Adventures in Fermentation

yeast starter for california steam kit I typically buy two beer kits at a time because I am comfortable with brewing on consecutive weekends and it saves on shipping costs. This time I let my second brew date slip. Although I refrigerate my yeast when I receive it, the best used by date on the yeast  vial had come and gone. So I bought a yeast starter kit to see if I could give the yeast a fighting chance. I use a yeast starter when I make bread called a sponge so this should be pretty easy. I followed the instructions and after a day it looked like the yeast was active. So I brewed the California Steam Lager and pitched the yeast. For the first 36 hours there were no bubbles. Finally on Tuesday morning there were bubbles coming out. Today when I left for work it was still bubbling. Whew! I almost made a big mistake.


Last Saturday I got a kick out of watching a new show on Esquire channel called Brew Dogs. Esquire was showing all of the episodes back to back so I sat through the first two episodes before I realized I was past my bed time. The guys and the show format was entertaining even if you are not a craft beer geek. I was fascinated with their ability to pick out flavors in the beers and how they paired beers and foods. Their pursuit of “craft beer virgins” was funny as was some of the exotic ingredients craft brewers are experimenting with. In the second episode the guys went to San Francisco and Anchor Steam Brewing. The show reminded me that the first time I drank an Anchor Steam Lager was back in the 1970s when it claimed to be the smallest brewery in the United States. For many years I told people that my favorite beer was Anchor Steam Lager. It was ironic that I was going to brew an imitation of the Anchor Steam lager the very next day.

Pumpkin Beer Revisited

I was a little disappointed with my pumpkin beer this year. It was a pleasant surprise last year so I was looking forward to brewing it again. My skills and technique are better, what could go wrong? Well, the first beer from the batch seemed a little off. It was nothing major so I decided to let it mature a little bit more. This was an easy decision since my latest attempt at Hank’s Hefeweisen is really nice and I have two cases of it. Last weekend I was looking for a beer to drink while watching a football game so I grabbed a pumpkin beer. This time it reminded me of the pumpkin beer I brewed last year, a nice mellow ale with a touch of pumpkin flavoring. The extra two weeks has done wonders for it. I love it when a plan comes together!

Pumpkin Beer Time!

This weekend I will be tasting my pumpkin beer. It has been seven weeks since I brewed it. I enjoyed the pumpkin beer I made last year but decided to use go for a little stronger pumpkin flavor by using 2 large cans. Today I found a 2011 Serious Eats article that says pumpkin beers have a long history in the US.

Far from being a modern invention of the craft beer scene, pumpkin beers have a long history in the US. Samuel Stearns’ The American herbal; or, Materia medica (published in 1801), name-checked pumpkin beer just after porter and ale. Stearns considered pumpkin beer especially healthful, noting:

Different kinds of beer, ale, &c. are often prepared according to the prescriptions of the physicians, all of which, as well as pumpkin and bran beer, partake of the virtues of the ingredients put into such liquors."

Follow the link to find out more about the history of pumpkin beer.

Hank’s Hefeweisen V2

Hank' s Hefeveisen V2
Hank’ s Hefeveisen V2, originally uploaded by billhuber.

This is my second attempt at brewing Hank’s Hefeweizen from MidWest Supplies. Here are some modifications I incorporated to make a better beer.

  1. I think that the problems getting to my final gravity are related to my use of filtered rain water. So I opted to add a half teaspoon of calcium chloride to the boil. It seems to have worked since the final gravity is almost spot on.
  2. I froze two large blocks of filtered water to shorten the time to cool the boil down to eighty degrees. In my case I sanitized two plastic quart containers we had on the shelf and then filled them with water. It took two days for the containers to be frozen solid.
  3. Since this is a lighter color beer, I steeped the grains in 3 gallons of water and made sure the temperature did not go over 156°. My plan is to steep the lighter color beers in 3 to 3 1/2 gallons of water.
  4. I used new caps to bottle the beer. I lost several beers from my Pale Ale batch when the reused caps did not get a good seal. At 3¢ a cap it is not worth the risk.
  5. I used the liquid Hefeweizen yeast from White Labs this time and got a robust fermentation. It actually came out of the air lock.

When I transferred the beer to the carboy I tested the beer and I knew I had something special. Although the fermentation was not complete it had already developed some nice flavors. It is now more than five weeks after the boil. This is the first beer I have been anxious to try. After drinking a couple of bottles I can say that it has the traditional Hefeweizen wheat flavor with a hint of banana. It is an easy beer to drink and is definitely one of my favorites.

Tradecraft and 9,000 Year Old Beers

Last Saturday my wife and I watched Zero Dark Thirty. My wife hated it because of the long stretches of black screens. Since I knew the plot I found myself getting bored while anticipating the next scene. Although the acting and the script was well written, we did not get caught up in the movie. I ended up giving it three stars on Netflix. The one thing that fascinated me was the use of the word, tradecraft. In honor of the movie I will see how many posts I can write in a row that using the word tradecraft.

First off is a fun article on ancient brewing. Business Insider has a great slide show on an event, Here’s What 9,000-Year-Old Beers Taste Like, where the folks re-created ancient brews at The Bell House thanks to the World Science Festival. This is a great example of excellence in the brewing tradecraft. If you can use a little bit of forensic science to come up with palatable clone of the 9,000 year old brew, you are a darn good brewer. The Midas Touch beer was the most appealing of the ancient brews to me.

Easter and Birthday celebration at Morlein Lager House

I celebrated Easter and my birthday at the Morlein Lager House. I had a nice and flavorful prime rib with an excellent Over The Rhine beer. This was one of the best prime ribs I have ever had and the beer was better than the bottled version. The beer would be a nice beer for me to try and brew at home. The pan fried potatoes were good, too.

Irish Stout beer

irish stout beer, originally uploaded by billhuber.

This is a Irish Stout brew from MidWest Supplies. I thought I screwed this brew up and it came out really nice! Everything was going okay until the outside temperature dropped. So I started moving my carboy around looking for a warmer place that was out of the way. Most of the places I tried were probably too cold and I was worried. When I started bottling my specific gravity came in to high but I went ahead anyway. When I tried to siphon the beer out of the carboy I realized that I broke my siphon the last time I cleaned. I ended up siphoning the old fashion way. So seven weeks after brewing I open a bottle. As you can see I got a wonderful head and a really nice, mellow stout. I purchased a Guiness Stout a couple of months ago for some stew I was making and I was not impressed. This was much better to drink and would be a flavorful addition to browning stew meat.