brewing sour beers for commercial and homebrewers is the amount of time it takes to “sour” a beer.  Most sour beers use a combination of saccharomyces, brettanomyces, pediococcus, and lactobacillus over the course of one to three years to achieve the correct balance of flavors.  For a homebrewer living in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn, a carboy taking up real estate for one to three years in order to sour doesn’t make much sense.  For this reason, I decided to start brewing sour batches at my parents’ house in rural Pennsylvania.  I go home every Thanksgiving and Christmas so why not brew a lambic or other sour beer while I’m there and let it age in a relatively stable environment.  The ultimate goal is to have several batches of young and old lambic to blend together into a gueuze.  I also noticed that every “clean” beer I brewed there (outside at least) turned out to not be “clean”, most likely infected by the microflora wafting over from the barn across the street.

I started the tradition this Thanksgiving.  Since the holidays can get kind of hectic, I decided to keep things simple and use only extract (4# wheat DME and 3# Pilsen Light DME) with a small dose (3.5 oz.) of maltodextrin to make sure the brettanomyces had some sugars to chew on for the long haul.  I used ~1.5 oz. French Strisselspalt hops (2.3% AA) to get to roughly 10 IBUs (there is quite a lot to talk about concerning aged hops in lambics, but that will be the subject of a future post).

 Mom's Lambic Pic

Hide your lambics away from your parents! Its fun! (photo credit: Mom)

Fermentation is the critical part of sour beers.  In a traditional spontaneously fermented lambic, the microflora (saccharomyces, brett, pedio, and lacto, etc.) floating in the air drop into the cooling wort.  The yeast companies sell proprietary blends of yeast and bacteria for attempting to replicate well known sour beer styles like lambic and Gueuze. Inoculating the wort with a pre-made blend of souring organisms is in no way the same as allowing spontaneous fermentation, but we’re not brewing in Belgium.  I have my first sour Flanders Red going as a split batch with Ray Girard using the Wyeast 3278 Lambic Blend and the Wyeast 3763 Roeselare Ale Blend, so I wanted to try out another sour ale mix.  White Labs recently released WLP665 Flemish Ale Blend which seemed like a great choice for a lambic.

Several prominent homebrewers suggest first pitching a neutral primary yeast strain and then the sour mix.   With this method, the primary ale strain does the bulk of the fermentation and then the brett and bugs come in later and finish off the longer chain dextrins to give the beer that signature funk.  The results are much more consistent and controllable this way, but others contend that the beer never quite gets sour or funky enough.  I chose to skip the neutral primary strain and pitch just a single vial of the WLP665.  Lambic producers don’t pitch a neutral strain and I wanted to follow their process as closely as possible.  The beer may not be as consistent (too funky, too sour, too nasty) but that’s where the art of blending gueuze from different batches of lambic comes in.

I brewed the day after Thanksgiving this year, and when I left two days later, there was no visible fermentation activity. Pitching such a small amount of yeast (~7 billion cells in one vial) had me worried that the primary fermentation would be really ugly, but it can’t be any uglier than spontaneous fermentation.  The brett should clean up any off flavors and nasty byproducts from an underpitching the yeast.  Fermentation eventually took off (even in the cool 60F closet) and after bugging my Mom for days to tell me what was going on with it, she finally sent the above pic.  The krausen nearly knocked the breathable silicone stopper out of the carboy!  We’ll have to wait at least a year to taste the results, but I’m already looking forward to my upcoming Christmas lambic brew day.


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Does Filtering Affect My Homebrew?

I recently started filtering most of my homebrews.  There is much debate in the homebrewing community about the pros and cons of mechanically removing solids from your brews.   For me, having clean, ready-to-drink beer the same day I keg is so much of a plus that I do it for most batches.  The added cost is minimal after the initial filter purchase and adding a step to my process in order to save grain-to-glass time is a no-brainer for me.

One of the first areas of concern about the effect filtration has on beer is the stripping of body and mouthfeel.  The second is the stripping of hop aroma and reduction of perceived bitterness.  In order to test out the effects of filtration, I ran an experiment on the California Common I brewed a few weeks back.  Before filtering, as a control, I filled a 12 oz. bottle and added 2 grams of cane sugar and allowed it to sit for ten days to carbonate in the bottle.  I filtered the rest of the beer, force carbonated (the same day by rolling the keg under high pressure), and used the Blichmann Beergun to fill a 12 oz. bottle.

After ten days, I chilled down the unfiltered bottle and allowed it to settle for a week in the fridge to clear up.  The filtered version was kept cold the entire time (as it would be when serving from my kegerator).  Here are the tasting notes on the two bottles:

Appearance: The filtered version is a brilliantly clear copper color.  The unfiltered version is a slightly cloudy lighter orange-copper color.

Aroma: Filtered version has a clean sweet malty flavor and an orange marmalade essence that I would say closely resembles East Kent Golding hops even though the recipe used US Northern Brewer hops exclusively.  Unfiltered has little malt aroma but the same orange marmalade and citrus nose with a slight hint of apple cider.  As the beers warmed up, we all picked up a little mint in the nose and flavor.

Flavor/mouthfeel:  Filtered was clean and smooth with a creamy malt finish.  Not enough bitterness for the style.  Unfiltered was much hoppier (probably due to the hop oils sticking to the yeast cells), sharp, and a bit undercarbonated.  I also thought the unfiltered version had that distinct carrot/earth/woodsy flavor that I get from the Cal Common yeast when it’s still young.  The unfiltered had a noticeably fuller body and chewier mouthfeel.

Nothing really surprised me about this experiment, but it was nice to have confirmation especially when refining my technique.  Even when blind tasting both beers, all three tasters could pick out which was filtered and unfiltered.  Both were good beers and it was hard to choose a favorite.  The filtered version is obviously more attractive because of the clarity but definitely needed a bump in bittering and aroma hops to be more enjoyable.  The unfiltered version would probably get better with time in the bottle as the yeast naturally flocculated out, but the whole reason for filtering is to speed up that maturation by physically removing the yeast.  The body and hop issues with filtration can be remedied with recipe tweaks.  In the future, I will dial in the mouthfeel of my recipes by bumping mash temps up a degree or two or with using a higher percentage of crystal malts.  Filtering definitely affects your homebrew, but paying careful attention to your recipe and understanding those effects will allow you to still hit your target, whether it be style, flavor, or otherwise.

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Aria Lee’s Oktoberfest.

Shoot, I forgot which is which.

My wife and I welcomed the birth of our first child by brewing up an Oktoberfest style German lager the month before her due date.  I kept the recipe pretty simple with almost equal parts Castle pils, Weyermann Dark Munich, and Briess Vienna malt.  Most recipes I researched also had a small amount of Caramunich so I added one pound to the mash.  I used a small dose of traditional German Hallertau pellet hops to balance the clean malty profile of this style.  The fun part was once again splitting this 10 gallon batch into two carboys and pitching different yeasts.  To save the time of making two large starters from liquid yeasts, I chose to ferment the wort with two of the most common dry lager yeasts strains, Saflager S-23 and W-34/70.

Aria Lee Serfass arrived on Oct. 15th both healthy and happy but the beer wasn’t quite done lagering.  I cold crashed it for a few more days and then filtered it using my trusty plate filter. I then pressurized it with 30 psi of CO2 and shook it for five minutes.  This was my first time doing the “quick-carb” method of shaking the keg to carbonate the beer.  This method works best when you chill down the beer near freezing (my beer was already there for cold-crashing/lagering) and then roll the keg on the floor because CO2 goes into solution much quicker at colder temps.  You will need to keep reattaching the gas line as the CO2 goes into the beer after rolling on the floor every 20 seconds or so.

The two yeasts created distinctly different tasting beers.  Both beers finished at 1.014 (73% attenuation) but the 34/70 was the better beer and more true to Oktoberfest style.  The 34/70 had a delicious creamy and complex malty flavor that lingered just long enough before finishing crisp and refreshing.  The 34/70 nose was sweet caramel malt and toast.  The S-23 was notable in the odd sense of the absence of maltiness.  It almost seemed like the hops stood out more with a big floral presence in the nose and citrus in the mid-palate.  There also seemed to be fruity esters in the S-23 that masked the complex malt profile.  This makes me think S-23 would be very well suited for German and hop-forward Czech pilsners.  Don’t get me wrong, both beers are delicious, but stylistically the 34/70 hit the mark dead on.  I think this recipe might just make it into my brewing calendar to have on hand for Aria’s birthday in the years to come.

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Alison’s younger cousins heard that I want to someday open a brewery and they decided that I need some appealing beer names to stand out in the crowded marketplace.ImageScary beer is my favorite. Scary Beer.

Marketing is Important.

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Oak Series Part Two: Brown Porter

The second batch in my oak experimentation series was an English style brown porter.  I again brewed ten gallons of wort and split the batch into two six gallon carboys.  Each carboy received half of the washed yeast slurry from the UK IPA batch. After seven days of fermentation, I oaked one carboy with one ounce of medium toast American oak cubes and let the oak stay in contact with the beer for 27 days before kegging.  The other carboy was oak free as a control.

The oak presence did not seem as strong as I would have expected.  Trying both beers side by side, they seem like two completely different batches.  For one, the non-oak version is much more clear than the oaked version.  Surprisingly, the oaked version finished at 1.009 and the non-oaked version finished at 1.015.  I don’t think it was an infection from the oak because I boiled the cubes in water before pitching them.  That slight difference in finishing gravity gave the oaked version a drier finish and accentuates the roasted, bitter finish which borders on astringent.  I think the oaked version would be better if it hadn’t finished so dry.  There is a slight astringent, tannic flavor that is present in the oaked version as well as subtle notes of vanilla and campfire.  The non-oaked porter seems more balanced and easier to drink because of the slight residual sweetness expected in a brown porter.  This sweetness also allows the fruit and berry notes produced by the yeast to play a bigger role.

I feel like this was the correct oak choice (as opposed to French or Hungarian oak), but I would like to brew this again to see if the finishing gravity phenomenon happens again. If the oak somehow kick starts another fermentation and dries out the beer further (which I find hard to believe), I would bump up the crystal malts in the recipe to account for this or possibly mash a bit higher.

Both beers were delicious on their own, but I blended half of each batch into one keg and the results were amazing.  So amazing that I served it at the Lagunitas Tap Takeover/Kyler’s Homebrew event at Brouwerij Lane a few weeks ago and it seemed to be the most popular of the three beers that I poured. So amazing that every time I try these beers side by side I end up dumping one glass into the other.

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