Archive for November, 2011

bottling the basque cider, holiday gift suggestions

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

with the holidays in full swing and an unrelenting stream of work rolling in, it’s been hard to find time to set aside for a little zymurgy-related activities.  however, I did manage to set aside a couple of hours to bottle up my first attempt at a basque cider.

  • despite the healthy pellicle that formed on this batch, the resulting cider was remarkably smooth, with a slightly tart finish.  there was also a much more noticeable apple flavor when compared to earlier batches, which I am assuming is the result of using montrachet yeast instead of champagne.
  • the earthy lambic-like notes that I had noticed during fermentation had mellowed as well, and the cider was left with a subtle funk aroma that was in line with a year-old bottle of basque cider I had tried.  it almost seems as though the funk mellows with time in cider, instead of increasing as with some of my long-term beer experiments.  In addition to corking the cider, I also carbed and capped a few bottles to see if the fizz brings out any other desirable characteristics.

while I was bottling the cider, my mind started wandering onto the topic of holiday gift giving.

  • first and foremost, I am a big fan of giving homemade items as gifts – anything from pickles and beer to loaves of holiday bread and needlework lets the recipient know that some time, effort, and care went into the end product.  another benefit of giving homemade is that your gifts are usually less expensive to put together.
  • however, even when lack of time (or motivation) strikes, you can still come through with a thoughtful gift for the beer lover in your family by presenting them with a tasty beer and  food item pairing.  For example, it doesn’t take too much effort (or money) to score a nice obscure belgian (pannepot grand reserva, perhaps?) or fancy american sour (supplication, anyone?) and pack it with a savory chunk of creamy, palate-coating cheese (a little humboldt fog, maybe?) – in fact, one trip to a well-appointed whole foods would do the trick, and makes for a great after-work indulgence.  just an idea…


keg gasket replacement/refurbishing

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

after a successful weekend pouring the marzen as a “movemberfest” at ML’s movember fundraiser party, I was motivated to keg the small beer from my last brew session, which I had dry hopped with a couple ounces of willamette for about a week.  since my only remaining kegs were uncleaned and not rebuilt, a gasket replacement and general cleaning was in order.

  • simply put, buying “reconditioned” kegs with the gaskets replaced is a rip-off.  morebeer sells refurbished kegs for $17 more than their unrefurbished counterparts.  also, stores like northern brewer don’t even carry refurbished kegs, and their new ones run over three times the price of used.  rebuilding a standard cornelius keg only takes a couple bucks and a few minutes of your time:
  • after giving your keg a general external washing (I blast mine with a garden hose jet setting) and quick scrub to remove dirt, syrup, and any other external debris, grab a socket wrench and unscrew the beer OUT post on the keg.  you will need either a 7/8″ or 11/16″ ‘deep’ socket, depending on what style posts you have.  I recommend picking up both sockets at a place like harbor freight, especially if you keg with any frequency.







  • once you remove the post (you might have to wrestle with it a little after unscrewing), pull the dip tube out of the keg and and roll the o-ring at the top of the tube down and off of the tube.  sometimes the o-ring is fused onto the top of the dip tube from years of abuse, in which case a razor blade or thumbnail may come in handy to pry 0-ring loose.  if you see any mineral deposits or other gunk on the dip tube, scrub them off.







  • take your replacement o-ring and slide it back up the tube, then replace the dip tube.  note that the gasket replacement kit contains five items – two dip tube o-rings, two post o-rings, and one lid gasket.  major retailers sell these for $3-4 online, but I have found some for as little as $1.50 a set.


  • do the same with the gas IN post of the keg.  a few things to note here – (1)the gas in dip tube is much smaller than the beer out post, and may be either metal or plastic; (2) the gas in dip tube can be a pain in the ass to pull out of the gas in post.  be sure to clean the dip tube thoroughly, as these things are usually filthy – a q-tip soaked in PBW works well.  while replacing the o-rings on the dip tubes, I also like to punch the poppets out of both posts (using a pen tip or chopstick) and soak the poppets, posts, gas in dip tube, and lid pressure relief valve (the valve that screws into the lid of the keg) in a hot PBW solution for a few minutes and rinse with hot water.  a word of warning, however – the gas IN and beer OUT posts are NOT interchangeable, so make note of which is which (one usually has a different shape or is notched).
  • after the posts, poppets, and dip tubes are clean, reassemble and hand tighten the posts.  next, remove and replace the post o-rings.  a razor blade or knife makes this job a lot easier.  then replace the lid gasket and you’re all set!



  • after replacing the gaskets, I like to shake up a good amount of PBW and hot water in the keg.






  • while the hot PBW sits in the keg, I then clean the beer out dip tube by running hot PBW through the beer out post via my homemade line cleaner.  I then rinse the keg a couple of times with hot water and shake up some star-san in the keg, which I also run through my beer out line.


  • after dumping out the sanitizer, the keg is ready to fill with your beverage of choice.   my small beer finished at 1.004 for an ABV of 4.22%, and a sample tasted promising, as the earthy hops blended nicely with the toned-down roast profile.  I primed the keg with 4.7oz. of wildflower honey and will give it about a month to carb up.
  • despite the rising cost of stainless steel, by buying inexpensive gasket kits and keeping an eye out for the occasional bargain, I can pick up kegs for $20-25, which is about half of what they go for in “refurbished” condition.  good luck!

simplified parti-gyle brewing: imperial american stout, small beer

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

over the past few months, I have noticed a gradual increase in my collection of leftover specialty grains.

  • last-minute recipe alterations, quarter-pound grain additions, and preliminary miscalculations have results over time in a sealed bucket full of malted odds and ends.  the majority of my leftovers are of the high-roast/variety used sparingly in stouts, quads, black lagers, etc.
  • knowing firsthand that long-gone leftovers just end up in the compost, I decided to clean house and make an imperial american-style stout with all of my dark grains and a liberal application of 2-row:
    • 30.00 lb Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM) Grain 88.11 %
      0.75 lb Barley, Flaked (1.7 SRM) Grain 2.20 %
      0.75 lb Black (Patent) Malt (500.0 SRM) Grain 2.20 %
      0.75 lb Carafa II (412.0 SRM) Grain 2.20 %
      0.50 lb Black Barley (Stout) (500.0 SRM) Grain 1.47 %
      0.40 lb Special B Malt (180.0 SRM) Grain 1.17 %
      0.30 lb Cara-Pils/Dextrine (2.0 SRM) Grain 0.88 %
      0.30 lb Caramel/Crystal Malt – 10L (10.0 SRM) Grain 0.88 %
      0.30 lb Chocolate Malt (350.0 SRM) Grain 0.88 %
      2.50 oz Chinook [13.00 %] (60 min) Hops 42.5 IBU
      2.00 oz Cascade [5.50 %] (60 min) Hops 14.4 IBU
      2.00 oz Cascade [5.50 %] (15 min) Hops 7.1 IBU
  • for the hop additions, I used a large chunk of my homegrown hop stash (specifically, all my chinooks and cascades).  although in an ideal world a totally homegrown saison would have had dibs on those hops, making a homebrew shop run for a couple commercial ounces of varieties that I already had didn’t make sense.  I also whipped up a healthy two-liter starter of venerable WLP001 for fermentation duties.
  • after mashing in 34 lbs of grain, my mash tun was almost at capacity (I’ve heard of people adding as much as 40 lbs, but I wasn’t feeling particularly adventurous).  I hit my mash temp of 151F and ended up with ten gallons with an O.G. of 1.09.
  • with all that grain in the mash tun, it seemed like a shame to waste any leftover sugars, so I decided to make a small beer using a parti-gyle procedure, which sounds complex but is in fact dead simple.  instead of using a first/second runnings “batch sparge” approach, I further simplified the process by adding 6 gallons of sparge water to my HLT and collecting an additional 6 gallons of wort in a separate kettle after my initial sparge was complete.
  • after hopping the small beer with 1.5 oz of willamette pellets at 60 and 15 min, I ended up with 4.5 gallons with an O.G. of 1.037, and will dry-hop with another couple of ounces in an attempt at a hoppy, low abv brew.
  • during the boil I also managed to keg my pseudo marzen, which ended up at 1.016 for a devilish abv of 6.66%.  after about a week at 65 to carb up, I’m planning on cold crashing the kegs in the mid 30s until some space frees up in the kegerator.



basque cider how-to

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

since prior commitments (and a full fermentation fridge) prevented me from participating in the AHA’s learn to homebrew day last saturday, in the spirit of general education I decided to throw together an explanatory beginner’s overview on how to make a basque-style cider, using some readily available ingredients and tools.

first, you want to clean and sanitize a fermentation bucket, bucket lid (with an airlock hole in it), and airlock.  I used a white HDPE 2 five-gallon ace hardware bucket, but any similar bucket will do.  I cleaned my bucket with five star’s PBW and sanitized it with star-san, but any food-grade cleaner and sanitizer will work (consult your local homebrew shop).






next, I added four gallons of pasteurized organic cider to the sanitized bucket.  I picked up the cider at whole foods on sale for about $6 a gallon, but there are other cheaper alternatives out there (just remember that the quality of your finished product is dependent on the quality of your starting ingredients).  from what I have seen, traditional basque cider is made using only apples, but if you are feeling adventurous, feel free to add different varieties of sugar, fruit, etc. to the juice.  also, if you have unpasteurized locally pressed juice available, you owe it to yourself to use that (in fact, you can add just unpasteurized juice to a sanitized bucket and let it ferment out itself by way of the wild yeast present on the apple skins).

after adding the juice to the bucket, I pitched the yeast.  I used an old slurry of white labs WLP570 belgian golden ale yeast after reading about the use of belgian yeasts in cider, but any wine or beer yeast will do (cider-specific yeasts are available as well) – again, consult your local homebrew store or look around online.  note that most yeasts will ferment the juice to dryness (i.e., there will be no residual sugars/sweetness in the cider).

in addition, I pitched some bottle dregs from a bottle of basque cider (specifically, isastegi).  the bottle I had purchased earlier this year had mellowed in the bottle, and the cider was light and complex, with a smoother sourness and complementary funk.  look online for where to procure bottles in your area (I have seen them in quality craft beer stores as far east as MN, so they shouldn’t be too hard to find).  try the basque cider before pitching the dregs, and if you don’t care for it, just leave the dregs out and you’ll just end up with regular cider.

after pitching the yeast and dregs, just cap the bucket and install the airlock (I fill mine with cheap vodka, but you can use leftover sanitizer).  due to the wild/funky nature of the fermentation, I would wait at least three months before bottling/kegging to let the bugs work their magic (I’ll probably transfer the cider to a keg after a month or so and sit on it for an additional five months before bottling).  if you chose not to add the basque dregs, you can likely bottle the cider after a few weeks.  also, if you use the basque bottle dregs, note that everything fermented in your bucket from then on will likely take on a funky note, so use separate containers for funky and non-funky fermentations.



despite my wordy explanation above, the process itself is very simple, and might be the most straightforward (and inexpensive) fermentation project one can take on.  good luck!

pseudo märzen, braggot, spent grain bars

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

over the past couple of months I have found myself consistently buying a single beer style – marzen (aka “oktoberfest”).

  • every time I cruised by the local trader joe’s or bevmo I would stop in for a few bottles of the clean, malty, perfectly hopped ayinger oktober fest-marzen (the fact that their bulletproof 500mL bottles are ideal for reuse was just the icing on the cake).
  • I had always shied away from brewing lagers, not because of their strict temperature requirements, but because of their elongated fermentation and lagering times.  however, I had recently done some research on substituting kolsch ale yeast for lager yeast and fermenting at a lower temperature to achieve a similar result.  stumbling upon edwort’s kolsch-based oktoberfest recipe, reading a recent zymurgy article on cold ale fermentations, and trying NM’s tasty “steam” marzen clinched it, and I formulated the following pseudo marzen recipe (12 gal batch, 90 min boil, 80% efficiency):
    • 10.00 lb Pilsner (2 Row) Bel (2.0 SRM) Grain 38.46 %
      10.00 lb Vienna Malt (3.5 SRM) Grain 38.46 %
      4.00 lb Munich Malt (9.0 SRM) Grain 15.38 %
      1.00 lb Caramunich Malt (56.0 SRM) Grain 3.85 %
      1.00 lb Caravienne Malt (22.0 SRM) Grain 3.85 %
      2.50 oz Tettnang [4.50 %] (90 min) Hops 16.7 IBU
      1.00 oz Tettnang [4.50 %] (60 min) Hops 6.3 IBU
      1.00 oz Hallertauer [4.80 %] (30 min) Hops 5.1 IBU
      1.00 oz Hallertauer [4.80 %] (15 min) Hops 3.3 IBU
  • I mashed at 154F and ended up with 1.067 wort, which I cooled down to the low 50s.  I pitched a 2L starter of kolsch yeast, and fermentation kicked off within 12 hrs.  I kept the ambient temperature at 50F in my fermentation freezer, which will hopefully yield low/no fruitiness.  I’m also planning on lagering for at least 2 months in the mid-30sF after kegging.
  • during the mash, I bottled my experimental small braggot, which finished at 0.99 for an abv of 5.15%.  not bad for a beer that started at 1.035!
  • during the boil, I ran an additional sparge over the grain bed and collected 2.5 gallons of second runnings, which I added .5oz of tettnanger hops to at the start of a 60 minute boil.  at flame out I added around 2 lbs of local honey, ending up with a gallon of wort with an OG of 1.071.  I pitched a small portion of the kolsch starter at ambient temperature (~70F) and the wort was active by the end of the day.  there is some debate as to what specifically constitutes a “braggot,” but I figured that with close to 50% of the fermentables being provided by honey, the style was appropriate.
  • additionally, while cleaning out my mash tun, I started thinking about spent grain reuse.  I ended up sprinkling a few pounds onto one of my planters as compost and bringing four cups of grain inside for some dog treats.  after checking the fridge and realizing that I only had almond butter (which may be toxic to dogs), I decided to make spent grain bars for humans instead.  the recipe is as follows:
    • 2 cups grain
    • 1 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1/2 cup almond butter
    • 1 egg
    • 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate
    • 1/3 cup dried cherries
    • 1/3 cup honey
    • cinnamon to taste
  •  I ended up doubling the above recipe and baking 3/4″ thick bars in a baking pan.  after hitting the bars at 350F for 30 minutes, I cut them into squares and finished them for another 45 minutes at 225F.  the bars are chewy, not too sweet, and make a great morning snack.  to say they are “high in fiber” is a gross understatement, so don’t go eating the whole batch in one sitting.  for the dog treat version, I would swap peanut butter for almond butter, leave out the chocolate, cherries, and cinnamon, and bake at 1/4″ thickness at 225F until completely dry to avoid having to refrigerate.  enjoy!