Coffee & Raisins; or, I can feel it in my Plums.

Trying to make an original beer, I thought ‘Special B’ barley would pair nicely with a Belgian yeast and home roasted coffee. Special B, described as heavy caramel and raisin-like, is delicious in Russian Imperial Stouts. I wanted that malt to shine. Next, I thought a nice subtle Belgian yeast – maybe a Belgian Strong yeast – would give sophistication, dryness, and a little spicy clove. I wasn’t going for banana, like a Trappist or Abbey. Finally, I thought coffee with play nice with the raisin and dark fruit, so I chose a bright African coffee, Ethiopian Agaro: nectarine, dark berry, plum, citrus rind. I roasted it fairly light, giving it some pop.
This post is so pretentious.


The first draft is good, but I have a few revisions. The yeast, a dry Belgian yeast, doesn’t offer anything. Next time, I’ll use a liquid Belgian Strong. I don’t like the Maris Otter. It gives it a super malty, chewy character that tastes like an English Barleywine. It smells a little dirty and muddled. I want it to be more crisp and clean, so I’ll use 2-row or Pilsner next time. I might dial back the Special B just a bit, not sure about that. Yeah, it’s a bit too sweet. More hops might remedy that. The coffee was essentially dry hopped while cold crashing for two days. It floated, so I would put it in a muslin bag next time. Maybe a medium roast would be better, with more floral perfume notes. The hops are nonexistent; I wanted it malty, but perhaps the ounce of Columbus should be at 30 minutes instead of 15, to balance out the malty sweetness. It finished at 1.020. I’m looking forward to version 2, which is the only reason I posted this time (I’ve made several beers since last time, including another tasty Maharaja DIPA clone).

Coffee & Raisins
12 lb Maris Otter
2 lb Special B
.5 lb C-120
(30 minute mash)
2 lb Sugar
1 oz Columbus FW (15 minute)
1 oz Cascade 5m
(30 minute boil)
Safebrew T-58
Agaro coffee (dry hopped while cold crashing), City+, about 2 oz which means a little less than 4 cups on my grinder setting, coarse ground and dumped directly into beer.

Mad Boris Russian Imperial Stout (and brewday walk-through)

Although I really like the Russian Hacker Stout, which I’ve made twice now, I opted for a new recipe from Brew: the foolproof guide to making world class beer at home, by James Morton. Simplified, here’s the recipe.

Mad Boris Russian Imperial Stout
15.5 lb Maris Otter
1.5 lb Carm/Crystal 80
1 lb Amber malt
1 lb Chocolate malt
1 lb Brown malt
1 oz. Magum (FW, 30 minute boil)
1 oz. El Dorado (FW…had it lying around)
US-05 (two packs, just in case)

My brewdays are usually weeknights after dinner, or after my wife and I put our 3-year-old to bed around 7pm. I start by connecting an RV filter to my garden hose (carbon filter). I fill up the pot and crank the heat while it’s filling. Putting the lid on speeds up things, a lot.


While waiting for the water to reach 150ish, I mill the barley very fine (all 20 pounds for this beast). It falls into a plastic bucket beneath the mill.


Continue reading

10 Day Pilsner (Mermaid Pilsner Clone)

For a pilsner brewed in 10 days – from grain to keg – this is a crushable little beer. It’s not the best beer I’ve made – after all, it’s a pilsner for God sakes – but it’s just fine to drink and I sort of like it. I wouldn’t dare enter this into competition, and it has flaws. If you look at the recipe, it’s more like a pale ale really; it’s hoppy and lemony, soft and creamy. My brewer friend said it had a slight DMS thing going on, which I don’t detect. I believe him. Probably the short, 30 minute boil, is to blame for that. My family liked it. My wife doesn’t. I do believe that controlling the mash pH would help this beer significantly, something I didn’t do; giving it a crispness and acidity that I like in beers. Also I would mash less (15 minutes), to allow for a slightly longer boil (40 minutes). Time is money baby.

The process was the same as always: 30 minute mash (15 maybe?), 30 minute boil, no yeast starter. Normally “lagers” are fermented at 50 for several weeks. This beer was fermented for 7 days at 66. It has a California Common character, I’ve been told, which makes sense.

Based on the recipe alone, I wouldn’t brew this beer again. Too hoppy. Before dry hopping, I actually really like the beer; it tasted like a good lager. Interestingly, the first 10 pints were hazy and cloudy. After 4 more days, it cleared up real nice:


I got the recipe from a book (can’t remember what one).

Mermaid Pilsner Clone
brewed: ?
8.3 2-Row
1 lb Vienna
.4 lb Carapils
.6 lb Rye malt
.5 lb white wheat malt
.2 lb flaked wheat
.1 lb Carm/Crystal 10
1 oz Crystal FW (30 minute boil)
.3 oz Tettnag FW
.5 oz Amarillo FW
.5 oz Crystal FO
.5 oz Amarillo FO
.5 Crystal DH (3 days)
.5 Amarillo (3 days)
W-34/70 (dry lager yeast, sprinkled on top)

Beer 40: Lemony Wheat Ale

Summer time and my first attempt at a wheat beer. Because the local homebrew shop was out of the hops I really wanted (Manderina Bavaria), I opted for some hops with lemon and tea character. And boy did I get it. This beer is surprisingly lemony, especially in the aroma, probably due to the “lemondrop” hops (duh) but also the Denali. It’s a very hoppy beer, but not like an IPA. The Pacific Jade, I believe, gives it a distinct tea-like character. Lemon and black tea dominate. In the summer, after cutting the grass, it’s really quite enjoyable. It comes off as a lemon-tea shandy type beer. I sorta like it, although the shandy aspect I do not. It’s lacking a malty beer profile, and the wheat isn’t apparent either. It’s probably a bit sweet, I would dial back the Honey malt or get rid of entirely. Again, I would rather try it with Manderina Bavaria hops to give it more of an orange character.

With a mere 15 minute mash and 20 minute boil, this was the fastest beer I’ve ever brewed. I didn’t time it, but I’m guessing brewday was completed within an hour. Pretty crazy. The grain-to-glass time was probably 8-10 days.


Lemon Wheat Ale
7.8 lb 2-Row
3.4 lb White Wheat malt
1 lb flaked wheat
.5 lb Honey Malt
(mashed at 150 for 15 minutes)
.5 oz Magnum (FW, 20 minute boil)
2 oz Denali
1 oz Lemondrop
1 oz Pacific Jade
1 oz German Heull Melon
WB-06 (dry yeast for wheat beer)
7 tablespoons acid to mash, no salts
finished at 1.012

A Delicious NEIPA with Dry Yeast

This isn’t the best version of the New England IPA, but it was still damn good. I say “was” because the keg went pretty fast, which is usually the best indicator of how good it was. This beer was very light, straw colored/neon yellow, bright, drinkable, and hoppy in a citrus rind sort of way. It had a soft bitterness, a slight sweetness, and the lower alcohol made it very drinkable and refreshing. My main experiment was to see if I could make a NEIPA with the US-04 Dry Yeast. I don’t think it’s ideal – it lacks the juicy and cloudy element which are pretty important – but it’s still an option. I also really like the yellow color, which comes from the very light Pilsner base malt mixed with white wheat malt.


7.3 lb Pilsner (just what I had on hand)
3.5 lb White Wheat
1 lb Flaked Wheat
7 tablespoons acid in the mash
15 minute mash / 45 minute boil
Galaxy, Cascade, Mosaic, Azacca (Flame out and Dry hop, use your imagination)
US-04 dry yeast
finished at 1.016



The Diacetyl Kegging connection, and a nice English Barley Wine

Looking back on over a hundred batches of homebrew, I cannot remember many examples of diacetyl or off-flavors, although I’m sure there were some. Lately, however, I’ve fell into the diacetyl blues. I distinctly recall three different IPAs having diacetyl (one was a black IPA and really buttery). I thought about giving up the hobby forever (yeah right). But seriously, nothing is more disheartening than to pour the first pint of a freshly made IPA, only to be horrified at the muted hop character and the hint of butter or honey off-flavors (diacetyl tastes like butter and fills you up, while a different chemical called pentanedione tastes like honey). These IPAs were nothing like they should taste like, and one became quite bad.

I racked my brain to figure out why. Looking at my brewing practices, the glaring difference was kegging, and I believe I have a theory as to why kegging – specifically, switching from bottling to kegging – might surprise you with diacetyl-laced batches, whereas you didn’t notice it previously. In short: ferment longer than you’re used to. Diacetyl, as we know, is a natural product of fermentation that gets “cleaned up” by the yeast after fermentation is complete. This is why brewers do a “diacetyl rest” for a couple days. With bottling, I believe skipping the diacetyl rest is not a huge problem because the beer goes into a warm environment for another week or two – that’s how it carbonates. In my bottling past, I wonder if the diacetyl was getting cleaned up while carbonating in the bottle. Kegging is totally different. As soon as you cold crash and transfer the beer, the diacetyl is there for good. No more clean up. In summary, I’m pretty sure I’ve been rushing all of my fermentation by a few days. While bottling was saving my ass, kegging is exposing my ass – either way something horrible has been happening to my ass. Having said that, I don’t use yeast starters. That could explain the diacetyl as well. This is just a theory.

In fact, although I hate to admit it, lack of yeast starter could easily be another factor. I hate yeast starters and don’t have the planning skills required to make them. My diacetyl batches just so happened to have liquid yeast, instead of dry yeast (if my memory is correct). Coincidence? probably not. Dry yeast is amazing because it doesn’t require a starter. Liquid yeast doesn’t have enough cells for higher alcohol beers (which I think is stupid). Underpitched, stressed, unhealthy fermentation could cause diacetyl.

My blog has ironically come full circle. My naivety and “this will never happen to me” has been partly exposed, qualified, and humbled.

Homebrewers love Barley Wines but never brew them, and I’m no exception to that rule. Isn’t that weird? The barley wine has a special place in my beer loving heart: it’s huge, malty, complex, and warms you up immediately while you sip it. The American variety is mostly an amped up Double IPA that I don’t like, but the English variety is refined, beautiful, and truly a special beer – it’s more like a whiskey to be honest. It tastes like a beer whiskey to me. And although this Barley Wine was “rushed” through the process – short mash, short boil, no sparge, short fermentation period, no cellaring – it’s still really good. It tastes extremely malty and has that slight alcohol warmth. I’ve read that no-sparge brewing adds to the malt quality of beer – Gordon Strong seems to think so – but I’m not sure if that’s true. This beer will improve with age (if I let it). I don’t think I would change the recipe.


English Barley Wine
14 lb Maris Otter
3.3 lb 2-Row
.6 lb Crystal Medium (Simpsons)
.2 lb Pale Chocolate Malt
1 oz Magnum (FW) 30 minute boil
1 oz Fuggle FO
1 oz Target FO
1 oz EKG FO

started with 8 gallons of water
mashed 148ish for 30
final gravity: 1.020


Beer 37: Embrace the Haze

About six months ago, an odd looking gentleman came up to me at a bar and befriended me. He started talking about the greatness and superiority of the cult classic of IPAs: the New England IPA (NEIPA). Midwesterner that I was, I remained skeptical. I heard of NEIPAs – cloudy and ‘juicey’ – but I had never tried one. Indeed, they aren’t available in these parts. Luckily, this new friend was a homebrewer, and he made some damn good NEIPAs, which I liked quite a bit. Finally, I broke down and made one myself.

It’s real good, in a good way, that makes you say: this is good.


It’s totally different than a traditional (West Coast) IPA. A traditional IPA is bitter, dry, hoppy, and that’s about it. This beer, on the other hand, is slightly sweet, which comes from the malt (white wheat and honey malt) and the low attenuating yeast (london III). It’s not a typical sugar-like sweetness. It’s subtle, and makes you want to drink more. The beer coats your mouth, mostly the back of the tongue. I believe this is the secret of the NEIPA: you cannot stop drinking it. This keg will go fast. Next, hops. The hops are citrus and intense, but they fade away fast. The second day in the keg, this IPA tasted closer to citrus fruit than any IPA I’ve ever drank. Now, it’s more rounded out. It’s still very good, but not the same. This is the first beer that I payed close attention to mash pH. The cloudiness comes from the yeast and water profile (more chloride than gypsum).

I cannot stress the drinkability enough. It’s a gateway drug for IPA lovers and potential IPA drinkers.

Notorious NEIPA
12 lb 2-row
2.2 lb white wheat
.3 honey malt
1 oz magnum FW (30 m)
1.5 oz citra FO
1 oz Mosiac FO
1 oz Amarillo FO
1 oz Centenial FO
3 oz Simcoe DH
1 oz Equinox DH
.5 oz Citra DH
London III yeast
started with 9 gal water, ended up with 5 gal. batch roughly
added 1/2 tsp Gypsum, 3/4 tsp Cal Chloride
added 2 1/2 caps of phosphoric acid to get mash pH down


Beer 36 (last one): Soo Good Maharaja IPA Clone

After drinking this last night, fresh from the keg, I came to realize two things. First, I love Simcoe hops, especially dry hopped, especially a lot of them. Second, there are some beers that are so good, we feel the urge to share with others. This is one of those beers. I love it. Whether it’s the recipe, the Victory malt, the dark crystal malt, the loads of Simcoe and ridiculous amount of hops in general, or the interesting herbal Chinook hops, or the fact that I forget to fine it, the attention to pH, or all of the above? – it’s a keeper.

Immediately you get a huge hop aroma, and I mean yuge: citrus, fruity, pungent, floral. I really think Simcoe dominates the aroma. Some people describe Simcoe hops as “dank” or “catty”. I have no fucking clue what that means. Seriously…catty? Who was the first idiot to drink an IPA and say “I’m getting a bit of cattiness from these hops.” And what did the other person say? They probably nodded their heads in agreement, like the group-think-sheep we are.


The first drink is smooth. The hops are delicious, the Chinook gives a unique quality, the malt gives a nice backbone. Perhaps I would change the yeast to “London III,” as the Avery website suggests.

Maharaja Clone (6 gal.)
16 lb 2-row
1 lb Sugar (added to boil)
9 oz Victory malt
9 oz C-120
—-mashed at 148 for 30 minutes—
1 teaspoon of acid added to mash for pH
2 oz Columbus FW (30 minute boil)
2 oz Simcoe FO
2 oz Centenial FO
4.5 oz Simcoe DH 3 days
2 oz Centenial DH
2 oz Chinook DH
US 05 yeast



Beer 34: Imperial Porter for Competition

Usually a fan of Stouts over Porters, my first inspiration to brew a Porter came after drinking one from Tibbs Brewing Company, a small Kalamazoo nano-brewery that makes the best Tripel this side the Mississippi. And a solid Porter to boot: it’s smooth and chocolaty, not too bitter or roasty. Perfect. Coincidentally and ironically, my Imperial Porter will be judged by the owner of Tibbs himself, on the next episode of the show I’m a part of. I will be going against two other Porters.

I remember my first Porter recipe having at least 2 pounds of chocolate malt in it, thinking “chocolate malt” meant chocolate flavor. In fact, it’s referring to the color of the barley, not the flavor, although it does impart coffee and cocoa flavor to the beer. This recipe, inspired from Gordon Strong’s Modern Homebrew Recipes, is a beefed up version of an American Porter with some English barley and orange-ish hops. The yeast is clean, fermented well, and adds no flavor or aroma, which lets the malt shine. The hops (Simcoe, Amarillo) are meant to add an orange flavor to the beer, since orange and chocolate go well together; however, I don’t get that at all. If the hops contribute anything, I don’t have the palate to detect it. The has a nice bitterness, which means less bitter than a Stout. The different between a Porter and Stout is basically: less roast, less coffee, less bitterness, less astringent harshness.

I really like this beer. It would be nice to experiment with some flaked wheat or barley, to give a creamy mouthfeel to the beer (I’ve never used flaked ingredients). Dry hopping with 2 ounces of Simcoe might be nice to get a more pronounced orange-hop aroma, although I honestly prefer a simple, smooth chocolaty Porter.


My brewing method is different during winter. I start with water from the kitchen tap, rather than the outside faucet (that is frozen). So the water is not filtered, which means it’s probably hard and chlorinated.  After filling the pot with about 9 gallons of water, I crank the heat, crush my barley, cut the heat at 151F-155Fish, and begin the long 30 minute mash, stirring occasionally for better efficiency. Speaking of efficiency, I really crush the hell out of the barley – a BIAB perk. I set my barley crusher to it’s thinnest setting. My dunk the bag in the mash water method hasn’t been working – I get dough balls that I have to destroy. That happens with bigger beers, might be temperature dependent, and might have something to do with the finer crush. Oh well. After the 30 minute mash, squeeze the bag, add first wort hops, crank the heat, boil for 30 minutes, add flame out hops, and chill in a snow bank for a couple hours (getting Taco Bell in the meantime). Finally, put into Fermentation chamber, wait until the beer gets around 70F, add dry yeast, let ferment for about a week, put beer into keg, pressurize at 45p.s.i. for about 12 hours. Drink.

Imperial Porter
7.4 lb Maris Otter
7.1 lb 2-Row
1.2 lb Chocolate malt
.5 lb Roasted Barley
1.1 Crystal Medium (? UK Crystal 55L I think?)
2 oz Fuggles FWH (30 minute boil)
.25 oz Simcoe FWH (to give a touch more bitterness)
.75 oz Simcoe FO (followed by a slow, snow bank chill)
1 oz Amarillo FO
US-05 dry yeast (sprinkled into wort)
note: mashed at 146
final hydrometer reading: 1.020



Beer 33: Russian Hacker Stout with pH adjustments

A year ago I made a really good Russian Imperial Stout. I said: “this beer is everything I want in a big Russian Imperial Stout…Big, dark, malty, dry, bitter, roasty, with a lot of hidden alcohol. I really, really like this beer.” I also said “I honestly wouldn’t change a thing and can’t wait to brew it again.” Well, a year later, I didn’t change a thing. Using basically the same recipe, which came from, this beer is just as delicious – perhaps more so. Nice brown head, perfect carbonation, chewy, big bodied, smooth and drinkable, packed with flavor but certainly not too sweet. The bold, dark flavors are really impressive and pop out – coffee, chocolate, hint of raisin. When it’s 12 degrees outside, there’s nothing better than this:


If you look at the ingredients, I’m convinced that the pound of “Special B” malt matters and shines through. Special B description: “heavy, dark caramel taste with more subtle notes of burnt sugar, raisin, and dark dried fruits such as cherries and plums. It can also deliver some of the softer roasty notes of a chocolate or black malt but without the astringency or bitterness.”

Sans cherries, sounds about right to me. It’s a shame because I have so many other Imperial Stout recipes that I want to try.

Mind your pH?
Slowly, I’ve become convinced that water matters, and pH levels of the mash – which is a water chemistry issue – probably matters too. I wouldn’t care but someone gave me a really expensive pH meter, so I figured it was time to bust that bad boy out. When it comes to the pH of beer, there is a sort of ‘Goldilocks’ zone, an ideal range that beer should be in (google it). This allegedly contributes to clarity, hop expression, and overall quality. Logistically, there are different methods to deal with pH, ranging from building your water profile from scratch (RO water), to…the way I did it. The beginning of my brew day was the same as always – same recipe, same water from the tap, same amount. After putting the crushed barley into the hot water (mash), I took a pH reading. Surprisingly, it was quite high (out of the Goldilocks zone). Now is where you adjust. You need to add some sort of acid, which bring the pH down. So I added about 6 ounces of acid malt, available at any home brew store, which brought the pH down. That’s pretty much it. You can also use a liquid acid – like phosphoric – which is more potent and efficient and easier to store.

I cannot say whether this had any impact on the finished beer. Without a blind tasting of both stouts, it’s too hard not to be biased. And yes the stout from a year ago is gone. I also think pH is probably more important with pale beers and IPAs.

Russian Hacker Stout, 5 gal, 12%ish
10 lb. Maris Otter
6 lb. 2-Row
1 lb Crystal 60L
1.5 lb Roasted Barley
1 lb Special B
.5 lb Chocolate malt
~2.5 oz Warrior hops FW (30 minute boil)
2 packets of Safale 05