Dry Hopped Hard Cider

I’m not a huge fan of hard cider – they’re a little boring for me and apparently I love gluten- but I always thought a dry hopped version would be really good (also gluten free by the way). I might have gotten the idea from brulosophy.com. Anyway, the process is very simple. Get apple juice from the store (or the cider mill), dump apple juice into a bucket, add yeast. That’s pretty much it. Cider making, compared to beer making, is a breeze. Dry hopping, for this recipe, happened after fermentation. I added two ounces of hops (Simcoe, Amarillo), then let the hard cider cool for a couple days (called ‘cold crashing’), and then bottled with sugar cubes (the bucket has a bottling spigot attached two inches from the bottom).

It’s a nice, crisp, refreshing, effervescent, drinkable, bubbly cider (thanks to the Champagne yeast). It has a touch of apple sweetness. I really like it. My wife said it tastes exactly like champagne. Here’s what it looks like next to some apples:

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serve in a flute wine glass if you are fancy

The alcohol is hidden although sneaky. I have no clue what the ABV is but I know it fermented very well. Unfortunately I don’t taste or smell the hops, at all. That surprised me; Simcoe is an aggressive hop. I was hoping to get a little orange, lemon flavor from the Simcoe/Amarillo duo, I thought that would blend nicely with the cider flavor. Next time, I will definitely add 4 ounces, or maybe choose Citra or Centenial or something ‘piney.’

Carbonation took less than 2 weeks, which was a relief. I have tried making hard cider three or four times, and they never carbonated or took forever. I think the Champagne yeast is the winner here. It will be my go-to in the future.

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Under-pitching Yeast to get more flavors?

I recently attended a fascinating lecture from a White Labs scientist. I was drinking, so I don’t remember everything she said. But I do remember one thing very clearly: sometimes under-pitching yeast makes sense. Under-pitching, she said, creates more yeast flavors and aromas. Really? Huh. The yeast get stressed out, they work harder, and they create more flavors and aromas. Which could be good or bad. For certain styles, commercial brewers do this on purpose. Over-pitching, on the other hand, does the opposite: less flavors from the yeast, less aromas from the yeast. But it gets the job done, and faster.

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Okay. Who cares? Well, some beers are defined and dominated by the yeast flavors and aromas, like the banana flavored Hefeweizen. The White Labs scientist specifically referred to Hefeweizen several times, but I assume this would apply to my beloved Belgian Tripel just as well, which also tastes like banana. Needless to say, I will not be over-pitching my Belgian Tripel from now on (which is what I was doing).

For homebrewers that reuse yeast (like me), we usually over-pitch all our beers by throwing a jar full of yeast slurry or whatever. After all, we can’t count cells. And in fact, I think this is a good practice for most beers. In fact, brulsophy has shown that it doesn’t make a different in a wheat amber ale and in a Double IPA and in a lager.

Even if you think under-pitching is a good idea, it’s not for everyone. You could run the risk of a stuck, or stalled, fermentation. That’s bad; that means your beer stopped fermenting and you need to somehow revive it. I don’t worry too much about that because I have a temperature controlled fermentation chamber, which keep the yeast maximally happy. So I don’t think they will crap out. I’m not fermenting in a cold, 50 degree basement.

 

How to Make a Really Good IPA

When it comes to recipes, I’m only comfortable giving advice when it comes to IPAs. After brewing about 30 batches of them, reading the IPA book by Mitch Steele, and looking at tons of commercial examples, I’ve learned a few things. In a word, keep the grain bill simple and dry hop a lot. Dry hop more than you think (like 5 or 6 ounces).

Double IPA

Double IPA

Barley
Although I have used 100% two-row barley on several IPAs with success, I don’t recommend it. For Double IPAs you can, but regular IPAs need a slightly better malt backbone, complexity. Try a pound of Munich, or Vienna, or Biscuit. I personally don’t like Caramel Crystal malt in an IPA, although most commercial examples have it; it’s too sweet and detracts from the hops. I like a crisp, bready backbone instead.

Hops
I like to add one ounce of a really bitter hop while I’m waiting for the boil (called “First Wort Hopping”). Like Warrior or Columbus. That takes care of all the bitterness I need for the beer. Many times, after that, I won’t add any more hops until after fermentation (called “dry hopping”). Dry hopping is magic. Some people say that adding hops after the boil (“flame out”) is similar to dry hopping; I disagree. Anyway, with dry hopping, 5 ounces is about the perfect amount (after all, you want it to be affordable too), with 3 ounces on the low end and 8 ounces on the high end. You only need to dry hop for a day or two, and dump them in all at once (no need to stagger the additions). Pellets are easier to work with. No need to use a “hop bag” or anything weird like that. If you want a clear beer, use gelatin and cold crash.

For your first IPA, only use Centenial hops. Try one once for bittering, and 5 ounces dry hop. You will be amazed at how good it is. That’s your baseline. Next batch, introduce some Cascade, or Simcoe, or Columbus, or Amarillo. Any combination will be good. Mosaic is very powerful and can dominate; use sparingly. Citra is also popular.

Yeast
Safale-05 is my favorite. It’s clean, lets the hops shine, ferments well, you don’t need to use a starter, and it’s cheap. Nuff said.

That’s pretty much it folks! See some sample recipes here.

Don’t take brewing advice from people who want to sell you stuff

moneyOnline stores, local home brew shops, and event expos are cool – don’t get me wrong – and a lot of people are honest, but at the end of the day, they have a fundamental imperative to say “yes, you should buy that.” Even if you don’t need it. Sometimes the science of brewing takes backseat to the sale of brewing. It happens all the time.

I think you know that. This is obvious. You’re not stupid. However, what about all these wonderful published books on brewing, by experts in the field? Like Mastering Homebrew, Wisdom for Home Brewers, and many more (check you local library). Are they trying to sell you stuff? Well, frankly, as I read these books, now that I’m more knowledgeable, sometimes I wonder. Why are they telling me to buy so much crap? Why do they recommend all these non-essential procedures as if they are essential? They seem overbearing.

On top of that, brewers, writers, podcasters, and bloggers, I imagine, have sponsors that could compromise the honest truth about brewing. And what is the honest truth? That you don’t need much stuff, that it doesn’t take that much time or work, and that frankly it’s hard to ruin a batch of beer if you stick to the basics. I appreciate nerdy brewers and all their gadgets and intricate processes; but for the rest of us, let’s downplay the non-essentials and focus on the essentials.

In my perfect world, beginning homebrewers would be given the following advice about how to start. First, beer is made by soaking barley in hot water, then boiling with hops, then fermented with yeast, then bottled with sugar. Immediately they understand the process. I would say a clean environment is pretty important, and that temperature matters (155ish for mashing, 70ish for fermenting).

Then I would say the easiest way to make beer at home is called extract brewing and it’s enormously expensive. No thanks? Okay, good. Let’s move on. Do you really want to be a homebrewer, or do you want to test it out and see if you like it? If they really want to make beer at home, but they didn’t want to spend $200 dollars, I would tell them about stove-top, small batch, partial mash brewing, using mostly equipment they already have. If they wanted to jump into brewing and cut through all the bullshit, I would say the next easiest way is Single Vessel Brew in a Bag (i.e. One Pot Brewing). The next easiest way would be Brew in a Bag with two vessels (one for mashing and boiling, another for fermenting and bottling).

Next I would introduce the benefits of a fermentation chamber, which is optional but convenient. After that, if they really wanted to go crazy, I would talk about a traditional 3 vessel system, and kegging. I would refer them to someone else for that.

In summary, I would tell them that making good beer is not hard, but takes a little work, and depends mostly on your budget.

Is there a Brew in a Bag system that only uses one Vessel? (yes)

Will the real Single Vessel System please stand up? After searching the internet high and low, I have yet to find one example of a homebrewer using one vessel to brew beer. So I had to invent one. By one vessel I mean one, not two, three, or four. I’m not just talking about Brew in a Bag. Sure, every BIAB guy out there claims to have a single vessel system, but what they really mean is that they mash and boil in one vessel. But what about the others? The fermenter, the secondary that you dry hop in, the bottling bucket, the little pot you place your bag of grains in, the bucket of sanitizer, etc.

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Theoretically, this boggles my mind frankly. I cannot be the first person to think of this. Making beer involves soaking grains, boiling, cooling, adding yeast, and then bottling. It seems to me the default position should be one vessel. Instead, the default position is 4 (mash tun, boil kettle, fermenter, bottling bucket). If we mash and boil in the same vessel, why don’t we just go ahead and add yeast to it? And since we’ve come that far, and if we are bottling (instead of kegging), then why not just punch a spigot on the side of the vessel (above the trub, roughly 2 inches from the bottom) and bottle from it? It just seems incredibly simple and reasonable to me. Is this system bad for business? Well, yes, but does that explain it? I’m I insane here?

I guess I’m just a little mad that this isn’t a viable option for beginning homebrewers, as it wasn’t an option for me until I invented it. I regret spending money on plastic fermenters. Nobody is promoting or selling a single vessel system and that’s a shame because more people would brew.

I know, I know. We all think we have the best system in the world, and I fully admit that my system ties up my only brewing vessel for up to two weeks (do you brew more than once a month?…are you an alcoholic bro? just kidding). It’s all about what fits for you. I’m just honestly curious why I apparently invented this system (I probably didn’t, but I’ve searched the internet high and low).

The Obvious Drawback with Kegging

To keg or not to keg; that is the question. Don’t get me wrong. If money wasn’t an issue at all, I would keg the shit out of my beer. I would have a huge kegerator with 2 or 3 taps, placed right next to my fermentation chamber in my garage. But I’m practical and my wife wouldn’t let me. Check back in 10 years.kegerator

You need another fridge. And that’s really the only advantage bottling has over kegging, if we are being honest. Bottling doesn’t require a special refrigerator or kegerator. With bottles, you can store them in the basement and put them in the fridge whenever you want. That’s it. But that’s a big deal.

A kegerator is a lot of money, time, energy, and space. If you are mechanically inclined, you can shed some of the costs and build it yourself. But my real point is this: if you are considering a kegerater, you should first be considering a fermentation chamber. It’s more important. So which one do you choose? Sadly, you cannot use a kegerator as a fermentation chamber at the same time, so now you are looking to get two extra fridges just to make beer at home? That’s a tall order. I personally opted for the fermentation chamber instead, something that isn’t necessary but helps. Now, if you talk to anyone who kegs, they will tell you how incredibly easy it is. But cleaning kegs can be more work than cleaning bottles, if you clean bottles using a dishwasher. If not, then cleaning bottles can be a pain in the ass (I used to dunk them individually into my bath tub…gross). Kegging requires special cleaning supplies, lines and tubing, a CO2 tank, and special trips to fill it.

A huge advantage to kegging is that it doesn’t take as long to carbonate your beer.  I’ve heard 4-5 days. Bottles can take from 1-3 weeks, depending. You could potentially go from grain to glass in two weeks.

Why I got a Fermentation Chamber

I recently bought a craigslist fridge, an STC-1000 temperature controller, a heat lamp (shown here), and hired a craigslist electrician to wire it up properly. That’s all I mean by “fermentation chamber.” It allows me to set any temperature I want (hot or cold), and forget about it.

As for instructions on how to install, google it, there are several excellent videos. I would rather like to justify my purchase, because it goes against the soul of this blog (low-cost beer making). I didn’t take this lightly. I do not like buying extra stuff. This cost me about $115 total (fridge $30, STC $16, electrician $60). If you’re smart, and wire it yourself, or get a friend to help, you obviously save a lot of money (in retrospect, I would have never hired the craigslist guy, he wasn’t very good at all).

You might want to consider getting a more efficient fridge; it will cost more up front, but save on energy costs in the long run. So, considering the initial cost and set-up of this behemoth (and energy demands, and space), what are the benefits?

This isn’t about making lagers
So why in the world would someone want a temperature controlled chamber to ferment beer in? I don’t like lagers, so that’s not it. When I think back, fermenting beer was the most stressful time. It’s the most important part of beer making, and yet we let the temperature of the house dictate the beer, which depends on so many factors (the seasons being the most obvious). I knew something was wrong when I was cranking the heat up in the winter just to ferment a 5 gallon batch of beer, and cranking the air conditioning up in the summer just to ferment a beer. That’s not sustainable. I’m confident my last Belgian Tripel came out cidery because of a large temperature down-swing on the fourth day of fermentation. So, while I have made over 50 batches that came out just fine, I think temperature fluctuations can ruin some beers (especially Belgians and high alcohol beers). Having said that, you don’t need one. Most homebrewers don’t have one. You can make excellent beer without one.

And yes, now I can make a lager.

Simplicity
Quality aside, the procedural benefits are just as exciting. It makes my process simpler and easier (and leaner, if you are familiar with that philosophy), all which are very important to me. Before, it was a lot of wasted movement. I had to lug my 5 gallons of beer to different places in the house: one spot to ferment, another to cold crash, and yet another to bottle (and yet another to carbonate the bottles). Now, it all stays in one spot: the fermentation chamber is where I ferment, add dry hops, cold crash, bottle (directly from the spigot, as usual), and finally – once bottled – carbonate (set to 70F for a week). Once carbonated, they go into the fridge, which is right next door. I might even use the ferm chamber to chill the beer on brew day, a sort of “no-chill” method (instead of chilling in my bath tub), although that would probably take all night.

8 Ways to Simplify Brewing

My blog is inspired by the simplicity of Gandhi and Henry David Thoreau: “Our life is frittered away by detail…Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” That passage haunts me.

hdtIf you love gadgets and pumps and hoses and keezers, that’s awesome. If you love 8 hour brewdays, taking PH measurements, OG, FG, SG, that’s all good man. I love that you love it. As for me, I’m a simple man; and here, some simple tips:

1. One Vessel Brewing
I’ll start with the most controversial and the one you probably will not follow, but that’s okay. Imagine if you could get rid of your fermenters, bottling bucket, mash tun, and hot liquor tank? Quality issues aside (which this blog is exploring), you cannot argue about the simplicity of One Pot Brewing. It doesn’t get more simple.

2. Scrap the Secondary
When I came to brewing, I immediately knew this was stupid. There is no reason for it. You want clearer beer? Let it sit longer in the primary, or cold crash, or use gelatin. In fact, let’s stop calling it the “primary” fermenter. Click here for more.

3. Recipe: Use Whole Numbers
Should you put 12 oz or 1 pound of Rye Malt in your recipe? Do you really think you can taste the difference? I don’t. Apply that to hops too. (I would love to see an experiment on this, I could be wrong.)

4. Scrap the Notebook
Use a free app for your recipes. Or, once you get comfortable with a beer style, don’t even write anything down, fuck it. I can rip out an IPA with my eyes closed. It makes beer-making spontaneous and stress free.

5. Stop Measuring
I know that sounds horrible, but measuring is really just for insurance, it’s a way to reassure yourself that you did things correctly. For a long time, I never used a hydrometer. If you’re process is correct, you really don’t need to measure. Beer making is not rocket science and it’s predicable. Measuring wastes time, effort, and beer. However, I must admit, I use a hydrometer now to take a final gravity readings–just to make sure it’s done fermenting. That’s kinda smart.

6. Don’t worry about Water
If you like the taste of your tap water, you will probably like the taste of your beer. Having said that, I fully admit that using gypsum and other chemicals can have a positive affect on the beer. In other words, I am a devout follower of the Brulosopher experiments.

7. Bottle with Sugar Cubes
If you bottle, then you know that bottling can be a pain in the ass. Domino Sugar Dots make it super convenient and simple. And they are cheap. I like bottling. Kegging sounds cool, but I absolutely hate cleaning tubes, pipes, and small parts.

8. Temperature Controlled Fermentation Chamber
I’m talking about a fridge hooked up to an STC-1000 temperature controller with a cooling source (the fridge itself) and a heating source (light bulb, heating pad, or hair dryer). I actually don’t have one (yet), and the cost is a huge factor (which, I hate to say, sorta goes against my blog), and it takes times and work initially to set up; but the simplicity cannot be denied. Imagine if you could ferment, dry hop, cold crash, bottle, and carbonate all in the same place?–without having to move the beer? Other benefits: quality fermentation every time, ability to ramp up temperatures at the end of fermentation (diacetyl rest), doesn’t get in the way of household activities, ability to lager, can be located close to where I brew (garage), more sanitary environment. Basically, it’s stress-free, set it and forget it. I don’t know about you, but I’m always worrying about the temperature of my beer while it sits in the closet. Sometimes, I’ve messed with the house thermostat just to mess with the beer temperature. That’s silly. I am very much looking forward to this.

How to never use a Blow-off tube or clean up a fermentation nightmare

Be honest. If you are a homebrewer, it either happened to you or someone you know. You put 5.5 gallons of high gravity beer into a 6.5 gallon carboy or plastic bucket. It ferments well. Very well. It shoots out the top like Old Faithful having a beergasm. You come home from work to a huge, sloppy, shitty mess. Why are we content with this scenario? As I read more homebrewng blogs, I notice that this is happening to the bloggers as well.

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Luckily, this is an extremely solvable problem. The solution seems obvious to me: use a larger vessel or rethink the system.

You have many options: do a smaller batch, use a larger fermenter, use your brew kettle instead of a plastic fermenter (the brulospher tried that once), or use your large mash tun.

What I Do
With One Pot Brewing, this is another benefit: one pot for the entire process. I never have to worry about a blow off tube or a mess (which means possible contamination) – heck, I don’t even use an airlock. My vessel, which is also my mash tun, is naturally bigger than a carboy or plastic bucket. It’s a 7.5 gallon aluminum stock pot. This is a benefit, not a drawback. I usually put a little over 5 gallons of beer in it.  I pitch the yeast, cover with aluminum foil, and let it be; plenty of room for the beer to ferment, krausen, drop, and clear. The aluminum keeps air out, and is easy to take off for dry hopping. Here’s my latest DIPA at peak fermentation: Continue reading

Extract Brewing, Brew in a Bag, All Grain Brewing, Indoor vs. Outdoor Brewing: a Comparison and Score Card

When choosing between beer making methods, quality, surprisingly enough, is not the main concern. I cannot stress this enough. Homebrewing blogs and books get this wrong all the time: normal people do not get into homebrewing with the singular goal of making the best possible beer. That’s just one concern, among several others.

Second thing I want to stress: you can make quality beer with all brewing methods: extract, Brew in a Bag (BIAB), partial mash, and traditional all-grain. Quality has to do with how good of a brewer you are, and how much you know about brewing. A good brewer can use all these systems and make good beer. So, when considering what brewing system to use, the main concerns are (1) how much money you are willing to spend, and (2) how much time you are willing to spend. Other concerns are (3) how much space you have for brewing beer and (4) how mechanically inclined you are; that is, can you build, wire, drill, etc? Of course, the resulting beer has to taste good, but homebrewers have a wide threshold on what they deem quality beer. I, for example, could care less about making beer that could score well in a competition. I don’t have the palate or time to fuss with that. Continue reading